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Damien Toya Pottery (Dominique Toya)

Image of Damien Toya Pottery (Dominique Toya)
  • Image of Damien Toya Pottery (Dominique Toya)
  • Image of Damien Toya Pottery (Dominique Toya)

Signed Damien Toya. Won honorable mention at Indian Market in 2006.
Dimensions: 6 x 5.5"

Damien Toya is now known as Dominique Toya. Born Damian, Toya already was a successful potter before she accepted herself as a woman. She has been undergoing hormone therapy for the past two years as she completes her transformation. "My personal changes, my hormone therapy -- everything happened all at once," she said.

As a child, she said, "I was ridiculed a lot. My family was very supportive and shielded me. Because of my family, I had been avoiding (the gender change). Two years ago, I got strong enough to start the procedures."

First came the name change -- which interestingly, caused an argument over a pot at a store that carries her work. ("It's a Damian Toya pot, not Dominique. No, it's Dominique Toya," went the argument.)

Her collectors, she said, supported the decision. "They told me, 'you're still the same person who made them.' "

Becoming her true self has freed her. "It's brought out the creative side of me more," Toya said. "It's let me be who I am, happy with who I am. Anytime, as long as you're happy on the inside, it's going to show on the outside. That's what has happened to me."

The happiness is apparent in her work.

Her pots -- made of Jemez clay but washed with a micaceous slip for a soft apricot shade -- are deceptively simple.

What Toya is shooting for is nothing short of perfection, from the shape of her pots to the swirls that pour out of her openings. "The smaller the opening," she said, "the swirlier they get." However swirly, though, the lines that circle a Toya pot are perfectly spaced, as if placed by machine rather than a human hand.

"They think I have a tool that just rakes it," she said, laughing.

Instead, the lines are made by a determined potter taking an ice pick and scratching through the clay one line at a time, eventually covering the pot from top to bottom. "It's all done by eyeballing," she said. "It's just a part of me."

Later, she will sandpaper the grooves deep into the pot. Those deep groves are another telltale Toya sign, as is that sparkle in the final slip.

She chose an artist's career young -- her grandmother, Marie G. Romero, inspired Toya, who is the fifth generation in her family to be a potter. "I wanted to be just like Grandma. After 10th grade, I knew what my calling would be and I didn't see the point of school. I followed my heart." Other inspiration came through a photograph of a melon pot by Nancy Youngblood. The swirls struck a chord. "I just fell in love with her work," Toya said. "She sits right next to me at market. She's my inspiration."

More inspiration comes from working with her mother, Maxine Toya, and her sister, Camilla Toya. Both are noted potters and career educators (Maxine just retired). The three women work closely together and share a booth at market. Toya also volunteers for SWAIA, working in receiving the week of market and also speaking at different events.

"It's interesting," Toya said, "how it all snowballs at one time. People are expecting great things from me. It's like, 'what do I do now?' "

"These ideas, I can just picture them in my head," she said. "I just love it."