Margaret Tafoya

Margaret Tafoya


Artist Details

Birth Place
Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico
Death Place
Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico
Phonetic Spelling
MAHR-gah-reht tah-FOY-yah
Decorative and utilitarian works
Traditional art
Places of Residence
Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico
Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1915–18
Retrospective Exhibitions

Margaret Tafoya: Santa Clara Pueblo Potter, Millicent Rogers Museum, El Prado, New Mexico, 2015–2016; Margaret Tafoya: A Potter’s Heritage and Her Legacy, Denver Museum of Natural History, City Park, Colorado, 1982; The Red and the Black: Santa Clara Pottery by Margaret Tafoya, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983

NMWA Exhibitions

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, 2015–2016
A Living Tradition: Pueblo Pottery from the Collection, 2007
The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by American Indian Women, 1997–98


About the Artist

Tewa artist Margaret Tafoya is recognized for her large, distinctively shaped vessels, as well as her innovative use of carvings as surface decoration.

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.

National Museum of Women in the Arts