Progressions of San Ildefonso Polychrome

April 03, 2024 until July 31, 2024


San Ildefonso Pueblo was a small village in the late 1800s and was out of the tourist route so there was little incentive for potters to make more pottery than necessary for their own use. James Stevenson was there on a pottery collection mission in 1880 and left with about 100 pieces. Perhaps that spurred potters to make replacement pottery for their use and to store up for future collectors. Although many types or styles of pottery were being made there in the late 1800s, the most predominant style was Powhoge Polychrome typology.

Powhoge Polychrome pottery was Black-on-cream with red limited to use on the rim top and for the red band wiped on below the design panel. By 1890, Powhoge Polychrome began to be replaced with a new style known today as San Ildefonso Polychrome, which came to be the predominant style by 1900.

San Ildefonso Polychrome ushered in the use of red pigment in the design. The early San Ildefonso Polychrome pottery used the cream slip familiar to potters there. That slip required stone polishing prior to application of the painted design. Additional changes that occurred were vessel shapes and painted designs. Potters revived the 18th century olla shape, and switched from red to black for rim paint.

The next significant change occurred around 1900 and is credited to Martina Vigil and Florentino Montoya. The couple from San Ildefonso were frequent visitors to Cochiti Pueblo. It was there that they noticed that potters did not stone polish the cream slip but only rag wiped it. They took this knowledge back to San Ildefonso and introduced it to potters there. It was eagerly accepted, ushering in a new period for San Ildefonso Polychrome pottery. A few potters continued using stone polished slip to around 1920, but most had converted to rag wiped slip earlier.

Although San Ildefonso Polychrome never disappeared from production and use, it was overshadowed in 1920 when Maria and Julian Martinez mastered the technique for Black-on-black pottery. That style became what museums and collectors sought.

The next development in San Ildefonso Polychrome was spurred by the determination of Blue Corn, potter of San Ildefonso and her husband, Sandy, who spent two years in the 1960s experimenting with slips to revive the 19th-century Polychrome wares of San Ildefonso Pueblo. She polished the base slip in the manner in which it was done before the introduction of the Cochiti slip in 1905, which required only rag polishing. In doing this, she achieved a highly-burnished finish. To this she applied the matte paint design at which she had become so adept.

Following the reintroduction by Blue Corn and Sandy of the polished cream slip, other potters occasionally made San Ildefonso Pueblo Polychrome pottery with the original 19th century slip. Carmelita Dunlap and her family produced some in the late 1900s and early 2000s. To illustrate the phases of the development of San Ildefonso Pueblo Polychrome pottery, we submit the following four examples.