To continue from part 1 of this blog, Toni’s memories of pottery in her home, her knowledge of Tafoya family pottery history, and her understanding of subtle “signatures” (such as family polishing stone, polishing lines on the pots indicating who had polished a jar, puki shapes, size of bear paws, number of toes on bear paws, rainbow drop impressions, etc, etc.) all add up to love for her family and pottery history and trustworthy clarity.
So, again, off I went last week to see Toni with a beautiful large Santa Clara historic black water jar with large bear paws and with some bubbling in the lower half of the pot’s surface; and an old “gourd” vase with a single handle and rainbow band at the base of the slender neck. (Actually, I brought 3 jars, unapologetic Santa Clara blackware enthusiast that I am; the third one will be the subject of part 3 of this blog.).
I unpacked the first jar, the gourd vase. Toni’s eyes lit up and her smile was instantaneous: “my grandma’s”, she said. It was displayed with a second similar vase on a cabinet top in Serefina’s kitchen. Toni is 76 years old so we may be thinking late 1940’s. “These were difficult pots to form”, Toni explained, “and more so to polish; so grandma (Serefina) concentrated her best and most time consuming polishing on the upper half, the part you could see”. (Important lesson here: slipped and polished upper halves of old black pots with bottom half unpolished has generally been used to distinguish between old San Juans and old Santa Claras; so distinguishing San Juans and Santa Claras in this way, might not be as easy as I’ve always thought!). The rainbow band too, Serafina’s with her particular finger impressions called “raindrops” by Serafina, were another clear subtle pottery signature of Serafina’s.
When I unpacked the large 14″ tall water jar which also had rainbow band and drops, Toni’s identification was again immediate. “Grandma stored milk in these old jars to keep it cool”, Toni said. I asked if the surface texturing was from water use and subsequent damage to the surface. Toni looked at me in a rather shocked way. “Lyn, that is from the natural firing, ‘design from the fire’ we called it. This piece was not made for the art market, but for home use in the 1920’s. So in firing, no license plates were built around the pots to protect them like later when pots were fired for sale. The pot was laid right on the firing fuel; in this case pinon pine wood was cheapest and easiest to find; it left residue on the jar which burned off, but left the texture. This is not damage (she stated emphatically), but signs of traditional, natural firing.”
And so I learn from my many teachers. This is now one of my favorite pots and Toni has helped me to recover its dignity. This beautifully formed Serefina Tafoya pot will go up on my site after being photographed later this month.