Urgent Museum Notice

Margaret Tafoya

Color photo of a woman holding a large glazed pot. Seated against a sunlit wall, her dark hair is pulled back and she wears a white blouse with a color handkerchief and layers of necklaces with blue, red and black beads. She gazes into the distance, a calm expression on her face.

Photo by Susan Peterson; Courtesy of the photographer, © Susan Peterson

1904–2001

Born in 1904 in the Santa Clara Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tafoya learned the ancient techniques of hand-building pottery from her mother Sara Fina Tafoya, also a significant potter.

Margaret Tafoya originally created traditional utilitarian blackware vessels. She closely followed the ancient method of coil-building her pottery with clay taken only from the Santa Clara Pueblo. Working with patterns such as the kiva step, mountain, clear sky, buffalo horn, and bear claw designs, Tafoya used her fingers to impress lines into the clay. Following her marriage at 18 to Alcario Tafoya, a distant relative, she enlisted his help to carve even more deeply into the pottery surfaces.

During the 1950s, with the rise of interest in Native American art, Tafoya became well-known worldwide for her skill in handbuilding uncommonly large clay vessels. She rejected modern techniques, scorning the potter’s wheel and the addition of nontraditional gems and stones.

Her ability to experiment with scale and form while maintaining strong ties to the Santa Clara tradition set her apart from other talented potters. Of her ten surviving children, eight have become accomplished potters and continue the family legacy in Santa Clara.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Margaret Tafoya
  • Birth

    Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 1904
  • Death

    Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 2001
  • Phonetic Spelling

    MAHR-gah-reht tah-FOY-yah

Works by Margaret Tafoya

Jar, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico

This jar illustrates the traits for which Margaret Tafoya was best known—flawless, highly polished surfaces adorned with deep relief carvings of traditional symbols.

Tafoya, together with her mother Sara Fina, was instrumental in the development of the traditional black pottery of their pueblo. This piece, like all Tafoya’s pots, was built by hand using clay from the pueblo and the...

Blackware pottery vessel with tall neck and broad shoulder tapering to a narrow base. The flawless, polished black surface is adorned with deep relief carvings of stylized wings and geometric designs on the shoulder.