Bernard Mora

Tesuque Pueblo

Curator Bernard Mora (Tesuque Pueblo) is a potter, father, grandfather, United States Marine Corps veteran, and fluent Tewa speaker.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Bernard chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Tesuque water jar

Tesuque water jar
c. 1890–1900
Clay and paint
10½ x 11 in. (26.7 x 27.9 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

Water Jar: A Pueblo of Tesuque Ancestor

On this ancestral water jar, the black designs on the cream slip represent lengthy and strong cultural ties to the vessel’s Tesuque community. The seemingly modest jar dates from around the end of the nineteenth century. The designs were painstakingly painted during a period when time was not defined by monetary value or profitable output.

The maker took care when crafting this pot. Slips of cream and red were applied thinly, before the black designs were added. The pot’s surface was smoothed with a polishing stone plucked from the river, a stone that was itself smoothed by water.

The designs represent many things in their beautiful simplicity. Flowers and other plants bloom across the surface, given life by flowing streams of water and wind. Decorated vessels tell stories, and when they are in use their purpose becomes clear and is understood by those using them. Stories change, and designs are interpreted in multiple ways. The designs are painted to invoke blessings to all who encounter this ancestor. Intentional design does not indicate permanence, and versatility is the mark of Pueblo pottery.

Although the main function of this jar was probably to carry or store water, it is likely that it was also used for cooking and serving. The maker’s intentions for this pot were entirely practical, as testified by the swirling fingerprints inside the jar. Strokes made permanent during firing are an equally important part of this water jar’s story as its painted exterior. These first and final strokes of movement made during the crafting of this vessel give the jar a functional purpose rather than imbue it with the monetary value that might otherwise be placed on it.

Impressions left in jars like this are often overlooked because of the pots’ aesthetically pleasing exteriors. But these flaws and imperfections are what make each vessel individual. Even if it is replicated, a water jar ancestor is as unique as its maker’s fingerprints. The slips and paint cannot be made the same again; the earth has changed from when the first clay was harvested, and the water flows differently from our ancestors’ time. Fire and utility are constants; they can change the function of a jar, but mostly they provide evidence of creation. The base of this Tesuque water jar has the familiar puki mark, which shows how the pot’s life began while also leaving behind an offering in its impression.