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.


  1. Your story reminds me of Christie Northrup's treasure of a heavy silver squash blossom necklace bought for a similar ridiculously low price at an estate jewelry store in 46th Street in Manhattan many years back. It was tarnished and had a few dents, which made it junky (back then) in the eyes of a merchant in the diamond district. Stones without facets didn't impress him. I would guess that dealers like these would be more sophisticated today.

    Claire @ http://travel-babel.blogspot.com

  2. Sally,

    Your blog is wonderful!! I have a question; when you were in Sinaloa Mexico, did you hear about a man from the early 1900's named Roberto Conde from La Noria, Mexico outside of Mazatlan? He is my great-great grandfather and I have been trying to locate stories and pieces of information about his life for years. He ran a tequila factory that was once located on the Hacienda Las Moras. He lived at 38 Benito Juarez Road in La Noria and died from the world wide flu in 1918. After he passed the vinata was run by his son who was assassinated in Mazatlan years later before the battle was fought on the ground of Hacienda Las Moras in 1939 between mercenaries hired by the vinata owners and the soldiers of the mayor of Mazatlan at the time Alfonso Tirado. After a 4 hour battle and 206 killed, the mercenaries were victorious but the vinata eventually was married into the Osuna Family through Juanita Osuna who was the wife of Roberto Conde's murdered son Zacarias. If you have any information about Roberto Conde or his life I would love to hear about it.

    Sincerely Greg Evans

  3. Three renowned New Mexico Pueblo women artists will discuss their work on Sunday.