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An absolutely exquisite historic Santa Clara Pueblo polished blackware pottery bowl by Margaret Tafoya, c.1950’s-60’s

One of the all-time legendary Matriarchs of Pueblo pottery is Santa Clara Pueblo’s great Maria Margarita (Margaret) Tafoya, Tewa Indian name “Corn Blossom”, (1904-2001), daughter of two highly-esteemed Santa Clara Pueblo potters, Sarafina Tafoya (1863-1949) and Jose Geronimo Tafoya (1863–1955). Sarafina Tafoya was considered to be the pre-eminent potter of Santa Clara in her day. Margaret Tafoya received numerous awards over the course of her long career, the most noteworthy of which were her being awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984 just a few years after she won unprecedented back-to-back “Best of Show” awards at the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market in 1978 and1979. Also, in 1985, Margaret was one of only three New Mexicans to receive the Governor’s Award, New Mexico's highest artistic honor, awarded for a major contribution to the arts of New Mexico, and in 1992, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Women’s Caucus for Art.

Margaret Tafoya’s pottery is of incomparable quality and immense beauty. Her pottery forms are at once graceful, sculptural and bold. Her specialty was polished blackware pottery and her exceptional polishing and the resulting lustrous surfaces of her vessels are so superbly done that her pieces seem to actually glow from within. In this strikingly modern-looking large bowl, she departed from the usual lower flatter profile shape of Santa Clara Pueblo pottery bowls to make a daringly upright almost angular V-shaped vessel with an absolutely gorgeous commanding profile and presence. It’s almost akin to the bottom third of one of her larger storage jars. This piece is completely traditional in every way, yet strikingly contemporary at the same time; a marvelous and unique combination that would make it completely at home alongside the Picassos and Brancusis in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art or alongside several centuries of historic Pueblo pottery pieces in The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture here in Santa Fe.

The bowl is completely undecorated with no painting or incised work at all, instead it is defined by its exceptional shape and extraordinary glossy surface. The potting, polishing and firing of this piece were all so well executed that the bowl can almost be considered to have attained a “gunmetal” type finish, so gleaming is the surface. “Gunmetal” is a particularly reflective, very deep saturated gray black finish that is almost iridescent in nature; it is very occasionally obtained through a fortuitous combination of very finely burnished polishing and a perfect firing. Potter Maria Martinez of the neighboring San Ildefonso Pueblo became quite famous for attaining a “gunmetal” finish on certain of her blackware pottery vessels, but, interestingly, it was Margaret Tafoya who originally taught Maria how to polish and fire blackware pottery.

“This bowl is every single bit as much of a daring modern sculpture

as it is a traditionally handmade historic Pueblo pottery bowl.”

The bowl measures 7” in height and is a very nice-sized 12 1/4” in diameter at the widest point. It is in generally excellent original condition overall with several extremely minor nicks and scuffs and some small areas of very light surface cracking in a few places none of which are at all consequential or visually intrusive, in our view, and which we only mention in the spirit of complete disclosure. The bowl is properly and beautifully signed “Margaret Tafoya” in her customary incised cursive signature on the bottom.

This bowl is a superlative and exciting work of art on every possible level; words really fail to describe it at a certain point because the experience and presence of the piece is just that much greater than one’s ability to properly capture it verbally or even in photographs for that matter. This splendid vessel demonstrates precisely why Margaret Tafoya is universally considered to be one of the greatest Pueblo potters who ever lived.

Price $12,500

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Margaret Tafoya making pottery at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, c. 1940s. Interestingly, some fifteen years ago, we were involved in the sale of the very large black storage jar standing at left in this photo.

Photo source and copyright: Four Winds Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA