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 Santa Clara Blackware

Santa Clara Family Pottery Industry


Along with being the most well known Native American pottery, Santa Clara Pueblo’s black pottery, is considered by art collectors to be of the highest quality.  The native potter begins his or her work with natural red clays gathered from the pueblos and surrounding hills. The clay undergoes many preparations before it is hand molded into the finished product.  The artist rolls the clay into long thin rolls in the ancient fashion of potters the world over before the advent of the potter’s wheel.  He then builds the jar or pot by layering these rolls one on top of the other.  This hand coiled method is followed by the smoothing of the coils by the fingers to the jar or pot’s final configuration.  Afterwards, the artist begins the laborious job of polishing his work by rubbing a smooth “polishing” stone over it until the red clay shines. then begins to “build” the piece by layering these rolls one on top of the other.   When the artist is satisfied with the appearance of the work, it is fired in a special oven.  During the firing, the artists smothers the jar or pot with horse manure.  The manure traps the thick, carbon rich smoke on the surface of the work.  The carbon contained in this smoke fuses into the clay, turning it black, a color that, unlike paints, can never be removed or washed off.  The long and difficult process can often result in damage to the work, no matter how careful the piece was handled.  Only three out of five jars or pots fired come out of the oven unharmed.  Because of this entire process it is easy to see why it is the most valuable of Pueblo pottery.  Given the rarity of this pottery, artists often view this special clay as a living thing.  A finished work, if it turns out well, is a gift from the deity Pueblo potters call the Clay Mother.  The exhibit from collection below by famed Santa Clara artist Legoria Tafoya is typical of the best Santa Clara blackware.  The four stylized bear paws impressed in the sides are an ancient Rio Grande Pueblo design.