Christine Nofchissey McHorse, Navajo Ceramist, Dies at 72

Ms. McHorse used micaceous clay, a tensile material flecked with mica, to make sensual, mysterious work that called to mind the shapes of Brancusi. She died of the coronavirus.


By Penelope Green

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Christine Nofchissey McHorse was 50, and a celebrated Native American potter, when she stopped producing the traditional painted vessels collectors loved. She instead began making rich, black unadorned sculptural forms, mysterious and sensual pieces that owed more to Constantin Brancusi than any Native American vernacular.

Inspired by the photographs of Edward Weston and the buildings of Antoni Gaudí, along with her own internal vision, she tacked away from the artisanal toward fine art (though the line between the two can be unclear), “dropping the ethnic for the universal,” as her gallerist, Garth Clark said, confounding her existing collectors and drawing in new ones. She had more than mastered the traditional work, and chafed at its restrictions.

She used micaceous clay, an incredibly strong, tensile material flecked with mica, which once fired accrues a shimmering, ebonized finish.In Ms. McHorse’s hands it became sculpture, akin to bronze.

Ms. McHorse died on Feb. 17 at a hospital in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 72. The cause was complications of Covid-19; she had cancer as well, her husband, Joel McHorse, said.

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