Seferina Ortiz

Deer Dancer figures

Cochiti Pueblo has a long history of producing figurative pottery and has become well known for its "storyteller" figures. Storytellers are usually seated, usually female and often have one or more children on their laps or backs. Seferina Ortiz (1931-2007) was one of the most respected of the figure-making potters of Cochiti Pueblo.

Her mother, Laurencita Herrera, taught her how to make pottery early in life and Seferina continued making pottery almost until the day she died. She also passed the basics of the tradition along to her children and grandchildren, including Lisa Holt and Inez, Virgil and Joyce Ortiz. All of them became skilled at making storyteller and animal figures. Joyce became well known for her mermaid and nativity sets and miniature storytellers. Virgil pioneered a revival of the 19th century style of standing human figures and added social commentary to his mix. Inez also made beautiful large figures while Lisa teamed up with Harlan Reano of Santo Domingo and they became award-winning potters, too.

Cochiti Pueblo has a longstanding tradition of using comic figures to comment on outsiders. Seferina said she invented the bathing beauty and mermaid figures "when they built Cochiti Dam, all these white people were coming to swim at the lake and they'd flooded the fields, so I thought about making these (figures) with bathing suits and tails. We never had them before."

The members of the Ortiz family have always shown deep respect for the traditions of their people while also exercising their individual creativity. A close-knit multi-generational family, they would often share the tasks of gathering and processing clay, tempering the clay with sand and performing communal cow dung firings, with the firings usually done at Seferina's house.

Seferina's work is shown in many museum and private collections. The Peabody Museum of Harvard University alone has 32 pieces of her pottery in its collection. She contributed a piece called "Cochiti Bathing Beauty" to the Smithsonian exhibit of American Encounters, 1991-2004.

During her life she won numerous awards for her pottery at events such as the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. She signed her work: "S. Ortiz, Cochiti".

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