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December 7, 2012 – February 28, 2013 | INTRODUCTION
Early in the 20th century, a New Mexico missionary gave an old polychrome jar to her niece, Phyllis Tull, in Chicago. On the bottom of the jar, she penciled: “From Aunt Mary, made by Tausuki [probably Tesuque] Indians, a small tribe living near Santa Fe, NM, September 1909”. This jar, Figure 6 in our new show, serves as an icon for the beautiful, sometimes quirky, and always fascinating pottery of the Tewa pueblos of New Mexico. My friend and fond former owner of this jar, Indian art dealer Mac Grimmer, myself and a couple of other aficionados have discussed the origins of this jar. Was it made at San Ildefonso or do we believe Aunt Mary while wondering exactly what the Tesuque connection might be? Was this a San Ildefonso jar traded or given to someone at Tesuque, perhaps as a wedding gift; or a Tesuque potter, influenced by San Ildefonso designs? And what of the arched designs in the neck, which are more like Santo Domingo design, or the fact that the birds simply do not look like most San Ildefonso painted pottery birds?
In fact, we may ask ourselves if what draws us to historic pueblo pottery isn’t these often elusive and hidden stories. The potteries seem to reveal only what they choose, leaving us to wonder and to question. If anything, this show is about mystery, the elements of beauty, nuance and subtlety. Each of these beautiful ceramics engages us in multiple ways that we have tried to capture in words and pictures. They sometimes relate closely and easily (lidded jars, jars with birds, etc.), but like snowflakes, never exactly replicate themselves. Perhaps then our job is only to love them. More complete descriptions of the pottery are found in the blog posts accompanying each example in the online Show on our website. Or visit the gallery and author your own versions.
I have been fortunate over the past year to acquire a number of beautiful and historically interesting examples of pottery from most of the Tewa pueblos of New Mexico, which include: San Ildefonso, Tesuque, San Juan, Santa Clara, Nambe and Pojoaque. Of these, only Pojoaque is unrepresented in this show. The pottery ranges from Tesuque and San Ildefonso example of the 1880’s-‘90’s to contemporary masterworks such as an award winning Margaret Tafoya to 2 stunning jars by former Indian Market Best of Show winner Lonnie Vigil, the only living artist represented by the gallery. Lonnie’s stunning creations marry the traditional to the contemporary. They are our bridge between then and now.
In this show I was struck by the confluence of form, design, even size between the jars in this show despite their being separated by pueblos and generations. Take the 2 majestic San Ildefonso polychrome storage jars. Only a few potters had the skill and perhaps vision to create these stunning large jars. Take for example the jar in Figure 1. Beautifully formed with perfectly painted design, it was likely created by Martina Vigil and painted by her husband Florentino Montoya. This jar dates to about 1900 and has blue ribbon provenance, coming from the personal collection of esteemed Indian art dealer and my dear friend, Martha H. (Marti) Struever. Figure 2 is a later storage jar and is distinguished by sheer size and form, being one of the largest examples that I’ve ever seen. With no signs of home use and too early to be created for shipping home by tourists, perhaps it was been commissioned by a wealthy Santa Fe collector or even by a hotel. In fact, it may have been one of the last examples of a form soon to fade into history.
Wonderfully, I have several jars in the show that I have attributed to Martina and Florentino. I know the olla in Figure 3 well. It was in my own collection in the ‘90’s, sold to a long-time client and then back to me after many years. The bisected rectangles and pod-like forms, alternating in red and black as well as the Cochiti influenced cloud forms are typical of Florentino. Look closely: one of the clouds is missing a dot! I like to think Florentino is still laughing about our reaction to that. The form is again masterful, but the jar is elevated by its richly patinated surface. Closely related is the large olla in Figure 4 with its parade of delightful birds. It is slipped white to the bottom, Martina being one of the few potters who sometimes favored this design motif.
The jar in Figure 5 is also slipped white to the base, but does not resemble the form or painting style of Figure 4. This jar was also once in my own collection and prior to that, part of the prestigious Whiteside collection of Santa Fe. The high mid-body gently descended from the neck, red rim and double framing lines though bring to mind the 1905-10 jar attributed to Nicholas Pena on page 67 of Jonathan Batkin’s classic article: 3 Great Potters of San Ildefonso, autumn 1991 issue of American Indian Art Magazine. Of course, birds and an all over white slip do not alone a great jar make. Figure 7, large and beautiful with its dramatic and unusual star-like, fabric-like motif, is neither of these, yet may be a fine example by potter and dressmaker Dolorita Montoya, prior to her untimely death in 1918.
Rarely do I see a lidded Tewa jar with the matching lid still present and intact. Yet in this show we have 2 stunning examples. Figure 8 is a richly red San Ildefonso jar attributed to Dominigita Pino, an early master of black-on-red style while Figure 9 is a rare gorgeous lidded polychrome from Tesuque, likely dating to the 1880’s. The latter is of the type favored by 19th century Santa Fe Jake Gold, famously illustrated with him in a photo found in Batkin’s book: The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico on page 24.
The next four 19th century bowls and jar from San Juan pueblo illustrate the riches to be enjoyed from subtle differences and the less said the better. The dough bowl in Figure 10 reminds me of looking at the New Mexico sky on a clear winter night where swirls of somehow luminous black clouds glow in a seeming constant motion. Figure 11 too is a red-on-tan dough bowl also with fire clouds, but it’s the large deep red field and interior red highlights that draw us in. Two black-on-tans could not differ more. Quietly, the serving bowl Figure 12 teases us with it’s plain exterior which hides the rich interior black glow. Then the large storage jar in Figure 13 explodes with fire clouds on the bottom half which appear to burn for us still.
Figures 14-18 bring us forward in time, from the mid-century brilliance of the award winning Margaret Tafoya large olla (Figure 14) to 2 contemporary masterpieces by Lonnie Vigil. From a prestigious Santa Fe collection, the Margaret black bear paw jar is an example of her brilliance in a favorite form where no two examples are ever alike (see Charles King’s, Born of Fire, title page illustration).
Figure 15 is an unsigned Maria Martinez collected by Hilda Street of the old Streets of Taos gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe (location of my own gallery). Drilled for a lamp and unsigned possibly because it just didn’t turn out the way Maria wanted, we are the lucky ones to still have this stunning classically Tewa formed jar with sienna and fire clouds.
And closing the show while mirroring both the Maria and the Margaret are the equally stunning examples in Figures 17 and 18 by master potter Lonnie Vigil, my longtime friend.
The first is a classic Tewa form with rainbow band, the rich orange coloration that we have come to identify with some of his finest work, as well as dramatic fire clouds, a blessing of the traditional firing process. It is modern yet with strong links to the mid-century and earlier Tewa masterworks.
Finally, Lonnie’s large black storage jar with its gun-metal finish and miraculously thin walls asks us to acknowledge how traditional Tewa ceramic beauty remains modern and relevant today.
Historic can be modern and modern can be historic; especially when we place ourselves in the hands of 120 years of Tewa ceramic masters.