Pueblo Pottery Blackware 1880s – 2016

Several years ago I produced a show and book called Black: Minimalism and Beauty in Historic Tewa pottery. Apparently, I didn’t get it out of my system because this show also features historic Tewa pottery, however, this time I have included black pottery by some exceptional mid-century potters as well as great work being done today by Russell Sanchez, Dominique Toya and Chris Youngblood. I am fortunate to also have a stunning and classic example of Nancy Youngblood’s work from 2005.

I have broken the show into five categories: Early utilitarian, early tourist ware, Maria & Margaret, mid-century, and 2016 (black pottery today). I will highlight a few of them in what follows, but every ceramic in this show has an element of beauty and fascination.

// Early Utilitarian Of course, black Tewa pottery pre-dates the influence of trains, Fred Harvey, and Santa Fe pottery dealers; it was used in the home for cooking and storage, and sometimes trading. The earliest example here is an 1880’s olla (water jar) from Ohkay Owingeh with distinct signs of ethnographic wear including scuffing and slip loss from long-term handling and water wear. Interestingly, this jar has 2 stickers which say: Santa Clara Pueblo Indians Rio Grande New Mexico. These stickers were likely affixed by Amos Gottschall who came from Philadelphia in the 1890’s to buy pottery and ship it east. When he bought this jar it was already used and old.

// Early Tourist Ware Another 1880’s-1900 jar with a sticker is more likely an early tourist jar despite surface scuffing from many years of handling. In this case, the sticker says SANTA CLARA POTTERY, Made at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, BENHAM I.T. CO., Albuquerque-N.M. Benham’s Albuquerque store opened around 1910. (I’m trying to learn more). Again, the jar was possibly old and already scuffed at time of purchase.

Two other noteworthy early tourist pieces are the small Santa Clara long neck vase with small protruding lugs at the base of handles and the only pen holder and inkwell that I’ve ever seen. These pieces could be early train station pieces from the 1880’s-1910 or pieces created for the Fred Harvey tours to Santa Clara a few years later. The age is less important than the skill and creativity displayed by potters catering to a fledgling tourist market.

// Maria & Margaret (& Sarafina) Maria Martinez and Margaret Tafoya were, of course, giants of early to mid-century pueblo pottery. Richard Spivey, Mary Ellen Blair, and Charles King have told their stories in exceptional books. This show features a small 1930’s black-on-black jar fired to a beautiful gunmetal silver sheen and signed Maria and Julian. An early example possibly by Margaret’s mother, Sarafina, and possibly dating from 1910-1930, has golden highlights (which could be from incomplete oxygen reduction firing) and handles that attach to the jar with deeply carved 3-finger ‘bear’ paws. Two other large and fascinating pre-war jars (one with handles), could possibly have been made by Margaret with early sgrafitto carvings of mountains, rainbows, and kiva steps by her husband Alcario.

Then, there is a gorgeous 12″ Margaret wedding vase and an exquisite and important 20″ long neck jar with carved stylized Avanyu. These latter two pieces date to the 1950’s, one of my favorite periods for Margaret when her polished surfaces have a delightful softness to them. Finally, two older works, both again with Sarafina Tafoya-like handles: the larger cylindrical jar is 18″ tall and the elegant oil lamp base with what is possibly the original oil lamp inset (the latter captured beautifully by photographer Addison Doty).

// Mid-century: Classic & Modern Of course, Margaret Tafoya and Maria Martinez continued to create great work from the 1950’s-1970’s. Margaret’s sense of elegance in form (working both large and small) and magnificent polishing remained at a high level while Maria experienced another Renaissance working with her son Popovi Da. Other excellent potters would emerge at this time as well. Outstanding examples in this show of the excellence of this period at Santa Clara include the beautiful twisted-handled platter with water serpent by Teresita Naranjo showing a turn towards the modern and the large classic Tewa shape jar by Pablita Chavarria, both c. 1960’s.

From San Ildefonso are two pieces by Maria’s sister, Desideria, one a small shallow bowl with scalloped rim—a favorite form. A major piece of this period (and one of two examples in the show) is a rare and magnificent large black-on-black storage jar by Carlos Sunrise Dunlap (1958-1981), son of potter Carmelita Dunlap; demonstrating his skill at making very large jars at an early age. His painting on this jar characteristically extends from rim to base, in a high energy blend of old and new designs. Carlos died tragically at age 23 ending a career of great promise.

// 2016: Inspired by the Old While Creating New Directions There are many potters at Santa Clara and San Ildefonso creating classic and modern blackware today.

I am so fortunate to represent three great potters, who still work in traditional methods while ever stretching their forms and designs:

Chris Youngblood of Santa Clara (son of potter extraordinaire Nancy Youngblood and great grandson of legendary potter Margaret Tafoya), Russell Sanchez of San Ildefonso and Dominique Toya of Jemez. Each learned from their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and others and each has created special work for this show, expanding artistically on their already exceptional and award-winning bodies of work. More information on each of these exceptionally fine potters can be found on their pages on my website.

Of course, by the time this little book is published, Russell, Dominique, Chris, Nancy and other fine pueblo blackware potters will have produced more works of timeless beauty. The appeal of black pottery persists and potters will continue to honor and be encouraged by the great ones who came before them.

View the show in its entirety here.