C.L. Ramsdell’s pots remember the kiss of smoke when horsehairs sizzle and curl on the white hot surface during the firing process. The combination of smoke and line pattern exudes a unique, almost musical quality, a kind of instinctive rhythm which intrigues her.

When the piece has cooled, Ramsdell scrubs off excess carbon, then applies wax to protect its surface. The result is a soft glowing organic patina which looks more like wood or marble than clay. 
Ramsdell's dramatic monochromatic horsehair pots are a modern interpretation of the Apache tradition honoring a fallen war horse. The hair of the tail or mane is incorporated into the vessel, so the spirit of the horse is always present.

 Art and the passion for the unexplored are in my DNA – a driving force that has shaped my life since childhood. But what do you do with “art?” How do you make a living with “art”? How do you touch people’s lives with “art”?

Pursuing answers to such questions has taken me in multiple artistic directions and mediums, from sketching, (even the occasional tattoo design!), painting, sculpting, engraving, photography, graphic design, web design and jewelry-making to pottery and large-scale murals, including those of the Corn Palace for 15 years. And, it has taken me in multiple career directions, from K-12 and college jobs to contract and custom work.

Though my artwork has been so varied, it tends to be unified — if not always visually, then in spirit  — of an underlying reverence of nature, particularly of ties to the land, livestock and horses; a deep appreciation of rugged Midwest and South Dakota ancestry and survival/work ethic — both pioneering and Native American; and finally a quest to honor and hold close family.

Over the past several years, I have narrowed my focus to mostly large-scale murals and pottery – the first started as the designer for the Corn Palace, and the latter as part of my pottery business, Dakota Bones. Both art forms required self-teaching and significant financial commitments in the early stages, including the creation of a studio from a transformed outbuilding at my farm. The time to work on both of these, while teaching full-time, has and continues to be one of my most pressing challenges.

When I first started mural work, I followed in the path of Oscar Howe and Cal Shultz, big shoes to fill. I had to teach myself how to work in large format, how to create massive transfers from sketches. This work and exposure has led to custom mural contracts in schools, homes and businesses, each with their own unique material challenges.

Creating murals comes with reward. They engage viewers and make them pause, if even for a few seconds, and reflect. Murals cannot be ignored. Creating huge paintings in public spaces serves as reminder that art matters. In the world of digital and small electronic devices, a large tactile image can elicit awe and shake us from our small-screen worlds.

Far from this large-image environment is one much more intimate in: horsehair pottery, around which my Dakota Bones business is based.

When working on my Master in Art Education degree, I had to take a pottery class. The instructor had a wealth of knowledge but both hands were in casts. This was before YouTube and Google. I studied VHS tapes and spent hours on a kick wheel that summer teaching myself to throw on the wheel. Not long after, I traveled to New Mexico and while there discovered a piece of horsehair pottery.

I returned home with a new purpose. 

Through much trial and error — which included using fireworks and smoke-bomb coloring — I developed my own brand of horsehair pottery, which I am continuing to experiment with, using copper wire and turquoise inlay. While I create small pieces of jewelry and a variety of vases, bowls and other items, I am growing my custom orders, a niche market that takes into account my desire to use art to honor family.

Creating horsehair-fired pottery that becomes a holder of memories, provides comfort and connects past to present is an incredibly moving experience.