Margaret Tafoya

Margaret Tafoya
Photo of Margaret Tafoya.jpg
Maria Margarita Tafoya
(Corn Blossom)

(1904-08-13)August 13, 1904
Died February 25, 2001(2001-02-25) (aged 96)
Nationality Native Pueblo Indian, (Kha-Po Owingeh)
Known for Traditional Pottery

Maria Margarita "Margaret" Tafoya (Tewa name: Corn Blossom; August 13, 1904 – February 25, 2001)[1] was the matriarch of Santa Clara Pueblo potters.[2] She was a recipient of a 1984 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[3]

Early life

Margaret was the daughter of Sara Fina (sometimes spelled Serafina)[4][5] Guiterrez Tafoya (1863–1949) and Jose Geronimo Tafoya (1863–1955). She attended the Santa Clara Pueblo elementary school, and then the Santa Fe Indian School[6] from 1915 to 1918.[7] She had to drop out of high school to help her family during the flu pandemic of 1918.[6]

Margaret learned the art of making pottery from her parents, and was particularly influenced by her mother.[5] Sara Fina was considered the leading potter of Santa Clara in her day, as the master of making exceptionally large, finely polished blackware. She also occasionally made redware, micaceous clay storage jars and other smaller utilitarian forms. Margaret's father was primarily concerned with raising food for the family but he was also known to make pottery and helped Sara Fina with many aspects of her pottery production.[8]

As a child, Tafoya started making small animals out of the clay that her parents had extracted from the Santa Clara land for Sara Fina's works. Showing promise, her mother encouraged young Margaret to make her own pottery and taught her how to knead the clay and polish shaped pots, as well as where to gather fuel for the firing process.[9] Sara Fina allowed Margaret to sell her first pottery to a dealer in Santa Fe, although Margaret did not recall how much money she made that day. But the act of selling her work gave her confidence to continue making pottery.[6]


For several years, Margaret worked as a cook and a waitress before she married Alcario Tafoya (1900–1995) in 1924.[9] Alcario, a distant relative with the same last name,[5] and Margaret worked together making pottery just as her mother and father had done. Margaret and Sara Fina's husbands both helped with the tasks of digging and preparing the clay and the firing of the pots. Alcario also helped Margaret with the creation and carving of designs on her pots.

Early in her career, Margaret often traded pottery for children's clothing or other household necessities to support her growing family. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Tafoyas would frequently load Margaret's pots into a horse-drawn wagon and travel hundreds of miles to Santa Fe and Taos to sell the works to tourists and traders. Tafoya also began selling her works at Indian art fairs such as the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial at Gallup.[9] In the 1950s, as interest in Native American art grew, the public would travel to the pueblos as tourists as well as to buy artistic goods, so the family didn't have to travel as far to sell their wares.[5] During this time period, the Tafoyas befriended the owner of a resort in Royal Gorge, Colorado who hired them for summer residencies to perform ceremonial dances and sell their pottery to guests.[6]

By the 1960s Margaret's pottery had become famous, particularly her large black jars. Margaret continued her mother's tradition of making these exceptionally large pots, with finely polished surfaces and simple carved designs. "Measuring as high as three feet, these vessels took months to mold and polish. They also required an enormous amount of technical skill, particularly to keep them from breaking while being fired".[9] The labor-intensive techniques meant that Tafoya usually made only one large pot per year.[10] Her "bear paw" motif and deeply carved pueblo symbols like the Avanyu (water serpent) and kiva steps around the shoulder of her jars have become signature trademarks of the Tafoya family pottery.[7]

Like her mother, Margaret molded her pots using the traditional coiling method. "This method and many of the techniques used in the production of her pottery has been dated as being as more than 1200 years old, with the ancient "Anasazi" of the Colorado Plateau being the founding culture. A common misconception was the belief that black on black, burnished pueblo pottery had "died out," according to Larry Frank and Francis H. Harlow. "In reality, the nearby inhabitants of Santa Clara Pueblo were still producing the highly burnished, black on black pottery, since the 1600s, therefore lending to the revival of the San Ildefonso style of black on black "painted" pottery. The only difference between the two pueblo's styles is that in Santa Clara, pots are deeply carved and incised, whereas, in San Ildefonso, the pottery is generally not carved and painted with pigments to cause un-polished designs on a polished surface."[11][failed verification (See discussion.)] In the early 20th century, as Maria Martinez was developing the San Ildefonso style of traditional pottery, it was well known that she in fact learned various polishing (burnishing) techniques from Margaret Tafoya, as well as how to turn any color of clay black, by simply smothering the fire with manure.[12][unreliable source?]

Tafoya's work "reflected the transformation of the Santa Clara pottery tradition from the utilitarian to the artistic".[4]

Retrospective exhibitions

Awards and honors


Margaret and her husband Alcario raised thirteen children. At the time of her death in February 2001, Margaret had 30 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren.[6] Many of her descendants are carrying on the Tafoya family tradition of pottery making, including: Toni Roller, Jeff Roller, LuAnn Tafoya, Chris Youngblood, Nancy Youngblood, Nathan Youngblood, Darryl Whitegeese, Ryan Roller, Cliff Roller, Tim Roller, Tyler Roller, Jordan Roller, James Ebelacker, Sarena Ebelacker, and Jamelyn Ebelacker.[18]

Further reading

  • Blair, Mary Ellen and Laurence Blair: Margaret Tafoya: A Tewa Potter's Heritage and Legacy (1986)[19]
  • Dillingham, Rick: Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery (1994)[20]
  • Hayes, Allan and John Blom: Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni (1996)[21]
  • Peterson, Susan: Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations (1997)[22]
  • Schaaf, Gregory: Pueblo Indian Pottery: 750 Artist Biographies (2000)[23]
  • King, Charles S. and Duane Reider: Born of Fire: the Life and Pottery of Margaret Tafoya (2008)[24]
  • Roller, Ryan A.: Santa Clara Pueblo[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Margaret Tafoya". Clara: Database of Women Artists. National Museum of Women in the Arts. November 18, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Tafoya, Accomplished Potter, Dies". Albuquerque Journal. Albuquerque, NM. February 27, 2001. p. 2.
  3. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Margaret Tafoya". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Govenar, Alan, ed. (2001). "Margaret Tafoya: Native American Pueblo Potter (Santa Clara)". Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary. vol. 2 (K-Z). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio. pp. 601–603. ISBN 1576072401. OCLC 47644303.
  5. ^ a b c d Congdon, Kristin G.; Hallmark, Kara Kelley (2012). American Folk Art: A Regional Reference. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio. pp. 540–541. ISBN 9780313349362. OCLC 721891434.
  6. ^ a b c d e Martin, Douglas (March 5, 2001). "Margaret Tafoya, 96, Pueblo Potter Whose Work Found a Global Audience". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Margaret Tafoya 1904–2001". National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Margaret Tafoya, Santa Clara Pueblo Potter". Adobe Gallery. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d Kort, Carol; Sonneborn, Liz (2002). A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts. New York, NY: Facts on File. pp. 210–211. ISBN 9780816043972. OCLC 47073303.
  10. ^ Harlow, Francis H. (1977). Modern Pueblo Pottery, 1880-1960 (1st ed.). Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780873581592. OCLC 3286678.
  11. ^ Frank, Larry; Harlow, Francis H. (1974). Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians, 1600-1880. Boston: New York Graphic Society. pp. 1–158. ISBN 9780821205860. OCLC 1236623.
  12. ^ (R. Roller-Santa Clara Pueblo)
  13. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1984". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  14. ^ Touchette, Charleen; De Novais Guerrero, Carmen, eds. (February 11, 1992). "WCA Honor Awards" (PDF). National Women's Caucus for Art Conference. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  15. ^ a b "Domenici Pays Tribute To Late Potter". Albuquerque Journal. Albuquerque, NM. March 21, 2001. p. 8.
  16. ^ Knoll, John (August 5, 1996). "Potter, Jeweler Went Beyond Beauty". Albuquerque Journal. Albuquerque, NM. p. 42.
  17. ^ Roberts, Kathaleen (August 10, 2014). "Margaret Tafoya expanded the Santa Clara Carving Tradition". Albuquerque Journal. Albuquerque, NM. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  18. ^ "Born of Fire: The Pottery of Margaret Tafoya". Four Winds Gallery. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  19. ^ Blair, Mary Ellen; Blair, Laurence R. (1986). Margaret Tafoya: A Tewa Potter's Heritage and Legacy. West Chester, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 9780887400803. OCLC 14393199.
  20. ^ Dillingham, Rick (1994). Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery (1st ed.). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. ISBN 9780826314987. OCLC 28586743.
  21. ^ Hayes, Allan; Blom, John (1996). Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland. ISBN 9780873586634. OCLC 34515540.
  22. ^ Peterson, Susan. Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations (1st ed.). New York, NY: Abbeville Press. ISBN 9780789203533. OCLC 36648903.
  23. ^ Schaaf, Gregory (2000). Pueblo Indian Pottery: 750 Artist Biographies (1st ed.). Santa Fe, NM: CIAC Press. ISBN 9780966694819. OCLC 43470641.
  24. ^ King, Charles S. (2008). Born of Fire: the Life and Pottery of Margaret Tafoya. photographs by Duane Reider. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press. ISBN 9780890135099. OCLC 175217597.

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