LuAnn Tafoya

Santa Clara/Pojoaque
Lu Ann Tafoya
Avanyu design carved into a red and tan jar

LuAnn Tafoya was born into Santa Clara Pueblo in 1938. As the daughter of Margaret Tafoya and granddaughter of Serafina Tafoya, Lu Ann grew up learning to make pottery from the masters. She began producing pottery in her late teens and the list of awards she has earned since then is very long. She has participated in juried competitions at the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial and the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show, winning awards almost every year since 1980. In 2003 she earned the Blue Ribbons for Best of Pottery and Best of Show at Santa Fe Indian Market.

Like her famous mother and grandmother, LuAnn specializes in larger pieces: red, black and brown, highly polished and exquisitely carved. She is also a master of the outdoor firing process. Everything about the building, carving and firing of a large piece is different. The clay mix needs more temper, the building of the pot takes more time as it sometimes requires that a coil be allowed to dry some before the next coil is added. Polishing is a more drawn out process, as is carving. And then comes the most dangerous part of the process: the final firing. Lu Ann has mastered them all. She also learned to make pottery in the San Juan style and has earned awards for some of those pieces.

LuAnn has been a featured artist in books and exhibitions like The Legacy of Generations, Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery and Margaret Tafoya: A Tewa Potter's Heritage & Legacy. Some of her work is on display at the Heard Museum of American Indian Art & History in Phoenix, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, Cincinnati Museum of Fine Art, and at the Poeh Museum in Pojoaque, New Mexico.

LuAnn has made almost every traditional Santa Clara and San Juan pottery form. Her favorite designs to decorate them with include bear paws, the avanyu, clouds, birds, kiva steps, winds and gourds.

Photo of LuAnn Tafoya courtesy of the artist, © LuAnn Tafoya, 2006.

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