Santa Clara Pueblo Pottery For Sale

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The Pueblo of Santa Clara is best known for its highly polished black and red pottery. Santa Clara pottery today is traditionally plain or carved and formed into jars, bowls, plates, and figurines.

Santa Clara Pottery History:

The Santa Clara pottery style has deep ancient roots dating back to at least the 1100’s when both polished and unpolished pottery was made for daily use. In the 1800’s, the designs and ornamentation on Santa Clara Pueblo Pottery was limited to impressions of broad swirling lines, double shoulders, swirling necks, and scalloped jar rims. From 1879 – 1880 James Stevenson collected Pueblo Pottery from Santa Clara and other pueblos for the Smithsonian Institute. Stevenson collected some 200-250 pieces of Santa Clara pottery, including vases, water jars, storage jars, bowls, pitchers, plates, canteens, cooking pots, toys, and small figurines. Most of the pottery collected was polished black or polished red. Another type of Santa Clara pottery, a glistening micaceous ware, was also collected at the time; but this pottery style appears to have almost died out shortly after the collection was made, as very few of these pieces were produced in the 1900’s. Stevenson wrote descriptions of a white or cream colored Santa Clara pottery with polychrome decorations, as well as a red on tan type, but evidently none of these styles arrived at the Smithsonian and were no longer produced by the very early 1900’s.
Just after the Stevenson / Smithsonian pottery collection was made, in 1880, the railroad reached the Santa Clara Pueblo area. A tourist market was created for decorative types of Santa Clara pottery, primarily smaller and more portable pieces. A system of water wells further diminished the need for larger utilitarian jars, and Santa Clara Pueblo pottery slowly made a natural transition from household or ceremonial items to works of art in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The high polish and visual appeal of Santa Clara pottery became paramount to its use. In fact, most forms of Santa Clara pottery made after 1930 would be damaged by putting water in them.
Research supports claims that the distinct style of deeply carved Santa Clara pottery was developed by the famed pottery artist Margaret Tafoya and her mother SaraFina Tafoya in the 1920’s. The carved pottery is a tradition that has now spawned many different diverse approaches. Deep, bold designs, including clouds and kiva steps, as well as the stylized bear paw and the avanyu (both unique to Santa Clara pottery), are deeply carved into the dry clay before firing.

Bear Paw on Santa Clara pottery:

The bear paw, whether carved or impressed, is placed on the pottery to honor the bear, which traditional Santa Clara Puebloans credit with leading the villagers to water during a terrible historic drought that was life-threatening to the entire village. Others simply view the bear paw as a symbol of strength and good health.

Avanyu on Santa Clara Pottery:

The avanyu, or water serpent, is the guardian of rivers, lakes, springs, streams, and waterways. The avanyu being placed on pottery is representative of the importance of plentiful water to Santa Clara Puebloans. The avanyu appears on the walls of caves located high above rivers in New Mexico and Arizona. This design has also been found on pottery from the ancestral Santa Clara site of Puye, which was occupied approximately from the 1200’s to 1500’s.

Margaret Tafoya

Where there is a strong pottery tradition, there is usually a single family matriarch who began, strengthened, or deeply influenced the tradition and, more importantly, infused a love and respect for pottery in all her descendants. While Margaret Tafoya is known as the most famous Santa Clara Pueblo pottery artist, her mother, SaraFina Tafoya, was certainly the matriarch of their family. Living pottery artists in any single family may extend to three or more generations. For example, the family tree of SaraFina and Geronimo Tafoya shows about 100 clay and pottery artists.
The reintroduction of miniature pottery as fine art is attributed to Camilio ‘Sunflower’ Tafoya (brother of Margaret Tafoya). Often less than an inch tall or in diameter, Santa Clara miniature pottery can be decorated with elaborate painted designs or finely etched ‘sgraffito’. The miniature pottery was made famous by Camilio Tafoya’s son, Joseph Lonewolf. The designs used in miniature Santa Clara Pueblo pottery are often near-perfect images of animals (deer, butterflies, bison), beautiful nature scenes, Pueblo dancers, and personal experiences. Miniatures are now common in all Southwest Native American Indian pottery-producing areas. However, the descendants of Camilio ‘Sunflower’ Tafoya likely make the most of any pottery family group.