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Tesuque Pueblo Nineteenth Century Rain God Figurine [R]


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Santa Fe has always been an exotic destination for tourists even before the arrival of the transcontinental train in 1880.  In fact, New Mexico was so foreign to Washington bureaucrats that it was prohibited for over 65 years from becoming a state.  Washington politicians saw New Mexico as uneducated, uncivilized and unworthy of becoming a state of the United States so it stayed a territory until 1912.  Other Americans did not see New Mexico as that but they saw it as an exotic destination full of mysterious and interesting people.


Santa Fe merchants were quick to pick up on the interests of outsiders to the culture of New Mexico and they were quick to match Indian-made items with those interests.  Traditional functional utilitarian pottery was not necessarily of interest to the visitors.  Something more exotic with a shock-value, something that would convey the mysteries or religion of the Natives in this untamed land was needed.  The merchants settled on clay gods and idols as the perfect answer.


Tesuque rain gods, neither idols nor gods, were the answer and the merchants purchased them by the hundreds and thousands from the potters at Tesuque Pueblo.  They were exotic and believed to be representations of idols or gods by the tourists.  It is most likely that they were modeled after pre-Columbian Mexican figures of that nation’s tribes.  Early ones, circa 1880s, were generally made with fully exposed genitalia but later ones were made with a jar on the lap.


It is believed that this one pre-dates 1900 by a few years.  There were some minor painted designs in red, blue and yellow, but those colors have faded almost to oblivion.  The cream colored semi-moon on the head is still visible as are a pair of cream triangles on the jar.  Earlier dolls such as this were devoid of fingers and toes.


Condition:  very good condition with no evidence of damage other than paint loss

Recommended Reading: When Rain Gods Reigned—From Curios to Art at Tesuque Pueblo by Duane Anderson

Provenance: from the collection of a New York City resident

C3797A-rain-god.jpgC3797A-large.jpg Click on image to view larger.