When you say, "Rio Grande Pottery," the average collector thinks first of black pottery, and black pottery comes from one of two pueblos, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso.
While San Ildefonso designs are painted, black-matte, Santa Clara designs are carved. Until the early 1930s, however, Santa Clara blackware was merely polished with some having impressed designs, a bear's paw being popular.
It was then that Sara Fina Tafoya revived large storage jars, both in red and black. At the same time, she and her daughter, Margaret, began carving pottery. Sara Fina's son, Camilio Tafoya, was a wood carver, and he had the skills to advance the art of carving clay. His brother-in-law, Alcario, husband of Margaret Tafoya, joined him in carving designs on the clay of pre-fired pots.
Margaret was especially talented at drawing designs and hand coiling pottery. It is Margaret Tafoya who is regarded as the granddame of Santa Clara potters, much as Maria and Nampeyo are recognized by their pueblos.
Typically, Santa Clara pottery is much thicker, with deeply carved designs made into the polished walls of the pottery. The color is usually black, although a large number of pots are polished red. Today, much ware is made in the classic designs, however many Santa Clara potters are extending their art into newer techniques, such as sgraffito (lightly carved designs) and innovative polychrome work.
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Cliff Roller talks about the Roller family and how they fire their pots...
Item# P932 -Cliff Roller, Santa Clara.
This jar features a pattern that Cliff calls a "walking bear paw." In our opinion, the Roller family produce the finest surface finishes among all the Santa Clara Potters. This jar matches their criteria of finish.
Size: 3" high by 5 1/4" diameter.
Price: $725 SOLD.
Item# P941 -Cliff Roller, Santa Clara.
This is Cliff's interpretation of a Navajo rug design, executed in his superb black pottery. The polish is exceptional, as are all the Roller pieces.
Size: 3 1/2" high by 5 5/8" diameter.
Price: $750 SOLD.
Item# P942 -Cliff Roller, Santa Clara.
Item# P930 -Cliff Roller, Santa Clara.
Item# P328 - Toni Roller, Santa Clara.
Toni is the daughter of Margaret Tafoya, and a premier potter in her own right. Here she has made a beautiful bowl with the traditional Avonyu design so typical of the Santa Clara potters. Again, we have to say that we think the Rollers are tops when it comes to producing pottery with a superb polish and luster.
Size: 4 3/4" high by 5 1/2" diameter.
Price: $1,500 SOLD.
Item# PJR3 - Jeff Roller, Santa Clara.
Jeff has used a ram motif on the lid of this jar, which also has cloud and mountain symbols carved around the circumference. This is an outstanding piece, and for Jeff's high level of work, priced reasonably.
Size: 8 1/2" high by 6 1/2" diameter.
Price: $5,000 SOLD.
Anita says that she started potting when she was a small girl, learning from her mother, Belen Tapia, a noted Santa Clara potter. Like her mother, Anita has been working with her daughter, Lahoma; so now Lahoma is becoming very accomplished. Anita is a regular winner at the major Native American arts shows. William Merrill, assistant curator for the Smithsonian, declared her "a contemporary master potter."
Item# P762 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
Anita's style is continuing to grow and evolve. In this tall vase, she has carved the design of a humming bird hovering above a flower. Here, she brings her sense of contemporary design to classic Santa Clara pottery. Anita uses only traditional coiling, carving and firing. To obtain the red, she has used an oxidation atmosphere, in other words, she did not smother this piece as it was being fired. The back of this jar is carved into a melon bowl design.
Size: vase is 7" high by 4 1/2" diameter; lid is 2 1/4" high.
Price: $2,800 SOLD.
Item# P552 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
This is a new design approach by Anita. She is carving stylized animals on this jar. One side, a Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep; and one side a stylized Mule Deer Buck. Around the top, she has carved the Pueblo spiral symbol for place. More and more of the Pueblo potters are using innovative carving, departing from the traditional. Here, Anita joins this trend.
Size: 8" high by 5 3/4" diameter.
Item# P690 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
In this vase, Anita has used a contemporary version the classic Santa Clara bear design, with heartline (symbol of life and power). This design appears on both the front and the back of this piece. Each of the bears has a small turquoise jewel for an eye. On the opposite quarters, she has used a classic bear-paw design incised into the side.
Size: 5" high by 4" diameter.
Price: $500 SOLD.
Item# P953 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
This is Anita's version of the classic Rio Grande melon bowl. Anita uses traditional pottery methods, from digging the clay, to coiling, to polishing, to firing in an outside, traditional kiln. In firing, to make a black pottery piece, the fire must be smothered to create an oxygen free atmosphere, a technique called reduction firing. The Santa Clara potters accomplish this by covering the outside "cage" of the kiln with pieces of tin or metal. this protects the unfired ceramic pieces. Then this is all completely covered with pulverized horse manure. It is the manure that keeps out all of the oxygen, and produces the beautiful black finish.
Size: 3 3/8" high by 5" diameter.
Item# P954 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
This is Anita's own design. She calls it her sunflower design. The luster and shine on this piece is outstanding. For an accent, she has not polished the center sections, leaving them a soft black.
Size: 3 1/2" high by 5" diameter.
Item# P695 -Anita Suazo, Santa Clara.
Item# P960 -Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Stella Chavarria is the daughter of Teresita Naranjo, one of Santa Clara's famous potters. Her work is very much influenced by her mother, except Stella works on a smaller scale. Stella also taught her two daughters to pot, Denise Chavarria and Sunday Chavarria. Here, Stella has selected the classic Santa Clara water serpent, Avonyu, and surrounded it with clouds. Water symbols – clouds, lightning, Avonyu, etc.– are frequently used, because they stand for life-giving rain, a necessity in the arid climate of the pueblos. The top portion has the symbols for eagle feathers, a sign of strength.
Size: 5 1/2" high by 4" diameter.
Item# P905 -Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara.
For this outstanding black bowl, Stella again has gone to the water god, Avonyu. Clouds surround the image, with added symbols for lightening and rain. Stella does an exceptional job of polishing her work, as in this jar.
Size: 3 1/8" high by 4 3/4" diameter.
Price: $275 SOLD.
Item# P920 -Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara.
In this beautiful jar, Stella has not only included the classic Avonyu, but has added symbols for clouds and lightening. This is another outstanding polish.
Size: 4 1/2" high by 4 1/2" diameter.
Item# P903 -Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Here, Stella has allowed oxygen to reach her firing, and the result is this beautiful red vase. She has used the Santa Clara Avonyu and clouds for decor, and the eagle feathers around the top band.
Size: 6 1/2" high by 4 5/8" diameter.
Item# P796 - Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Item# P915 -Denise Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Denise is a fourth generation member of the Tafoya family. Her mother is Stella Chavarria, and her grandmother is famed potter Teresita Naranjo. She has been under her mother's and grandmother's tutelage since she was a small girl. In her forties, Denise has picked up on her mother's style and changed it to her own unique form. Here, Denise has carved a band of feathers around the top perimeter of this jar. The black polish on this piece is excellent.
Size: 5 1/4" high by 4" diameter.
Item# P916 -Denise Chavarria, Santa Clara.
This is one of Denise's highly polished black bowls, with the Avonyu design. Denise has won several prizes at the major shows, including the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the Heard Museum Show.
Size: 3" high by 4 1/2" diameter.
Price: $250 SOLD.
Item# P917 -Denise Chavarria, Santa Clara.
The motif of this black jar is both eagle feathers around the top and the avonyu around the middle. Again, this jar is typical of Denise's high polish.
Size: 3 1/2" high by 4 1/4" diameter.
Item# P918 -Denise Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Item# P642 -Denise Chavarria, Santa Clara.
Item# P774 -Barbara Martinez, Santa Clara.
This is Barbara's Avonyu water serpent, under eagle feathers. Barbara was taught to pot by her mother, Flora Naranjo. Barbara a long-time, Santa Clara artist. She has been making pottery for more than 35 years, and is noted for the fine polish she gives her work. Barbara makes elegant pottery at affordable prices. She is certainly one of the better values at Santa Clara Pueblo.
Size: 5 1/2" high by 8" diameter.
Price: $450 SOLD.
Sharon Naranjo Garcia
Sharon was raised by her grandmother, Christina Naranjo; and Christina is the matriarch of a large family of famous potters, like Cain, and Eckleberry, and Naranjo. Christina not only taught Sharon the Pueblo Indian way of life, but also started her on the trail of becoming an excellent potter. Sharon has lived the last 30 years in Ohkay Owingeh, the Native name for San Juan Pueblo, with her husband, Peter, and family
Item# P925 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Shown here is Sharon's view of the traditional Pueblo water serpent, Avonyu, with eagle feathers. There are still bargains left in this world, and Sharon's work is one of them. We have shown Sharon's work for several years, and think her efforts are superior. Her work is always tops, but her prices are significantly lower than most accomplished Santa Clara potters. Sharon's artistry is gaining more recognition. One of her large, lidded water jars won Best of Division at the 2006 Heard Museum Show.
Size: 9" high by 8 1/2" diameter.
Price: $675 SOLD
Item# P926 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Sharon says that she keeps pushing herself to achieve more artistic pieces and designs. Here is an example of her artistry. She has taken the classic Avonyu water serpent and the added place symbols on an unpolished, soft black center band. Eagle feathers surround the top band. This is an unusual and beautiful piece.
Size: 8 3/4" high by 8 1/8" diameter.
Item# P927 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
With a similar idea, Sharon takes the classic Avonyu water serpent and adds cloud symbols on an unpolished, soft black center band. Eagle feathers surround the top band.
Size: 6 3/4" high by 7 1/4" diameter.
Item# P928 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Here is a smaller version of Sharon's view of the water serpent, Avonyu. Sharon's comment, "Smaller is more difficult." She has added eagle feathers around the neck of the jar. This is an exquisite Santa Clara jar.
Size: 5" high by 5 3/4" diameter.
Item# P846 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
This is a red version of the classic Avonyu jar. Sharon says that red ware is more difficult to make than the black ware. A puff of breeze, a change in humidity, falling ashes, all can ruin the piece. The clay, the slip and the polishing are the same in both red and black ware. The color difference is in the firing. The black ware is achieved in the traditional firing by smother the pieces, so no air reaches the pottery. To get the red color, the traditional kiln is opened up so air reaches the very hot pottery. We have a pottery firing story by Cliff Roller, which explains the traditional firing process. You may read this by going to our page "Cliff Roller On Traditional Firing," Click Here.
Size: 5 5/8" high by 6 1/4" diameter.
Price: $500 SOLD.
Item# P910 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
This piece shows Sharon's versatility. Here she has crafted another style of an Avonyu water jar. The beautiful, smooth rim makes this a "different" jar.
Size: 6 3/4" high by 7 1/2" diameter.
Item# P848 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Sharon has designed the Avonyu water serpent into this classic wedding vase. According to tradition, the symbol of one vessel with two spouts represents the lives of the man and wife, who after their wedding day become one. In the traditional Native American ceremony, pure water is placed in the vase, which is then given to the bride. She drinks from one spout, then turns the vase around and hands it to the groom. He drinks from the other spout. They are then united as one. The vase then becomes an heirloom for the couple and their family.
Size:7 1/2" high by 4 1/4" diameter.
Item# P933 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Item# P853 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Sharon's water jar with bear paw design. This was the style of jar that brought Sharon the Best of Division ribbon at the 2006 Heard Museum Show. The bear paw design on the jar is an ancient design by used by several of the Rio Grande Pueblos. According to Santa Clara tradition, a female bear brought their ancestors to the banks of the Rio Grande River, where the Pueblo is now located. Hence the bear paw design. This is an all-polished piece, with the bear paw design indented on two sides.
Size: 9 3/4" high by 8" diameter.
Price: $650 SOLD.
Item# P771 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Sharon chuckles about this one. By tradition, this is a "gourd jar." She calls this her "thumb jar." As she starts to bring the moist clay in for the neck opening, she presses her thumbs into the soft clay and makes shallow indentations. What's in a name? Gourd jar? Thumb jar? In this jar, she has made six thumb indentations, another way to bring interest to her art.
Size: 7 1/2 high by 8 1/2" diameter.
Item# P850 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Item# P908 -Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Santa Clara.
Sharon has designed the Avonyu water serpent into this large, classic olla, or water jug. The Avonyu is a Pueblo symbol for water, which translates to "life." The designs around the Avonyu represent rain clouds, so here is the water serpent up in the sky, among the clouds. The lid is a design representing kiva steps, a sign that refers back to Native American religious symbols. Sharon's work is noted for the relatively light weight of the pot in proportion its size. This means that the thickness of the clay walls are relatively thin, and so her carving must be quite accurate. Less talented potters use thick walls to cover their carving errors. Heft a piece of Sharon's work and you will notice the difference. A similar, lidded water jar won Best of Division at the 2006 Heard Museum Show.
Size: 10 1/2" high by 10" diameter. Lid: 1 1/2" high.
Price: $1,200 SOLD.
Item# P689 -Alvin Baca, Santa Clara.
Taught by his mother, Angela Baca, Alvin frequently makes this style of melon jar, here in polished black. While his mother's melon pots are usually low and wide, Alvin's have a more slender and graceful shape. In his mid-30s, Alvin has been a successful potter for the past 17 years.
Size: 5 1/2" high x 5" diameter.
Price: $300 SOLD.
Item# P249 -Madeline Naranjo, Santa Clara.
We like the contrast of matte and polish on Madeline's pottery. This bowl features a sun face, on the front quadrant, with an incised, multi-level pueblo village around the remainder of the perimeter. Quite creative and unique.
Size: 5" high by 6 3/4" diameter.
Item# P921 -Madeline Naranjo, Santa Clara.
Item# P794 - Linda Tafoya Sanchez, Santa Clara.
Linda is the granddaughter of Santa Clara potter Margaret Tafoya. Her talent and quality have brought her prestige and recognition as one of the leading potters from Santa Clara. This carved jar features the water serpent, Avonyu, with rain clouds.
Size: 4" high by 4" diameter.
Price: $900 SOLD.
Item# P217-Grace Medicine Flower, Santa Clara.
If you were to list the ten best contemporary potters, Grace Medicine Flower would be near the top. Grace is a member of the famous Tafoya family of Santa Clara. Her father, Camilio (Sunflower) Tafoya was the brother of Margaret Tafoya. It was Camilio who pioneered the carving of delicate designs into the unfired pieces--sgraffito. This tradition is being carried on by both Grace and her brother, Joseph Lonewolf. If you're interested, click here to see our photos of Grace and for additional information about her.
This lid screws in so perfectly that you can lift the pot by just holding the lid. However, Grace doesn't recommend this!
Size: 5 1/2" high by 4 1/2" diameter.
Price: $3,700 SOLD.
Item# P216-Grace Medicine Flower, Santa Clara.
The basketweave on this bowl is Grace's most requested design. She has added mica to the brown slip and has also slipped the entire inside of this bowl with red. This is a collector's piece!
Size: 5" high by 4 3/4" diameter.
Price: $4,800 SOLD.
Margaret and Luther Gutierrez
Margaret and Luther, brother and sister, began working together in the 1960s. Luther, 25 years older than his sister, passed away in 1987. Margaret is still potting, using the same styles they developed together, and those they inherited from their family. Having a genuine piece made by the team of Margaret and Luther means it has come from an older collection. These pieces are becoming a rarity and a prize possession for collectors. When the team made bowls (as below), jars, or wedding vases, their designs centered around the Avonyu water serpent, spiders, sky bands, rain, clouds and lightning, in polychrome. When Margaret and Luther started working together, they started making polychrome caricatures of animals. Completely original, they "invented" this style, and used the same slip and pigments as those on their larger pieces. Several of these whimsical figures are shown below.
Item# P519 -Margaret and Luther Gutierrez, Santa Clara.
This bowl is in the style that Luther developed with his mother, Lela; and carried on with Margaret. The bowl is divided into thirds. This third depicts a spider with lightening and rain clouds. The other two thirds are divided into two fanciful birds, facing each other. To see a view of one of the facing birds, click here. (This bowl is from an estate.)
Size: 3" high by 5" diameter.
Price: $1,200 SOLD.
Item# P787 -Margaret and Luther Gutierrez, Santa Clara.
Item# P669 -Alton Komalestewa, Hopi.
If you have ever wanted a melon bowl by Helen Shupla, here is your opportunity to get a melon bowl by her protege, Alton Komalestewa. Helen, 1928-1985, a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo, married a Hopi, Kenneth Shupla. She spent a lot of time on the Hopi reservation, and this was her introduction to the great characteristics of Hopi clay. Using this experience, she was able to perfect a new technique for making melon bowls. Instead of carving the segments, she utilized the great plasticity of the Hopi clay and pushed out the sections from the inside of the bowl. This is a technique that requires great patience, keeping the clay wet and plastic, without getting it too wet and creating a slumped section. Or, pushing the clay too far and producing a nonrepairable hole in the side of the piece. After applying the slip, she polished each piece with an ultra smooth polishing stone. Alton became her son-in-law, and Helen took him under her wing, teaching him all she knew about making fine pottery. Today, Alton is an exceptionally fine potter, in his own right. Here is an example of his work, a melon bowl made using the same techniques as taught to him by his mother-in-law. (We realize that Alton is Hopi, but his style is after his Santa Clara grandmother, so please forgive us.)
Size: 5 1/4" high by 8 3/4" diameter.
Price: $2500 SOLD.
Andrew and Judith Harvier
Andrew and Judith Harvier live in the Santa Clara Pueblo. As a team, they sign their work Nana Kaa, which translates as "Aspen Leaves" in their native Tewa Indian language. Raised in pottery making families, Andrew and Judith each have come to work with clay at an early age. For nearly 20 years, they have pushed to perfect this own artistic skills. When they "became one," the team began to make their innovative style of classic Santa Clara pottery, under the Nana Kaa mark. They use only traditional, classic methods to make their outstanding pottery.
Item# P666 -Andrew and Judith Harvier, Santa Clara.
Andrew and Judith have used classic Native symbols to style this outstanding piece of their pottery, the sun and the moon and the stars that regulate their Pueblo lives. They have divided the symbols on this polychrome jar into quarter segments. Seen on the left, is the sun segment, followed by the moon segment. And between the sun and the moon segments are the evening stars and the morning stars, right. The Pueblo clay has been mixed with a micaceous clay to accent this piece.
Size: 5 1/2 high by 8 3/4" diameter.
Item# P667 -Andrew and Judith Harvier, Santa Clara.
Andrew and Judith have used a combination of clays in coiling and forming this polychrome jar. The classic Santa Clara clay has been used for the red features on the rim and base of this piece. In between, they have used a special, local micaceous clay to form the classic eagle feathers design around the circumference. On the lower red band, they have engraved a spider, their symbol of industry and creative powers.
Size: 6 1/4" high by 7" diameter.
Price: $670 SOLD.
Item# P259 Emily Tafoya, Santa Clara.
The wife of the late Ray Tafoya, Emily is continuing on in the couple's sgraffito of making miniatures. Here, she has carved the mythical flute player, Kokopelli. On the back side of this piece, she has carved a coyote, howling.
Size: 2 1/8" high by 1 1/2" diameter.
Price: $330 SOLD.
The grand dame of Santa Clara potters is the late Margaret Tafoya, then 95 year old. Well known Tafoya potters include her daughter, Toni Roller and her sons, Cliff and Jeff. Another noted daughter of Margaret's is Mela Youngblood, now deceased, and her son and daughter, Nathan and Nancy Youngblood. A brother of Margaret, Camilio Tafoya's two children, Grace Medicine Flower and Joseph Lonewolf, have used sgraffito designs for innovative departures from classic Santa Clara styles. Another well-known daughter of Margaret's is Virginia Ebelacker.
The Suazo family has two outstanding, contemporary potters, Anita Suazo and Ron Suazo. When Anita was a small child, she began learning the Santa Clara potting techniques from her mother, Belen Tapia, a noted potter, herself. Anita works with the clasic Santa Clara carved designs, in black and red. From another branch of the family, Ron Suazo is noted for his matte finish pottery that may include a combination of both carving and incising on the pots and lids.
The Chavarria Family includes potters like Reycita Naranjo and Mary Singer.
The Gutierrez Family matriarch was Severa Tafoya, with other important members being brother and sister Margaret and Luther Gutierrez, Angela Baca, Tina, Greg and Virginia Garcia, and Paul Speckled Rock.
Other noted potters include Belen Tapia, Helen Shupla, Anita Suazo, Mary Cain and her grand-daughter, Tammy Garcia.
- Recommended reading - Check Amazon.com. They stock most of these titles.
- Margaret Tafoya, A Tewa Potter's Heritage and Legacy by Mary Ellen and Lawrence Blair, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., $55.00 (cloth);
- Southwestern Pottery, Anasazi to Zuni by Allan Hayes and John Blom, Northland Publishing, $21.95 (paper);
- Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery, by Rick Dillingham, University of New Mexico Press, $37.50 (paper);
- Hopi Pottery Symbols by Alex Patterson, Johnson Books, $17.95 (paper);
- Nampeyo and her Legacy by Barbara Kramer, University of New Mexico Press, $39.95 (cloth);
- Talking with the Clay, by Stephen Trimble, $15.95 (paper);
- Pueblo Storyteller by Barbara A. Babcock, $25.95 (paper);
- Generations In Clay, by Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., and Fred Plog, Northland Press;
- Living Tradition of Maria Martinezby Susan Peterson, $45.00 (paper)