Rather amazingly, this is one of two large jars signed “Nestora” in our Tewa Black-ware Show. This is a superb olla with swirled or twisted neck, very similar to a design used by Sara Fina Tafoya on a jar in the Smithsonian’s collection (see figure 2.8 in Blair and Blair). In fact, when I first bought this jar in the early 1990′s (I’ve now owned it twice!), I asked Santa Clara potter Toni Roller’s (Margaret’s daughter and Sara Fina’s grand-daughter) opinion and she immediately identified it as Sara Fina’s work, right down to knowing that the internal liquid stains were from milk that Grand-mother Sara Fina stored in such jars. (I have a picture of Toni holding this jar somewhere…). However, I later discovered quite by accident and with the help of a bright noon-time Santa Fe sun, a lightly scratched in signature: “Nestora” not centered, but more toward the side of the base.
Margaret’s cousin Nestora was active in the 1920′s and ’30′s, favoring large forms. (The other exceptional Nestora piece in our show shows her skill with large forms). She held the Tafoya family large form puki used to initially form large jars (see Charles King’s Born of Fire) before passing it on to Margaret. The signature is undeniable; this jar was owned and likely created by Nestora, a very fine and skillful potter. This is our usual deduction from a signature on a pot. However, the possibility remains that this jar was created by Sara Fina and Nestora’s signature was one of ownership. The jar has an early feel to it; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made in the first quarter of the 20th century, pre-dating signatures at Santa Clara. If we could know this for a fact, an attribution to Sara Fina would be would be reasonable.
The jar features a thickly swirled neck flowing upward to a slightly and beautifully flared rim and downward to a dramatically wide mid-body (a Nestora large jar trademark) which descends gently to a narrow base. The jar is thick, heavy and utilitarian. The surface is kissed by fuel and fire is a high temperature firing making it able to withstand pueblo home use. The inside shows signs of liquid wear.
These are all very subtle design features. In fact, subtle beauty, quiet beauty is what sums this jar up and is what I love most about historic Tewa pottery. This is an outstanding, satisfying and highly collectible historic Santa Clara jar.