native american art

Among Native American cultures, the Southwestern tribes excelled in the creation of pottery.  
Production of pottery began in the Southwest region as early as 100 A.D., with each culture eventually
developing their own unique styles.  These styles were influenced by the needs of the people and the
availability of clay and materials.

Most Native American pottery was originally made for a functional purpose within each individual
society.  Common uses included cooking, storage, and the transportation of food and water.  Women
were the primary pottery makers.  Since pottery was made from the earth, many clay vessels were
considered sacred and used in certain religious ceremonies.

With the opening of the railroad in the late 1800’s, tourists began to travel to the region marking the
beginning of the modern era in Southwest pottery.  Old patterns and styles became more artistic and
pottery became smaller for easier packing to appeal to tourists.  Roadside stands were set up near
the railroad, and later along the major highways near the pueblos.

Designs on southwest pottery range from abstract, geometric or floral, to animal or bird imagery.  
Many of these designs reflect, and are symbolic of mythological themes, stories, or religious beliefs,
and continue to be painted today on contemporary pottery.  It has been said that every pot tells a story.

San Ildefonso Pueblo dates back to approximately 1300 A.D., and is known for producing some of
the finest pottery in the Southwest.  Early pottery from San Ildefonso was called “Powhoge
polychrome,” derived from the Tewa word “Powhoge-oweenge,” loosely meaning “where the water
cuts through.”  This early style was made with black-on-red designs, as well as black and red on a
cream colored slip. Some of the earliest major potters were Nicolasa Pena Montoya and Dominguita
Pino Martinez.

Around 1920, the world famous potter Maria Martinez, and her husband Julian, began to produce a
new style of black-on-black pottery.  Another famous potter, Tonita Roybal, a close family member
of Maria’s, also began producing the black-on-black pottery as well, and the two often worked
closely together. Tonita’s pottery was on a level rivaling that of Maria’s, and she has been
acclaimed along with Maria, as “one of the finest potters of the twentieth century.”  Making the black
on black pottery required a special firing process utilizing cow or sheep dung which rendered the
pottery black.  The pottery was then polished with a smooth stone. A matte slip was generally
painted in geometric or abstract designs.  The water serpent or “avanyu” was a popular design
used quite often on San Ildefonso pottery.

After Julian’s death in 1943, Maria began to collaborate with her daughter-in-law Santana, making
pottery until the late 1950’s. She then began to produce pottery with her son Popovi Da until his
death in 1971. Popovi Da’s son, Tony, became an award winning and internationally renowned
potter in his own right, and whose pieces are highly sought after by collectors.  Maria continued to
produce pottery in the same black-on-black style until her death in the 1980.

Other talented potters from San Ildefonso included Maria’s sisters Desederia and Juanita Vigil.  
Juanita’s daughter and Maria’s niece, Carmelita Dunlap, also became an accomplished well-known
potter, and is among the foremost potters whose pieces are quite collectible. Maria’s great-
granddaughter Barbara Gonzalez is an award-winning potter as well as her son, Cavan.  Barbara
credits her great-grandmother with elevating San Ildefonso pottery to a fine art.

Corn, another famous potter from San Ildefonso, is known not only for making fine quality
black-on-black pottery, but for her experimentation with and revival of polychrome pottery at San

The Gonzalez family is yet another talented family of potters from San Ildefonso. Rose Gonzalez is
also considered one of the matriarchs from the pueblo.  Her style included carving or incising her
pottery lending a recessed “textured” area on a highly polished piece.  Her son, Tse-Pe, and his
wife Dora, also became major potters in the world of San Ildefonso pottery.

Today, San Ildefonso pottery is still going strong thanks to the children, grandchildren, and even
great-grandchildren of the Martinez, Gonzales, Roybal, and Montoya families.

The famous archaeological site known as the Puye Cliffs, situated along the Pajarito Plateau, was
home to 1,500 Pueblo Indians who lived, farmed and hunted from the 900s to 1580 A.D. These
inhabitants migrated into the Rio Grande River valley and became the ancestors of today's Santa
Clara people.

Santa Clara is one of the most well-known of all the pueblos for its famous polished black pottery.  
Early Santa Clara pottery was typically plain black ware. Sarafina Tafoya was one of the leading
potters during the 1920’s and 30’s.  Her daughters, Margaret Tafoya and Christina Tafoya Naranjo
carried on her tradition into the 1950’s and 60’s.

Margaret Tafoya was one of the last to make pots with handles. She used different colors of slips
applied to the outside of her vessels, and her later forms were highly polished, thinner, lighter and
more graceful. She was not afraid of experimentation, going as far as  adapting Greek and Roman
forms to  Santa Clara shapes.  Many of her pots were decorated with the now famous bear paw
design that made her pottery internationally known.

The Tafoya family were instrumental in introducing the technique of incised or deeply carved
pottery which became a distinctive characteristic of Santa Clara pottery.

During the 1940’s and 50’s, red ware became popular.  Most of the red ware was polychrome
(three or more colors), with geometric designs and images.  The Baca and Naranjo families became
known for their red ware pottery.

Another style that became popular during this time was the buff-colored band on an orange slip
pottery, decorated with an “avanyu” or water serpent, made famous by the Gutierrez family.  

Lela and Van Gutierrez began this style, and their children, Luther and Margaret, continued the
tradition throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. The water serpent is symbolic of good health, good luck,
and happiness, as well as the bringer of rain and good crops. It is the most prevalent design found
on Santa Clara pottery.

Other noted potters from Santa Clara were Teresita Naranjo, and her daughter Stella Chavarria,
Mary Cain, Joseph Lonewolf, and Grace Medicine Flower. Both Nathan and Nancy Youngblood are
known for their modern and contemporary designs carved into traditionally made pots.

Judy and Lincoln Tafoya were an award winning husband-wife team (until his recent death) who
both made pottery in the traditional manner with deep carved designs on both large pots and plates.

Renowned potter Tammy Garcia brought incised pottery into a whole new dimension with her large,
intricately designed carved pots. Jody Naranjo is one of the most innovative new potters with her
delicately incised, etched pots reflecting various scenes, including animal effigies such as deer,
fish, and birds.    

The pueblo of Santo Domingo, located in north central New Mexico is also known by its residents as
Kewa Pueblo.  With the opening of the railroad and tourism, the production of pottery at Santo
Domingo began to flourish around the turn of the century.  

Prior to 1900, pottery production included the large black or red-on-cream colored pottery called
“Kiua” polychrome, although there were not many made.  Early pottery after 1900, became smaller
and featured flowers, leaves, and birds or deer along with geometric designs.

Potters at Santos Domingo also began to produce a black ware beginning in the late 1930’s,
however, it never became as popular as the black ware in San Ildefonso or Santa Clara.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, Monica Silva and Santana Melchor became two of the most important
potters at Santo Domingo.  Both were instrumental in keeping the early traditional pottery
techniques and designs alive.  Monica was born in Santa Clara, but married a man from Santo
Domingo around 1920.  She was interested in making pottery and was credited with jump-starting
the creation of large traditional polychrome ollas again at Santo Domingo. Crucita Melchor,
daughter of Santana, was also a significant potter who carried on her mother’s style of pottery.

Today’s matriarch of Santo Domingo pottery is Rafaelita Aguilar who is known for her magnificent
large black on black jars and ollas. Rafaelita began making pottery in the 1950’s and was one of
the few potters who perfected the black on black ware.  She continues to hand form her pottery and
fires outdoors. Her pots are so exquisite in their form, design, and high gloss polish finish, that they
can be recognized as “distinctly” Rafaelita’s from a distance.

She is still producing pottery today, and collaborates with her daughter, Darlene, who also
specializes in hand-coiled large pottery vessels. Author Greg Schaaf commented that “Rafaelita
may be considered a relatively undiscovered master potter. Because she rarely entered her pots at
Indian art shows, her work has not won ribbons.  However, the quality of her work is commendable.”

The Aguilar family also includes Robert, and brother, Vidal Aguilar, who are both creating beautiful
large ollas and water jars, as well as large dough bowls. Vidal’s designs include wildlife as well as
geometric designs and patterns, and he is known for making some of the largest traditional jars and
dough bowls at Santo Domingo.

The Tenorio family is another who well-known for their pottery making skills.  Robert Tenorio is an
award-winning artist who know considered a master potter.  His large bowls and jars are painted
with traditional and wildlife designs as well as new and innovative designs.  He sometimes includes
both blending them together on a single piece of pottery.  
The most interesting aspect of Robert’s pottery is his distinctive slip which gives his pottery a
“glazed” look.  His pottery is so distinguishable, that his fine workmanship can be identified from
across a room.

Other talented members of the Tenorio family include Hilda Tenorio Coriz, sister of Robert, who
collaborated with her husband, Arthur, until his death.  She now teams up with her daughter, Ione
Coriz, who continues to make pottery in the family style.

Thomas Tenorio is another artist who has begun to draw attention not only for his ability to produce
quality pottery in the traditional style, but for his new contemporary forms featuring lids and carved
relief outlines, which gives his pots depth and dimension. He has also experimented with miniature
seed pots which he delicately and beautifully paints.

      Zia Pueblo is considered one of the most beautiful among the pueblos of the Southwest,
situated in the majestic mountains slopes and canyons of the Sierra Nacimiento Mountains. The
gently sloping flood plain of the Jemez River, and the large Pajarito and Jemez Plateaus create the
panorama for the Zia Pueblo.

      For over six hundred years the pueblo has survived the conflicts of man and nature including
the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when over six hundred people lost their lives. Since the turn of the
century, Zia has been known for the production of beautiful polychrome pottery.

   Zia pottery is unique and immediately distinguishable from other pueblo pottery by their use of
flowing floral and rainbow designs, including the sun symbol, now used as the New Mexico state flag
along with the unmistakable image of the New Mexico state bird, the Roadrunner.

      The pottery can also be identified by its granular texture tempered with black flecks of basalt.  
The slip colors are usually shades of cream, brown, and red. The Roadrunner image is sometimes
painted in various stages of walking, hopping, running, or even sliding to a sudden halt, and each
potter has their own version of it.

      Zia pottery has been dominated over the years by the Pino, Toribio, Gachupin, and Medina
families. Some of the most celebrated early Zia potters over the years were Isabel Toribio,
Dominguita Pino, Ascension Galvin Pino, Dolorita Pino, Vicentita Pino, Candelaria Gachupin, Helen
Gachupin, Trinidad Medina, Katherine Pino, Eusebia Shije, and Seferina Bell.  

Seferina’s daughters Ruby Panana and Eleanor Pino-Griego, are now both awarding winner
potters.  Eusebia Shije is known for her beautiful well-painted and highly polished traditional pots.  
She was the recipient of past awards which included best traditional pottery and overall excellence
in traditional Zia pottery.

Master potter, Sofia Medina, is the most recent matriarch of Zia pottery, who recently passed away.  
Her son Marcellus and his wife Elizabeth Medina, are known for their unique pottery--he paints
dancers on his pots and Elizabeth developed her distinctive lidded Zia pot lid adorned with a
ceramic turtle.

Irene Herrera is another award-winning potter worthy of mention. Irene is known for her unique
terraced kiva-stair shaped handles on her wedding vases.

Contemporary potter Leonore Toribio, although born and raised at Zia Pueblo, married and moved
from the pueblo to Oklahoma.  Leonore’s story is very unique. She continues to make pottery in the
traditional forms along with hand-painted Zia designs
such as roadrunners, flowers and geometric
designs.  And, although she has fired outdoors, the Oklahoma wind and weather make
s it very

She has resorted to using an indoor kiln to fire her pottery, and has had to use commercial clay
when she is unable to gather clay on her return trips home to Zia.

To add to the degree of difficulty of pottery making and firing, Leonore lost one of her hands, but
continues to form and paint her own pots one-handed. She even glazes some of her bowls so that
they may be functional in holding food items such as fruit.

Zuni pueblo is the western most pueblo in New Mexico located 150 miles west of the Rio Grande
Valley. The Zuni were the first to come in contact with the Spanish in 1539, and were leaders in the
Pueblo revolt of 1680 against Spanish domination.

The ancient city of Hawikuh was later attacked by Apaches who destroyed the village, burned the
mission, and killed hundreds of Zuni people. Today, after much adversity, the Zuni Pueblo is a
thriving, close knit village, whose inhabitants still observe many of their traditional ceremonies today.

  Zuni pottery has undergone many changes over the years.  At times, the pottery tradition nearly
died out, then new interest was sparked, and the Zuni pottery tradition would re-emerge.  Turn of
the century polychrome water jars are highly prized and sought after.  Most pre-1930’s Zuni pottery
was made for functional use and ceremonies.  During the early tourism of the 1920’s and 30’s,
smaller, cruder forms were made for quick sale.  Favorite forms among Zuni potters over the years
have been corn meal bowls with handles, small water jars, bowls, and ollas, decorated with frogs,
tadpoles, dragonflies, and the deer-in-his-house designs.  From the 1940’s to 1960’s pottery
making nearly died out at the pueblo, due to an increased interest in jewelry making.

    In the 1970’s, Daisy Hooee (Hopi) who married into Zuni, began researching and making pottery
in the traditional Zuni style. In 1975, Jennie Laate began teaching pottery classes at Zuni High
School in an effort to teach pottery making to younger people who were interested in learning the
skills.  Jennie, who was actually born at Acoma and married into Zuni, was the most instrumental in
the reintroduction of traditional Zuni pottery. She worked closely with teenage students who were
serious about learning how to make their traditional pottery.  

Anderson Peynetsa was one of Jennie’s prize students, and now is one of the most celebrated
potters from Zuni.  His sisters, Priscilla and Agnes, also makes fine pottery in the same style.

    Other notable Zuni potters over the years were Tsayutitsa, Catalina Zunie, Nellie Bica, who was
known for her pottery owls, and Quanita Kalestewa, Nellie’s daughter.  They all produced pottery in
the traditional manner including firing outdoors.  Josephine Nahohai, and her son Milford, have also
been instrumental in reintroducing and teaching traditional pottery making to others.  

Josephine’s other son, Randy, is an accomplished potter, along with his wife Rowena Him.  The
Nahohai family is credited with also reintroducing the spirit break on rims of Zuni pottery which had
been long abandoned and forgotten.

Today’s Zuni potters make very fine polychrome pottery.   After Jennie Laate, award-winning artist
Noreen Simplicio, who had been Jennie’s student, took over teaching pottery classes for many
years at Zuni High School. Gabriel Paloma, another talented potter, took over teaching after
Noreen retired. He continues to teach his students how to collect clay and make their own slips and
paint from natural plants and minerals.           
Carmelita Dunlap
ca. 1980s
Tonita Roybal
ca. 1920s
Tonita & Juan Roybal
ca. 1930s
Maria Martinez ca. 1920s
(attributed) or Martinez family
Alice Martinez
ca. 1950s
Isabel Montoya Atencio
ca. 1930s
Isabel Montoya Atencio
ca. 1930s
Stella Chavarria
Judy & Lincoln Tafoya
Stella Chavarria
Nicolasa Naranjo
ca. 1950s
Judy & Lincoln Tafoya
Judy & Lincoln Tafoya
Vidal Aguilar
Alvina Garcia
Vidal Aguilar
SD Pitcher, ca. 1930s
Raphaelita Aguilar
Raphaelita Aguilar
Zia Olla, ca. 1940s-50s
Sofia Medina
Katherine Pino
Mary Shije
Ruby Panana
Sofia Medina
Sofia & Lois Medina
Irene Herrera
Leonore Toribio
Leonore Toribio
Jennie Laate
Glorietta Katsenith
Marcus Homer
Jennie Laate
Zuni Meal Bowl
Anderson Peynetsa
Zuni Bowl, ca. 1920s
Donna Allapowa
SD Polychrome Vase
ca. 1920s
Vicky Calabaza
Robert Tenorio
Thomas Tenorio
San Ildefonso Pitcher
ca. 1940s
Billy Cain
Earlene Youngblood