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.