Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jemez Pueblo Storyteller Pottery Figurine by Mary Lucero

This outstanding, richly detailed piece of clay pottery illustrates traditional pueblo dress with affinity for turquoise jewelry, pueblo moccasin boots, and a polychrome pottery wedding vase.
Jemez Pueblo Storyteller Pottery Figurine by Mary Lucero

Friday, March 30, 2012

In Search of Pueblo Rain Gods - Past and Present

As I alluded in earlier blogs, Tesuque rain gods are no longer plentiful nor cheap.   To date, I have been unable to find anyone still crafting rain gods in Tesuque; however, I did learn that one Cochiti Pueblo lady still makes them so I placed an order through an intermediary.

The image below is of the 5 and 3/4 inch high vintage piece I recently acquired at auction. Like most old rain gods, it is not signed or dated, but it was likely created in the era beyond 1920 when poster paints replaced inks for creating marking.

Vintage Tesuque Rain God

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Storyteller by Alma Loretta (Concha) Maestas

Drummer Storyteller by Alma Loretta (Concha) Maestas
Jemez  Pueblo/Laguna Pueblo, circa 2011
I discovered this distinctive storyteller by Alma Maestas (b.1941) style when I glimpsed the colorful cover of Pueblo Stories & Storytellers by Mark Bahti.    Alma's traditional pottery has been featured in many publications and can also be found in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.   She signs her work ALMA followed by a water symbol that represents her tribal clan.   

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Original Trading Post - part 2

Postcard Image of The Original Curio Store, circa 1900
I took a picture in May 2010 in order to illustrate The Original Trading Post in Santa Fe, NM.    That post has been, by far, the most popular piece on this blog site.    The vintage postcard represented above reveals how little it's busy facade has changed since the turn of the 19th century.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Donating to the Smithsonian Institution

     I attended the annual Oasis Gift Show in Albuquerque yesterday. A source of delight there for me was finally meeting up with Tommy Singer, a very affable and spirited character.    We exchanged cards and he invited me out to see his home and silversmith shop on the reservation in the town of Dilkon, Arizona located on reservation land within the area of the Hopi Buttes volcanic field.     
   One jewelry exhibitor at the show had a spectacular piece of contemporary Navajo jewelry he wants to donate to the Smithsonian collection.   I agreed to make a photograph and submit a formal donation proposal.   In preparation, I reviewed the online database of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.    Of note, I found that Tommy Singer has 5 jewelry pieces in the museum archives. I also tried unsuccessfully to find the tobacco case from Dr. Washington Matthew's 1880 report to the Smithsonian. Perhaps, the actual silver tobacco case was never submitted and we are left only with this pictorialization.
Navajo Tobacco Case made in the Shape of an Army Canteen
 circa 1880
Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology
 to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1880-1881

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Duane Anderson, an academic anthropologist, has written many papers in the fields of archaeology, ethnohistory, paleontology, and museum studies.    His thoroughly researched, richly illustrated book delineating the 130 year perception progression of Tesuque rain gods as cheap tourist curios to an important Native American art form is simply captivating.    Originally published in 2002, it is no longer in print but still readily available on the used book market.   

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rain Gods of Tesuque

A century ago the ten mile road trip from Santa Fe to the Tesuque Pueblo was a favorite among tourists.  They often returned with small, cheap, and crudely crafted figurines or so-called idols.   Animal and human figures have long been a traditional art form among Pueblo Indians, but the clay Tesuque figures, today known as rain gods, were produced in mass for tourists and curio traders beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century.   They had no religious significance whatsoever for the Tesuque.    As the 20th century approached demand exploded so they were hastily molded and sold unfired to be shipped in mass packed inside ordinary flour barrels by railroad car. A Chicago candy company even gave them out as premiums.   These fragile rain gods of yesteryear are now quite scarce.  Even the surviving specimens that are chipped and cracked or have been glued back together again are very expensive and widely coveted by art collectors and dealers.

Postcard circa 1910, Tesuque Woman Making Rain Gods
I tried to purchase my own rain god to photograph and illustrate, but I kept losing out at auction.    The opening bids for a rain god typically begins at $100 and the bidding often goes above $500.   In frustration, I decided to fashion by own well aged and broken piece. 

Wilford's Faux Tesuque Rain God
Yesterday, I finally won the bid on a real one.  I will undoubtedly showcase my prize in a future blog.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Southwestern Native American Pottery Collected for the Smithsonian in 1879

Sampling of Pottery Images
from the

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pueblo Pottery from HH Tammen circa 1894

1894 Catalog of the HH Tammen Company
Winterthur Museum Library 

pages 18, 19 (click to enlarge)

"The only implements used in making this Puebloan pottery are little trowels made of clay and mortars and pestles of stone, the latter serving to reduce to a powder the mineral substances employed in part in the decoration. When formed by hand and trowel and into the desired shapes, a number of the unbaked vessels are placed together, and an oven-shaped pile of combustible manure is piled around them and set on fire, by which process those utensils intended for cooking'are finished, when sufficiently hardened in the fire. The finer vessels, designed for uses which will not impair their beauty, are covered with a fine quality of white clay, which, after being allowed to dry, is capable of a high polish. Upon this coating the vegetable and mineral paints are applied, with a piece of rabbit skin for a brush, in such designs as suit the artist's fancy. The intense blackness of one kind of ware is produced by covering them, when very hot, with a second heap of manure-fuel ; the sudden partial cooling that ensues, causes them to absorb the smoke, which becomes oxidized upon their surfaces. In the Santa Clara towns the burning is done in small square ovens built into the walls of the houses; each family bakes its own pottery, and family marks, or peculiarities of symbolical ornamentation distinguish each matron's make. We offer for sale the following rare collection of twenty-three pieces…"

Friday, March 16, 2012

Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson

If you have ever had a hankering for a behind the scenes look at Indian jewelry making, this is the book to buy.  A short thirty minutes overview of this incredible work is worth a dozen show and tell visits to Native American workshops.   It is basically a learn by picture experience and the photography is outstanding.   The book was first published in 1977 and reprinted several times but is no longer in print. However, it is readily available on the used market.  If I had to pick only one book on Native American jewelry for my library, I would choose this classic for sure.    

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tommy Singer -- A Jewelry Brand Name

Peyote Bird , Tommy Singer, circa 1960's
Tommy Singer distinguished himself as an innovative silversmith in the 1960's when he set scrap stone chips on sterling silver.   The peyote bird inlaid with red coral and turquoise chips illustrates one of his early works.  This pioneering inlay technique thrust the name Tommy Singer into the limelight, but it has been his entrepreneurial manufacturing and marketing that has turned his name brand into the most widely recognized in Native American jewelry throughout the world. He employs family members to help him in jewelry production, but to this day he travels widely within the region to personally market his jewelry products.  The pueblo style bead necklace, and the silver overlay belt buckle and pendant shown below represent examples of his more recent work.

Jewelry by Tommy Singer , circa 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Loren Wallowing Bull

I was happy to recently discover that Loren Wallowing Bull, a young emerging traditional native potter who is a descendant of a famous potter family of the Jemez Pueblo, is now represented by one of Santa Fe's finest pottery art galleries.

Jemez Storyteller Pottery Figurine
by Loren Wallowing Bull circa 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cochiti Pueblo Storyteller Turtle by Dena Suina

Cochiti Pueblo Storyteller Turtle by Dena Suina

Dena Suina is a renowned contemporary Cochiti Pueblo potter who specializes in storyteller creations.   Her award winning, hand coiled, pinched, and painted fine detail pottery sculptures reflect honorably on the memory of the late great Helen Cordero, the Cochiti woman who in the 1960's ignited the modern storyteller figurine movement.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jemez Pueblo Pottery Pig by Helen Sando Garcia

Yesterday, I went out in earnest search of Rain Gods.  My travels took me through three area pueblos and finally Santa Fe.   I found two pricey vintage pieces in a gallery on Canyon Road, but did not buy.   Nonetheless, I came home with this nice little 3 inch pottery pig.   The search for a rain god continues.   I'll soon have one to blog about, I'm sure.

Jemez Pottery Pig circa 2012
by Helen Sando Garcia

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jewelry and Pottery--Staples of Pueblo Art

On a Sia Housetop (1925)
Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's
'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001
Since  permanently relocating inside New Mexico from Gallup to the town of Bernalillo, I have found myself close to many Pueblos all rich in culture.   Today, Sandy and I visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque for their ongoing special centennial celebration entitled, 100 Years of State and Federal Policy--The Impact on Pueblo Nations.

When contrasted with the Zuni, Pueblo, and Hopi nations to my west, I find very little metal-based jewelry being produced in the nearby pueblos; however, their beautiful pottery creations are abundant. So, I have decided to feature more pottery here which will certainly inspire me to meet more pueblo artisans.  

Southwest Native American art has for centuries been expressed through fiber, clay, stone, and for the past sesquicentennial era, silver. I chose two pictures to feature an historical glimpse at two of our still thriving nearby Rio Grande Pueblo cultures. Note the pottery, jewelry, and beautiful attire in these great photographs.
Man and Woman of Laguna Pueblo (1885)
Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Santo Domingo Pueblo and Handwrought by Henry

Handmade Turquoise and Multi-stone Necklace With Removable Pendant by Henry Rosetta
I know for certain, after visiting Henry Rosetta in his home workshop, that he does not use a hand operated bellows directed at a bowl of lump charcoal as the heat source for casting and shaping silver nor does he resort to muscle alone in cutting, grinding, drilling, and polishing his stones.   Instead, he uses electricity and compressed hydrocarbon based fuel as energy sources in creating his masterworks, but the rest of his craft technique remains true to his great ancestral heritage.   I am always in search of individual great artists like Henry who create from scratch.

The insatiable appetite for Native American jewelry is, unknown to most consumers, in large part feed by prefabricated metal and stone products which can be purchased at our area Indian jewelry supply houses.  In Henry's case, he could have bought pre-strung graduated turquoise buttons and heishi shell beads.  In contrast, the individually cut multi-stones inlaid on the three cylinders are not the type of product that can be found at a supply house and must be made by hand.    Nonetheless, Henry had the option of taking short cuts with commercial products, but he does not and thus imbues his jewelry with exceptional worth and enduring legacy.

Native American Silversmiths with Bellows over Pan of Charcoal, circa 1920's
Source: Library of Congress

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pueblo of Sandia / Ben Mur Indian Market Center

Bien Mur Indian Market Sign 
The Sandia Pueblo Indian lands are located on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico.   The actual pueblo village sits a short distance East of the Rio Grande River in the shadows of the Sandia Mountains.   The pueblo was once the largest along the Rio Grande with a population of 3000, but today they number only about 500 members.   The tribe's modern enterprises especially the Sandia Casino have become a sizable economic force within the state with an employee roster numbering in excess of 2,000.   

I recently read that the Sandia Pueblo people were noted for fine pottery marketed through their  own  Ben Mur Indian Market located near the casino.  Today, Sandy and I went in search.   We drove through their small Pueblo on our route to the market.  We saw no outward evidence of craft within the pueblo.    The Ben Mur Indian Market is the largest Indian arts store in the Southwest.   Even though we found an outstanding inventory, their only piece of Sandia Pueblo pottery for sale was an outstanding vase by the late John Montoya priced just shy of $14,000.  The sales clerk told us they no longer receive Sandia pottery, but the art work of many tribes is well represented.
Top:  Sandia Casino
Bottom:  Sandia Pueblo as seen from El Camino Real (Highway 313)

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Concho Belt

The concho belt remains today the most iconic form of Native American jewelry. The Navajo derived the concho concept from the Plains Indians who wore round and oval plaque adornments of German Silver obtained from Anglo traders as hair pieces. The concho pieces were also strung on strips of leather to hang from the back of the head.  In the latter years of the 19th century, Navajo silversmiths copied and transformed the designs into waist belts using silver from coins.

The two Navajo men noted here but separated by a century in time share the distinction of being among the best silversmiths of their respective generations.   The 1883 studio image shows Bai-De-Schluch-A-Ichin or Be-Ich-Schluck-Ich-In-Et-Tzuzzigi, "Metal Beater," (Slender Silversmith) both wearing and displaying a concho belt. The second image shows a modern vintage classical style concho belt by the late Harry Morgan.

Slender Silversmith (Navajo) with Concho Belt
Photo by Ben Wittick 1883

Turquoise and Silver Concho Belt by Harry Morgan (Navajo)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Joseph Coriz--Santo Domingo Pueblo Silversmith

John Adair wrote in his well researched book, The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths, published in 1944, that on Christmas Eve the natives of the Santo Domingo Pueblo make small clay objects of animals and crops to lay at the church alter to receive the blessing of Jesus so that their crops and animals will prosper. He followed, "It has been reported that the silversmiths of the pueblo place tools and bits of silver before the alter in order that their craft may be blessed..."

I have met Joe Coriz on only one brief occasion so I have little knowledge of the man, but I am very familiar with his distinctive sterling silver overly jewelry creations which frequently incorporate petroglyphic symbols and 14K gold accents as seen in the belt buckle example above.  

I do not know if he places his tools at the Christmas alter, but his beautiful work does suggest that his craft is heavenly blessed.