Tara Gatewood

Isleta Pueblo/Diné

Curator Tara Gatewood (Isleta, Diné) is, by birth, a daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, sister, aunt, and niece of strong, resilient Pueblo women; by trade, she is a storyteller, photographer, and print and broadcast journalist.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Tara chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Isleta jar

Isleta jar
c. 1880–1920
Clay and paint
12 x 15 in. (30.5 x 38.1 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

Shaking Hands with Ancestors

I guess you could say this pot chose me. As I visited my ancestors’ creations in the SAR vault, one particular pot, resting among other great stories brought to life through the clay, caught my eye. Although larger and heavier, its form screams of utility much like the pots I live with today. As a Pueblo woman, I know what it means to carry water in similarly shaped vessels on top of your head; you must keep moving, with delicate, swift footsteps, to prevent the loss of water. I remember what it meant to be a child, seeing women with pots on their heads, and anticipating the day I would also be blessed with this journey.

The invitation to make a deeper connection with this pot also rested in the numbers. A huge smile spread across my face when I digested the vessel’s accession number, 869, because these numbers are the prefix to phone numbers in Isleta Pueblo. They are digits I have dialed all my life to reach Che-ee¹ and others in my community. I surrendered to the irony and further welcomed this pot into my own story and wonder.

My connection to the period in which this vessel was crafted is special. Its creation dates to between 1880 and 1920, about 200 years after the Pueblo Revolt, during a time of great change in the world. It could have been formed when my great-grandmother
Na-na Nar’beh’seh Pai’ee was a child and first encountered pottery. Years later, Na-na² would create her own pottery amid her life of farming and raising a family. She shared her home with her grandchildren, including my mother, who remembers her making pottery.

Na-na reveled in the adventures that came with combing the prairie in a horse-drawn wagon for cow chips to fire pots. Afterward, other women from the village would gather to fire their pots alongside her. I can only imagine the conversations that unfolded as the pots strengthened in the flames. I have one of Na-na’s pottery tools that I look at often. I think of her forming clay to provide for her family while quietly celebrating her power and ability to build with materials gifted by Mother Earth. I am a writer and broadcaster, but I relate to how potters build their clay story, forming it bit by bit, pulling in the old to meet the new and smoothing it out as they go.

To see the marks of my ancestor’s fingers across this pot is priceless. The natural change of color across it mimics the familiar horizon of my Pueblo’s western view. The hues also reflect the land I see and walk on today. The fire that made this pot speaks of the plants that guide our seasons and support our lives as Shirr’whip Tai’nin.³ The smell reminds me of home, and the sound that echoes through the pot when you run your own fingers across it reminds me of the delicate chance we are given to keep on building our legacy while living in a good way.

¹Isleta Pueblo language for “grandmother.”
² Na-na is a term of respect used for elders in the Isleta Pueblo language, and also means “mother.”
³ The traditional name for the people of Isleta Pueblo.