Half Nambe Pueblo and half Non-Pueblo, Robert Vigil was born to parents Joe and Alice Vigil in 1965. He first learned the method of making pots with clay coils while in high school in Texas. Then he returned to the pueblo and began to learn from folks like Virginia Gutierrez, his cousin Lonnie Vigil and then from Juan Tafoya of San Ildefonso Pueblo. He has been active as a Nambe potter since 1990 working with micaceous jars, bowls, vases, figures and polished redware. Robert does not create giant storage jars like his cousin Lonnie as he much prefers to work on a smaller, more intimate scale, and coloring his micaceous pots with fire clouds and other variations produced by the oxygen reduction method of firing. There is an elegant purity to his simplistic and understated forms, a deep reflection of his soft spoken manner and gentle spirit.
Robert has told us he prefers the simple shapes and forms and even his carving is gentle. He gets his inspiration from the clay: "I just sit down and start and the clay forms itself through my hands." He's lately been teaching others at his pueblo how to make pottery the traditional way as he doesn't want to see that tradition get lost over time.
He has participated in shows at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, at the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show and at the First Micaceous Pottery Market in 1995 in Santa Fe.
Pieces of Robert's pottery are on display at the Minneapolis Art Institute in Minneapolis, MN, and at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA.
Nambé Pueblo was settled in the early 1300's when a group of Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) made their way from what is now the Bandelier National Monument area closer to the Rio Grande in search of more reliable water sources and more arable land.
At first they settled mostly high in the mountains, coming down to the river valleys in the summer to grow crops. Eventually, they felt safe enough to stay in the valleys and the high mountain villages were slowly abandoned.
When the Spanish first arrived, they found Nambé to be a primary economic, cultural and religious center for the area. That attracted a large Spanish presence and the nature of that presence caused the Nambé people to join wholeheartedly in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and throw out the Spanish oppressors.
When the Spanish returned in 1692, their rule was significantly less harsh. However, the Spanish were responsible for bringing horses into the New World and as the Spanish population increased, so did the number of horses. That brought more and more raids from the Comanches as they came for horses and whatever else of value they could carry away. The Comanches were finally subdued by Governor Juan Bautista de Anza in the 1770's but by then, the impact of European diseases was being strongly felt. It was a smallpox epidemic in the late 1820's that virtually ended the making of pottery at Nambé.
The Nambé pottery tradition is similar to that of Taos and Picuris in their use of micaceous clay slips but Nambé potters also used to produce white on red and black on black products. When Lonnie Vigil began producing his micaceous clay masterpieces about 25 years ago, he almost single-handedly jump-started the revival of pottery making in the pueblo.
For more info: Nambe Pueblo at Wikipedia Pueblo of Nambe official website
Photo courtesy of John Phelan, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License