Santa Clara Pueblo Large Blackware Pottery Jar with Four Bear Paw Impressions by Margaret Tafoya


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Margaret Tafoya, Santa Clara Pueblo Potter
  • Category: Contemporary
  • Origin: Santa Clara Pueblo
  • Medium: clay
  • Size: 15-1/4” height x 12-1/2” diameter
  • Item # C4223A
  • Price: $12,500.00

This jar by legendary Santa Clara Pueblo potter Margaret Tafoya is completed in a style that has become one of her most iconic.  It’s a tall, double-shouldered jar with four bear paw impressions spaced out evenly around its tall neck. The bear paw symbolizes strength, good health and, of course, water.  Bears are believed to always know how to find water; the placement of bear paws on these jars graces them with that same ability. Pieces like this one were never used as actual water jars, but were still decorated with the same symbology.  Santa Clara Pueblo potters of today—many of whom are Tafoya’s descendants—continue using the symbol on their works. Tafoya’s bear paw jars are classic and beautiful.

As per Tafoya’s usual, the vessel’s shape is exquisite and its polished exterior gorgeous. Its surface is smooth, evenly polished, and reflective. The jar looks great when placed under a bright light; white streaks of reflecting light move down its length, vertically, shining most brightly at the midpoint of each shoulder.  Its underbody slopes down to a base which is just a touch wider than expected. Its bottom is unsigned, but there is no doubt that this is Tafoya’s work. The quality is of Tafoya’s very high standard, and the sales records trace back to the artist herself selling the piece to Price’s All Indian Shop in Albuquerque.

The piece dates to the late 1960s or early 1970s, when Tafoya sold the jar to Price’s All Indian Shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  At the time, Price’s often had dozens of similar jars in their inventory. We recall seeing a hallway lined with at least a dozen Tafoya jars just like this one.  They were priced at just $300, and they weren’t selling quickly. Often, they’d be purchased and converted into lamps. Fortunately, this jar avoided that fate; it shows no signs of having been drilled and repaired.  Price’s, which was located in Albuquerque's Old Town district, closed in 1976. Today, these jars do not line hallways. They are displayed in museums and in the homes of collectors who appreciate the finest in pueblo pottery.

Margaret Tafoya (1904 - 2001) Corn Blossom was born August 13, 1904 at Santa Clara Pueblo.  Margaret learned her skills from her parents, Sara Fina Gutierrez Tafoya and Jose Geronimo Tafoya, who were expert potters. Margaret and her mother were known for their ability to make unusually large storage jars and water jars. She believed the secret to her technique were her polishing stones, which have been passed down through the generations. She taught many of her nine children how to make pottery.  Virginia Ebelacker, Mela Youngblood, Toni Roller, LuAnn Tafoya, and Esther Archuleta are among the long list of Tafoya’s descendents who are or were successful potters. In 1985, Tafoya was one of three New Mexicans selected to receive the Governor's Award, New Mexico's highest artistic honor, awarded for a major contribution to the arts of New Mexico. Her works are included in prominent collections worldwide, and she is considered to be one of the most important Native American artists.

Condition: There are a number of small scratches and abrasions around the widest part of the Santa Clara Pueblo Large Blackware Pottery Jar with Four Bear Paw Impressions by Margaret Tafoya; there are no chips or cracks

Provenance: Purchased from Tafoya in the late 1960s or early 1970s by Jim and Ginger Price of Price’s All Indian Shop, Albuquerque, NM.  It came to Adobe via a New Mexico collector who is downsizing.

Recommended Reading: Born of Fire: The Pottery of Margaret Tafoya by Charles King.  

Relative Links: Margaret TafoyaSanta Clara PuebloTeresita NaranjoSouthwest Indian Pottery