Patrick Cruz

Ohkay Owingeh

Curator Patrick Cruz (Ohkay Owingeh) is an archaeologist and museum collections professional at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology, Santa Fe.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Patrick chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Gregorita Cruz Jar

Gregorita Cruz | Ohkay Owingeh Jar
Clay and paint
4¼ x 6 in. (10.8 x 15.2 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

Gregorita Cruz: Survival and Revival of Traditional Pottery-Making

This vessel was created by my great-grandmother Gregorita Cruz, and was accessioned into the SAR collection in 1940. It is a jar created from clays gathered locally from Ohkay Owingeh, predominately a tan clay paste, with a polished red slip. When polished smooth, the slip, which can be thought of as a paint, turns from a matte red to a glossy darker red. The bumps around the widest part of the jar were a common feature of Ohkay Owingeh pots of the early twentieth century, but are little seen on vessels made today. More often than not, such pots were designed for the burgeoning art market.

Gregorita was one of several women at Ohkay Owingeh who were instrumental in reviving traditional pottery-making at the Pueblo after the practice had dramatically declined and was under threat of disappearing altogether. The arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in the late nineteenth century introduced a range of American manufactured goods—among them cast-iron, steel, and enameled pots and skillets, and porcelain dinnerware—that soon replaced pottery. The work of such potters as Gregorita bridged the gap between traditional Pueblo utilitarian pottery and the fine art market, and, in so doing, ensured the continuation of pottery-making at Ohkay Owingeh. That is what makes this piece special to me. Not only is it one of my great-grandmother’s pots, but also it represents a pivotal time in Pueblo pottery-making, before the modern fine art boom.

As I said, this pot has significance for me because it was created by my great-grandmother. I do not even have a picture of her, but my father remembers her making pottery, including large storage jars. He recalls her wrapping her belt around those large pots when they were still soft in order to give them support as she was building them up, so that they would keep their shape and not collapse.

I have some of Gregorita’s pottery-making tools, including Popsicle sticks and aluminum scrapers cut out of cola cans. Today potters can go to a clay store to buy tools for making pottery, but in her day people had to improvise. They had to make their own tools, and, by so doing, potters such as my great-grandmother were able to create beautiful pots. She also used traditional scrapers made from gourd, collected sandstone for sanding the pots smooth, and saved small stones for polishing. Those tools of hers are among my most prized possessions.

I have made pots using Gregorita’s polishing stones, and I feel a close-lived family connection to her in ways that photographs and other mementos could never provide. My great-grandmother passed away in the early 1960s, long before I was born. Still, to this day when I visit a museum that has old Ohkay Owingeh pottery on display, I keep a lookout just in case I am lucky enough to come across something beautiful that she made.