Last week, on a particularly blustery, dusterly pre-spring day in Northern New Mexico, I drove the 25 miles stretch of NM 84/285 to Santa Clara pueblo to visit my old friend, potter Toni Roller. I had 2 old Santa Clara pots with me to see if Toni could help me to identify their maker, especially if they were old Tafoya family jars. She had done this for me quite a few times before. Toni is a multi blue ribbon potter as awarded on many occasions at Santa Fe’s Annual Indian Market. She is also pueblo pottery matriarch, Margaret Tafoya’s daughter and grand-daughter of Serafina Tafoya (Margaret’s mom). I don’t think any living person has seen more pots by Margaret and Serefina than Toni.
While driving that all too familiar road, passing distant mountains, mesas, Powaque Pueblo, Espanola, I remembered other similar journies to visit Toni or her son, Jeff, my good friend and another in the long line of exceptional Tafoya family potters. On one such occasion, perhaps in the late ’90’s, I arrived with a large old pot for Toni to examine and I arrived at just the wrong time; or maybe it was just the right time. Toni’s Tafoya family gallery and her studio are all in one large room at her home. So I walked in and Toni was in the studio space behind the gallery, polishing one of her exquisite black jars. Polishing is an exacting practice among so many pueblo potters; particularly so for the Tafoya family with a strong multi-generation tradition of high excellence in polishing. Even the polishing stones are laden with love and history, handed down through the generations. So, Toni greeted me, on that occasion without looking up. “Lyn, go sit over there for awhile”. I didn’t know Toni very well at the time and I found her manner, well, bruque. But sit I did, with a large heavy pot in a larger box on my lap; sit like that, I did, for about an hour.
Finally, Toni got up and and without apology (as I’m sure I felt that I deserved), asked me what I had brought. I opened the box and removed my old jar, a large one with a twisted neck design from the early 20th century; it had lots of white staining on the inside. Toni’s eyes lit up; her smile was large and instantaneous. “That’s my grandma’s”!
(to be continued)