Margaret Tafoya

1904–2001

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