The Magic of Mica

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Micaceous pots are shaped by hand through the coil method. Once the clay has dried, it is rubbed with a piece of sandstone to lighten the overall weight and even out any heavy spots. Following that, a slip that has more mica in it than the body is poured over the pot; then the whole thing is polished with a stone to bring out the mica’s sparkle. Next the pot is buffed with a cloth. I know from watching Elisabeth work that it takes a lot of patient hours to get to the point when the pot is finally ready to be fired (either in a wood fire built on the ground or in a shallow pit). Where there is contact between the pot and the burning wood, soft plumes of gray and black, called fire clouds, appear and mark the vessel. When the air supply to the fire is reduced, the pot emerges black. Elisabeth prefers to make her pots black because she feels it reveals their shape more readily.

Many pots look as perfectly symmetrical as if they had been thrown on a wheel, but often there are areas of gentle swelling, dips, and other irregularities that suggest the presence of the hands on the clay. One of my pots, made by New Mexico artist Priscilla Hoback, is marked with a hair from one of her horses, a delicate black line on the clay that feels somehow like a signature. (Sometimes this mark is made with human hair.) Occasionally a pot will have a designed etched on it, or a design formed by a ribbon of clay, but many functional micaceous pots aren’t adorned except with the golden flecks of mica and the fire blooms. They may have lids, or not. They might curve softly at the rim, like the exaggerated folds of a fluted piecrust, or the top may flare simply and elegantly outwards. The only colors present are the colors of earth and fire. Glazes aren’t used traditionally.

As with all good things made by hand, micaceous pots are expensive—upwards of $100 a quart. But to cook in a micaceous pot is to participate in the ancient yet still living culture of the Southwest. These pots are works of art—the kind of art that you can handle, smell, cook in, wash, and use every day. And micaceous cooking pots repay you with a subtle ingredient: the sweetness of this clay, and all that it imparts to the foods you cook.

For more on micaceous cookware and where to buy it, visit,, and

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