Ten Things You Didn’t Know: Margaret Tafoya

Ten Things logoThe legacy of the Tafoya family of potters dates back several generations. The late Margaret Tafoya was among the first of her family to share Santa Clara Pueblo pottery with the world. In this Ten Things You Didn’t Know column you’ll learn more about this award-winning potter.

1 A black Santa Clara Pueblo storage jar, with a heavily incised kiva step pattern and Avanyu design, circa 1950, signed on the bottom by revered Pueblo pottery master Margaret Tafoya, sold for $9,680 during the 2016 Auction in Santa Fe. According to the provenance, the pot, which measures 11 1/4 inches by 12 inches, was purchased directly from Ms. Tafoya. Hilda and Harold Street purchased it between 1950 and 1952. The piece went on to be a cherished decorative piece in the lobby of the Taos Inn and in the Streets’ home.

2 Margaret Tafoya (1904-2001) began making pottery at a young age. She learned the pottery-making process and precise carving techniques from her mother, Sarafina. Although many may recognize Maria Martinez’s name as a pioneer of this type of pottery, it was Margaret and her mother Sarafina who were the first to sell Indian pottery, reports Margaret’s grandson, Jeff Roller (www.jeffroller.com). In fact, the two women were said to have taught Ms. Martinez how to make black pottery.

3 The Tafoya family’s heritage of making pottery, as verified by several museums, dates back seven

Margaret Tafoya

Margaret Tafoya (1904-2001). (Photo from “Margaret Tafoya: A Potter’s Heritage and Legacy.”)

generations, Roller explained. Before her passing in 2001, Margaret Tafoya identified pottery pieces made by at least three generations of Tafoya artists that came before her.

4 With intricately carved geometric designs and a burnished red surface, a redware jar produced by Ms. Tafoya in the third quarter of the 20th century, sold for $19,680 at auction in April of 2014. The jar, with a large tapering base and slightly fluted neck and signed Margaret Tafoya on the base, also earned a first place blue ribbon during the 1972 Original American Indian & Western Relic Show, held in Los Angeles, California.

5  Santa Clara Pueblo pottery began as an invention of necessity. The family used to sell fruits, vegetables, pies, and bread they grew and made, to travelers who passed through the pueblo train station. In order to make transport of the goods to the station easier, Margaret and her mother carried the items in the pots. Spotting the pots and jars serving as containers for the food, travelers became intrigued by the vessels as well as the food. The women were quick to respond with a price of $5, for both large and small pieces.

Achievement and Inspiration Abound

6 Margaret Tafoya’s work has been the subject of several books and museum exhibitions over the years. She was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1984, and a National Heritage Fellowship.

7 Today about 20 members of Margaret Tafoya’s family are active potters. This includines her children, such as daughter Toni Roller (www.toniroller.com), grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. They remain dedicated to creating pottery using the traditional methods and materials utilized by Margaret and Sarafina. Many of the methods used today were passed down through the generations and refined by the women when they began selling the pottery to the public. In an effort to provide the best pottery possible, they incorporated techniques including screening the clay and volcanic ash, and using sandpaper to smooth the surface before burnishing, Roller explained.

Santa Clara Pueblo storage jar

Santa Clara Pueblo storage jar (see #1 for more information). Photo courtesy Auction In Santa Fe

8 Margaret Tafoya was noted for creating some of the largest clay vessels of the time, making each by hand.

9 She’s among the artists in profile at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (www.nmwa.org).

10 Margaret Tafoya’s unmistakable black finish on the Santa Clara Pueblo pottery was created using pine slabs and manure during the firing process.

Compiled by Antoinette Rahn

Sources: Jeff Roller, grandson of Margaret Tofoya and a potter working at Santa Clara Pueblo Pottery; Auction in Santa Fe, LiveAuctioneers, www.nmwa.org; “Margaret Tafoya: A Potter’s Heritage & Legacy,” by Laurence & Mary Ellen Blair

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