They preserve the past by recreating it

Laurel and Paul Thornburg take their growing business as one sign that people are becoming more sensitive to the preservation of ancient cultures. ``We've had a number of people come to us and say, `I've wanted to buy a pot, but I feel kind of bad about it so I'm thinking about a replica,''' says Mr. Thornburg. He and his wife create copies of prized Indian pottery, including that of the Mimbres.

Painstaking in their work, the Canelo, Ariz., potters go so far as to gather their clay from creek beds used by the Mimbres, and to use the same type of wood to fire their pots.

By creating replicas of bowls that are held by distant university museums, the Thornburgs feel they're doing their small part to bring the Mimbres culture out into the light.

``It's also nice to think we're making it possible for people to enjoy this beauty without doing something illegal or promoting the black-market cycle,'' Mrs. Thornburg says.

Although the couple replicates the pottery of several tribes, the distinct designs of the Mimbres' works have made them their most popular bowls.

The Thornburgs say the last six months of recreating Mimbres pottery have taught them much about how Indian potters worked, but they believe some of the Mimbres' techniques are likely to remain secret.

``They figured out some pretty complex things over the generations they were doing this work,'' Mrs. Thornburg says. ``I don't think we'll be able to rediscover it all in our lifetime.''

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