Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Pueblo Women Artists
On a hot, humid summer day in the upper Susquehanna River Valley, I discovered a passion. Always a hound for hand-thrown pottery, I went on a day trip to visit my favorite Pennsylvania craftsman, Bill Lynch of Penns Creek Pottery. After a sojourn with Bill and lemonade and cookies with his wife and family, I decided to continue on to Mifflinburg, a tiny town known mainly as the site of a buggy museum and a store selling Amish quilts.
Strolling down the quiet streets I came upon an old white Georgian home advertising antiques. It looked deserted but a jangle on the bell brought the stooped, grey-haired proprietor to the door.
“Wha’ cha’ lookin for,” he queried without much grace. “Old Indian stuff,” I replied. I’d visited the Southwest recently and admired the Pueblo pottery. “Well, I got some arrow heads,” he said. When I shook my head, he reached under the counter and brought up a pot. “Had this ugly black thing for 30 years, and I’d like to ride myself of it. You can have it for $25.” I almost fainted. He had a 1920 Santa Clara wedding vase. Of course, I paid the ridiculously low price, grabbed the vase, and ran out the door like a thief in the night.
Eventually I moved to New Mexico, the genesis of my treasured pot. Luckily Albuquerque and Santa Fe are rife with museums highlighting Native American art. Currently, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in collaboration with the Adobe Gallery of Santa Fe is presenting “Timeless Beauty: Pueblo Women Artists of the 20th Century.”
Represented artists include Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso; Lucy Lewis, Acoma; Pablita Velarde, Santa Clara; Helen Hardin, Santa Clara; Margaret Tafoya, Santa Clara; Helen Cordero, Cochiti; Tonita Pena, San Ildefonso/Cochiti; and Blue Corn, San Ildefonso.
Not all are potters. Paintings include Pabilta Velarde’s watercolor of Mimbres Turtles and Helen Hardin’s geometric abstracts like “Medicine Woman.” If you’re attracted to pottery, you won’t want to miss Blue Corn’s eggshell polychrome pot or Helen Cordero’s storytellers, which she described as coming “out of my heart. They’re singing. Can’t you hear them? I talk to them. They’re my little people. Not just pretty things I make for money.”
Leaving the exhibit room I walked over to a single display attributed only to an early Santa Clara potter. Before signing became the norm, potters did not dignify their work this way. The huge black storage pot had a true timeless quality and lent a baseline for the remarkable pottery which came after. Its rag and stone polished surface mirrored the finish of my old wedding vase, and I wondered once again at the skill, talent, and patience which created such timeless beauty.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque 87104; (866) 855-7902. www.indianpueblo.org. Timeless Beauty runs through June 14.