Tom Tapia

Ohkay Owingeh
(San Juan)
A Potsuwi'i-style jar with a sgraffito and painted design and some micaceous clay slip

"I was told at one time that I was given this talent not to gain fame, but as a means of making a living."

Tom Tapia was born into Ohkay Owingeh in May 1946. He was the son of Jose B. Tapia and Leonidas Cata Tapia. He was born and raised in Los Alamos, NM, but his parents always kept him active in religious and cultural activities at Ohkay Owingeh. His mother also made Potsuwi'i-style pottery and Tom learned how to make that from watching and working with her.

When Tom married Sue Tapia of Laguna Pueblo, she moved to his home at Ohkay Owingeh and learned to make Potsuwi'i-style pottery, too. However, she was from Laguna and there were problems about her using Ohkay Owingeh styles and designs, so Tom innovated his own offshoots and added sgraffito to his design toolkit.

Tom would usually design the pots that Sue would make. Then Tom would decorate some and Sue would decorate others. Often they'd collaborate, and Sue's deep carving mixed with Tom's sgraffito design work earned them multiple awards. Then Tom died in 2015 and shortly after, Sue moved back to Laguna.

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
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Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan)

The Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Mission, built in the 1800s
Ohkay Owingeh Mission

In 2005 San Juan Pueblo officially changed its name back to the original name (before the Spanish arrived): Ohkay Owingeh (meaning: Place of the strong people). The pueblo was founded around 1200 AD during the time of the great Southwest drought and migrations. The people speak Tewa and may have come to the Rio Grande area from southwestern Colorado or from the San Luis Valley in central Colorado.

Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate took control of the pueblo in 1598, renaming it San Juan de los Caballeros (after his patron saint, John the Baptist). He established the first Spanish capitol of Nuevo Mexico across the Rio Grande in an area he named San Gabriel. In 1608, the capitol was moved south to an uninhabited area that became the Santa Fe we know today.

After 80 years of progressively deteriorating living conditions under the Spanish, the tribe participated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (one of the revolt's ringleaders, Popé, was an Ohkay Owingeh native) and helped to expel the Spanish from Nuevo Mexico for 12 years. However, when the Spanish returned in 1692 that tribal unity had fallen apart and the individual pueblos were relatively easy for the Spanish to reconquer.

Today, Ohkay Owingeh is the largest Tewa-speaking pueblo (in population and land) but few of the younger generations are interested in carrying on with many of the tribe's traditional arts and crafts (such as the making of pottery). The pueblo is home to the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, the Oke-Oweenge Arts Cooperative, the San Juan Lakes Recreation Area and the Ohkay Casino & Resort. The tribe's Tsay Corporation is one of northern New Mexico's largest private employers.

Ohkay Oweingeh location map

For more info:
at Wikipedia
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, Daniel Gibson, ISBN-13:978-1-887896-26-9, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001

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