News Column

Pueblo pottery at SF museum

May 25, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

May 25--A tattered blue ribbon lying before a gleaming gunmetal Maria Martinez vase reads "1949." A museum label beneath it reveals the original price: $7.50.

The Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts is hosting a pottery showcase by important Native artists, several of them by the great San Ildefonso Pueblo matriarch. "For the Love of It" contains pottery from the collections of about nine museum volunteers, founder Margarete Bagshaw said. The exhibition also features star potters such as Frog Woman, Feather Woman, Margaret Tafoya, Lucy Lewis and contemporary award magnet Jody Naranjo. The oldest pieces date to about 1900.

The granddaughter of the legendary Santa Fe Studio painter Pablita Velarde, Bagshaw said pueblo pottery always found its way into the family. The artists often traded for each others' work.

"They did it because they were friends," she said. "It's more an admiration of each other rather than collecting to collect. It was a noble but humble collection -- little figures or little tiny seed pots."

The internationally known Martinez is often credited with nearly single-handedly reviving the pueblo pottery tradition and elevating it to an art form.

Laboratory of Anthropology director Edgar Lee Hewett discovered fragments of black-on-black pottery during archaeological digs. Martinez was known throughout her pueblo for quickly creating the thinnest pottery. Hewett encouraged her to re-create the ancient pots. She used the painstaking coil method to form the round shape, then dried, scraped, sanded and polished the results with stones. Martinez won a galaxy of awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant. As other artists became galvanized by her success, pottery-making at the pueblos exploded. Today her work sells for thousands of dollars.

Santa Clara Pueblo's Tafoya was another pottery matriarch. At Santa Clara, the pottery tradition emerged in about A.D. 500, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Like Martinez, Tafoya coiled her work from local clay. She produced polished red and black ware decorated with impressed and carved (intaglio) designs. She often carved a bear paw design introduced by her mother, on the neck of large storage vessels, calling it a good luck symbol. Tafoya was a National Heritage Fellow, a National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts Program recipient and won the New Mexico Governor's Award.

"Santa Clara has its own case because we have so many," Bagshaw said, adding, "Santa Clara has an abundance of potters."

Hopi Pueblo potter Helen Naha was known as Feather Woman. She often based her designs on fragments found at the Awatovi ruins. She finished her pottery in white slip with black and red decorations, hand-coiling her pieces from pueblo clay and polishing them to a sheen, including the inside walls. Naha signed her work with her signature feather glyph. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts recognized her artistry by naming its award for excellence in traditional Hopi pottery for her.

Also from Hopi, Joy Navasie (Frog Woman) worked in white slip with black and red designs. Researchers credit her mother Paha Naqua (also known as Frog Woman) with developing the white Hopi pottery style. Joy was among the most celebrated of Hopi-Tewa potters. She signed her work with a frog hallmark, differentiating it from her mother's by adding webbed toes. Today her daughter Marianne (Tadpole) is continuing the family tradition.

The exhibition also features pottery Bagshaw (known for her contemporary paintings) made during a three-year hiatus to the Virgin Islands after her grandmother's 2006 death. Their splayed edges open like petals, so the artist displayed them upside down to reveal their painted imagery. It marked the first time she had touched clay since high school.

Feeling homesick, she ordered micaceous clay from Albuquerque. The reversal of form was a "combination mistake and a light bulb moment," she said.

"It was actually easier to carve upside down," she explained. "And the bottoms of most pots aren't that interesting."

Bagshaw lavished the surfaces with leaves, fronds and Caribbean tribal artifacts, as well as stylized Pueblo designs. The Caribbean designs resemble the effigy motifs from Central and South America, she said.

"Somebody once told me their (Caribbean) tribe was about the size of a phone booth. I thought that was so sad," Bagshaw said.

"I just started having fun with the designs. It sort of renewed my love for creativity."

If you go

WHAT: "For the Love of It"

WHEN: Through June 29

WHERE: Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts, 213 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: $10. Call 505-988-8900 or visit


(c)2014 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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