The matriarch of the Santa Clara Pueblo potters, Margaret Tafoya was known for producing exceptionally large vessels. Spurning the potter’s wheel, Tafoya preferred to work through time-honored methods. Her rigidly traditional approach was suggested by her insistence on using corncobs, rather than sandpaper, for polishing. Though she was one of the last to make pots with handles and criticized others for adding semiprecious gems to pottery, she also liked to experiment. She used different colors of slips, or thinned clays applied to the outside of her vessels, and her later forms were thinner, lighter and more graceful. Her shiny finishes became ever more polished. She even adapted Greek and Roman forms to classic Santa Clara shapes.
Tafoya attended the pueblo elementary school and went to Santa Fe Indian School. She had to drop out of high school to help her family during the devastating flu epidemic of 1918. In 1924 she married Alcario Tafoya, a professional cook who was also related to famous potters. He carved decorations on Tafoya’s works, but never signed them.
Tafoya, whose nimble, ingenious hands turned the chocolate-colored clay of her New Mexico pueblo into black-on-black and red-on-red pottery of such profound and graceful beauty that it acquired a global reputation, died at the age of 96 at her home in Santa Clara Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Her work is exhibited in public and private collections around the world. In 1979, Tafoya was awarded Best of Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market; from then on, she no longer entered her pieces for judging at the Market, saying the younger ones should have a chance. The National Endowment for the Arts named her folk artist of the year in 1984.
Reference: AskArt.com, New York Times Obituaries March 8, 2001 by Douglas Martin, personal account by Susan Whittington