Santa Clara Black Pottery Pitcher with Melon Ribs attributed to Sara Fina Tafoya


+ Add to my watchlist Forward to Friend

Sara Fina Tafoya, Santa Clara Pueblo Potter

Sara Fina Tafoya's Legacy: The Historic Lightweight Pottery Water Pitcher

This historic water pitcher, a small yet significant piece of pottery, is a testament to the craftsmanship of Sara Fina Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo. Its extremely thin walls and lightweight structure are a marvel of pottery design. The upper body and neck of the pitcher are adorned with clay swirls, meticulously impressed into the material, adding a touch of artistic flair to the piece.

The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) to New Mexico in 1880 marked a turning point in Pueblo pottery. The influx of tourists brought about a demand for smaller, more portable pottery pieces, as the traditional large utilitarian vessels used in Pueblo homes were not convenient for train travel. This led to an innovative shift in pottery design, with potters like Tafoya creating smaller pieces specifically for the tourist trade.

The thin walls of this pitcher provide a glimpse into its history. They indicate that the piece was crafted from an earlier clay bed, one that was no longer accessible after 1920. The design of the pitcher is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The lower section expands outward from a flat bottom, then curves inward to create a distinctive shape. Above the polished lower body, the piece is filled with melon ribs, pushed out from the inside to create a unique texture. The ribs cease at the neck, which flares outward and undulates at the rim, adding a final touch of elegance to this historic piece. The pitcher, therefore, serves not only as a functional vessel but also as a symbol of Tafoya's legacy and the evolution of Pueblo pottery.

According to Charles King, in his book Born of Fire, "The clay used in the late 1800s to early 1900s differed from the clay used by potters today. The earlier clay came from a location near Santa Clara Pueblo, but the pit from which it was dug, worn away by flooding, had collapsed by the 1920s. Margaret Tafoya noted that the clay from this time period was slicker, which meant it was more elastic and could be worked more easily into thinner walls. (Blair and Blair 1986, 90) Santa Clara pottery from before about 1920 is thinner, lighter, and more widely varied in sculptural forms and the size of the vessel. Since the clay used today is not as elastic, Santa Clara pottery must have thicker walls to give the vessels strength and stability." [King,2008:23]

In Blair and Blair, page 49, figure 2.8, there is a water jar with an impressed swirled neck which is attributed to Sara Fina Tafoya. It is likely that this small pitcher, with its thin walls, ribbed body, and handle, was the work of Sara Fina Tafoya, having been made during or before the 1920s.

AT&SF: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (reporting mark ATSF), often abbreviated as Santa Fe or AT&SF, was one of the larger railroads in the United States. Chartered in February 1859, the railroad reached the Kansas-Colorado border in 1873 and Pueblo, Colorado, in 1876. To create a demand for its services, the railroad set up real estate offices and sold farmland from the land grants that it was awarded by Congress. Despite the name, its main line never served Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the terrain was too difficult; the town ultimately was reached by a branch line from Lamy.

Condition: very good condition with one small repair in the rim just above the handle.

Provenance: this Santa Clara Black Pottery Pitcher with Melon Ribs attributed to Sara Fina Tafoya is from a private collection


- King, Charles S. Born of Fire: The Life and Pottery of Margaret Tafoya, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2008.

- Blair, Mary Ellen, and Laurence Blair. Margaret Tafoya: A Tewa Potter's Heritage and Legacy, Schiffer Publishing, West Chester, Pennsylvania. 1986.

TAGS: Santa Clara PuebloSara Fina TafoyaMargaret Tafoya, Joseph LonewolfGrace Medicine Flower

Sara Fina Tafoya, Santa Clara Pueblo Potter
C4642-36-tafoya.jpgC4642-36-large.jpg Click on image to view larger.