Alma Wimsatt caressed the blue and yellow soup tureen she had made with gnarled hands, as if she were reshaping it again. “The clay has a mind of its own. You have to show it who is boss,” said the potter.
At 83, Wimsatt still works in her pottery studio every day and sells her work at craft shows. She loves what she does and where she does it.
Estancia is where she and her husband sought refuge after their McIntosh home burned down. Originally they thought the stay in Estancia would be for a short while, but 30 years later, she loves what she calls a “delightful little village which is primarily senior citizens now, yet we still have a good school.”
On Wimsatt’s pots you will see much of what she loves: designs from nature, shapes of clay that are pleasing to the eye and petroglyph-like images. She is a member of the Archeology Society of Torrance County, which meets once a month and deepens her love of southwestern history.
“History is important. I think about the people who lived here long ago. At a site called Tenabo you’ll see a huge boulder with snake designs all the way down it,” she says, demonstrating the snake swirls from high to low with her hands. “There is evidence that several thousand people lived in homes built of rocks not far from here. Humans are survivors and always adapting.”
Wimsatt was born in Pedernal, but before World War II things changed. Her father, whose last name was May, had been a farmer and a rancher, but he began to work for the railroads and the family moved with him.
“We lived on the trains for a whole year. When Dad got hurt during work, we settled in Bloomfield and ran a grocery store,” Wimsatt remembers. “I was in high school when a fellow named Roy Wimsatt came back from the war and we got married.”
Her husband helped run the grocery store and later began working for the oil fields. He worked hard and persevered until he became a sought-after core driller, able to drill down in search of mineral deposits. This work took the family—the couple had two children by then—from Santa Fe to Caspar, Wyoming.
The young mother had a passion of her own she wanted to explore. She read books on how to work with clay. During the day she helped her family by working at newspaper offices, designing ads and creating “dummies”—the layout for the newspaper. In Wyoming, she took college classes in the evening to learn the skills of throwing and glazing pottery.
In 1977, the couple decided to “retire” back to New Mexico, settling in McIntosh near other family members. They bought a home-based business called Sun Tile “almost on a whim,” she said. For the next 16 years the pair ran a mail-order business customizing ceramic Italian tiles for businesses and gift stores. When they bought the business, Sun Tile had 30 customers, but within a year, the company was serving 200 stores, interior decorators and restaurants.
“If I never do another tile I’ll be happy,” says Wimsatt. “But it was good really. It was different back then. The business was grown by sending out catalogs, using the phone and UPS. We silkscreened wax onto the pre-made tiles and then used eye droppers to apply glazes. Things are easier and faster with computers now for the sales part.”
In 1999, Wimsatt retired from Sun Tile. Her son was in Carlsbad and her daughter was in Santa Fe. She returned to her love of pottery.
In spite of many losses that have piled up since—the deaths of her husband and both her children—Wimsatt looks for the good. “There are no accidents,” she says. “My granddaughter had … decided to go to medical school. She was in pre-med and could make some sense for all of us about what was happening when her mom was sick.”
Wimsatt has a gift of being able to find blessings. Perhaps it is because she sees the bigger picture of life through her love of history and faith. “I would tell kids today they need to read everything they can and to study history,” she said. “They say those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”