Nathan chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
This classic water jar was most probably created by Santana Tafoya Gutierrez in the early 1900s. Santana was born around 1860, and her sister-in-law Serafina Gutierrez Tafoya was born in 1863. These two women started the revolution of finely crafted and exquisitely burnished black pottery. Each potter can be identified by the shape of their water jars and by their own style of debossed bear paw and rainbow bands.
As I examined this jar closely, the first things I noticed were the weight and size. This is a very large jar, but not too large for daily use. The wall is thin, indicative of Santa Clara vessels made before 1925. The jar’s weight is about one-third of that of a comparable-sized piece made in modern times. The base is concave, possibly to allow the jar to be carried on one’s head, and this certainly adds to the strength of the vessel. From the bottom of the jar, the outer wall curves in and then out to the shoulder. This allows the user to hold the jar easily.
The shoulder comes into the neck at a substantial distance from the outer diameter of the vessel. This is very difficult to achieve. A potter must wait and time the addition of coils of clay, and stretch and shape them as the clay firms up. Too much clay or too much stretching, and the shoulder collapses. There is also a light depression of the end of the shoulder before transferring to the neck. These are hallmarks of Santana’s style.
Traveling up the neck, we see a gentle curvature, flaring out wide to the rim. Santana added three bear paws, a tribute to the bear that led the tribes to water in a time of drought. On the inside of the neck, you can see and feel the protrusion of the clay where the bear paws were debossed from the outside. Most modern potters carve out their bear paws rather than push them into the clay. Santana set hers with a slight roundness at the bottom and made the fingers very long. Along the edge of the rim, we see very small indentations. These are raindrops, a prayer to keep the water sweet and drinkable. The inside of the jar has been burnished from the rim down to the beginning of the neck.
Each potter has a distinct way of stone-burnishing their pottery. The stone marks on this piece duplicate the marks found on other known Santana pottery. While no one can determine if a potter made a particular piece without having a signature as evidence or without having actually been in attendance while the pot was made, I feel confident that this jar was made by Santana.
On occasion, my grandmother Margaret Tafoya shared stories with me about her mother, Serafina, and Aunt Santana. From these stories I learned that they were both loved, revered, and appreciated by Margaret. They each made an impact on Margaret’s life and career as a potter. This can be seen in the subtle influences of shape and finish in Margaret’s pottery.