Dolores Curran

Santa Clara
Dolores Curran
Lidded red jar incised with feather and geometric design

Dolores Curran was born in 1954 to potters Ursulita and Alfred Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo. She is the granddaughter of Marie Suazo, sister of Geri Naranjo and aunt of Kevin Naranjo.

Dolores worked for three years as a bookkeeper for the State of New Mexico after graduating from the University of New Mexico. After her daughter Ursula was born, she turned to making pottery full time so she'd have time to spend with her daughter. Dolores was married to Alvin Curran from San Juan Pueblo for more than seventeen years and the cross-pollination of San Juan and Santa Clara pottery styles has had a significant influence on her own style.

A master potter, she creates her work in the traditional way: gathering all the raw materials she needs from the Santa Clara Pueblo area and firing her pottery outdoors using cedar and piñon pine in a tin firebox. Well known for her redware and her traditional black-on-black etched pots, she uses traditional Santa Clara elements of design like the water serpent (avanyu), feathers, clouds and kiva steps. Her extraordinary attention to detail, obvious in her stone polishing and the decorations on the back of her plates (in addition to the front) and painting each pot at least three times to achieve the required degree of opacity are among the elements that make her pieces so highly sought after. Much of her work is sold before she even completes it.

The detail of the painting on her miniatures is simply extraordinary, especially when you know that she never outlines the design before painting it. "I work at night with just a lamp," she says. "I like the silence and like to keep everything dark around me so that I can concentrate only on the piece I'm working on.....I develop each design individually as I go along. I don't have a portfolio because I don't want to copy my own designs. Everything I do is more or less one of a kind."

Dolores won Best of Division for one of her creations at the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market in 1993, which means her piece was judged to be the finest of all the hundreds of pots submitted to the juried competition that year. Dolores has also earned many 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place ribbons plus ribbons for Best in Miniatures.

Dolores tells us her favorite pieces to make are plates and jars. She also enjoys working with several different shades of black, matte and polished. She also likes working in shades of red with a white or buff slip. She says her inspiration comes out of her own imagination: she likes to doodle and she's seen some interesting designs come out of that.

In her words: "I'm a home body but I love to go to Eagle Nest and Red River. I would love to live up there." And: "My grandchildren are my greatest joy."

She signs her work: "Dolores Curran, Santa Clara Pueblo".

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
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Santa Clara Pueblo

The Puye Cliff Ruins
Ruins at Puye Cliffs, Santa Clara Pueblo

Santa Clara Pueblo straddles the Rio Grande about 25 miles north of Santa Fe. Of all the pueblos, Santa Clara has the largest number of potters.

The ancestral roots of the Santa Clara people have been traced to the pueblos in the Mesa Verde region in southwestern Colorado. When that area began to get dry between about 1100 and 1300, some of the people migrated to the Chama River Valley and constructed Poshuouinge (about 3 miles south of what is now Abiquiu on the edge of the mesa above the Chama River). Eventually reaching two and three stories high with up to 700 rooms on the ground floor, Poshuouinge was inhabited from about 1375 to about 1475. Drought then again forced the people to move, some of them going to the area of Puye (on the eastern slopes of the Pajarito Plateau of the Jemez Mountains) and others to Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, along the Rio Grande). Beginning around 1580, drought forced the residents of the Puye area to relocate closer to the Rio Grande and they founded what we now know as Santa Clara Pueblo on the west bank of the river, between San Juan and San Ildefonso Pueblos.

In 1598 Spanish colonists from nearby Yunque (the seat of Spanish government near San Juan Pueblo) brought the first missionaries to Santa Clara. That led to the first mission church being built around 1622. However, the Santa Clarans chafed under the weight of Spanish rule like the other pueblos did and were in the forefront of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. One pueblo resident, a mixed black and Tewa man named Domingo Naranjo, was one of the rebellion's ringleaders. When Don Diego de Vargas came back to the area in 1694, he found most of the Santa Clarans on top of nearby Black Mesa (with the people of San Ildefonso). An extended siege didn't subdue them so eventually, the two sides negotiated a treaty and the people returned to their pueblo. However, successive invasions and occupations by northern Europeans took their toll on the tribe over the next 250 years. The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 almost wiped them out.

Today, Santa Clara Pueblo is home to as many as 2,600 people and they comprise probably the largest per capita number of artists of any North American tribe (estimates of the number of potters run as high as 1-in-4 residents).

Today's pottery from Santa Clara is typically either black or red. It is usually highly polished and designs might be deeply carved or etched ("sgraffito") into the pot's surface. The water serpent, ("avanyu"), is a traditional design motif of Santa Clara pottery. Another motif comes from the legend that a bear helped the people find water during a drought. The bear paw has appeared on their pottery ever since.

One of the reasons for the distinction this pueblo has received is because of the evolving artistry the potters have brought to the craft. Not only did this pueblo produce excellent black and redware, several notable innovations helped move pottery from the realm of utilitarian vessels into the domain of art. Different styles of polychrome redware emerged in the 1920's-1930's. In the early 1960's experiments with stone inlay, incising and double firing began. Modern potters have also extended the tradition with unusual shapes, slips and designs, illustrating what one Santa Clara potter said: "At Santa Clara, being non-traditional is the tradition." (This refers strictly to artistic expression; the method of creating pottery remains traditional).

Santa Clara Pueblo is home to a number of famous pottery families: Tafoya, Baca, Gutierrez, Naranjo, Suazo, Chavarria, Garcia, Vigil, Tapia - to name a few.

Harvest, Santa Clara Pueblo c. 1912

Courtesy Museum of New Mexico Neg. No. 4128

Santa Clara Pueblo c. 1920

Courtesy Museum of New Mexico Neg. No. 4214

Map showing the location of Santa Clara Pueblo
For more info:
at Wikipedia
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, Daniel Gibson, ISBN-13:978-1-887896-26-9, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001
Upper photo courtesy of Einar Kvaran, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved