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 Margaret Maria (Corn Blossom) Tafoya  (1904 - 2001)



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Lived/Active: New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: polished blackware Indian pottery-bearpaw design

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Ad Code: 3
Margaret Maria Tafoya
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Susan Whittington wrote the following about Margaret Tafoya:  The beginning has a response to a comment in The New York Times obituary.  Whittington is the artist's granddaugher who gave the eulogy at the funeral of Margaret Tafoya.

Doug Martin's description of my Grandmother's "brief fling with an Apache" was totally off the mark!  In that day and time, she was never allowed what we today would term "a fling."  She was engaged to the young Apache man and the traditional buckskin wedding dress was made for her by his relatives.  She told me that she had to tell him she couldn't marry him because she didn't want to leave Santa Clara Pueblo and her relatives, all to whom she was very attached.


EULOGY: MARGARET TAFOYA by Susan Roller Whittington
Mass of the Resurrection celebrated: Tuesday, 27 FEB 2001 9:00 a.m.

Grandma was born a little over 96 years ago, right here in Santa Clara Pueblo to Jose Geronimo and Sara Fina (Gutierrez) Tafoya.

She was the youngest of their eight children.

Grandma attended Santa Clara Day School and then, the Santa Fe Indian School thru the 8th Grade.  Her education was brought to a halt by the flu epidemic of 1918.  She was needed at home.

She worked as a waitress at the Ganado Hotel in Espanola located where the Rio Valley Ford dealership now stands.  She worked as a live-in housekeeper in Santa Fe for a short time.  She was later able to use her skills in the kitchen as the head cook of the school on the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation.  Some years ago, Ken Canfield sent me an article from The Kansas City Star, which praised Grandma Margaret's Sunday fried chicken.  Even though our own mothers, her daughters, are terrific cooks, Grandma's red chili stew was the best and no feastday began without it.  We like to put it right on top of our potato salad.

Grandma and Grandpa were married for 72 years before his death in 1995.  They worked side by side together producing pottery for which they became famous and that helped clothe, feed, and educate their children.  They raised ten of their own children and had enough time and love to adopt three more.

Grandma always said that the best thing she could teach her children was how to work hard. She and Grandpa were strict disciplinarians AND taught by example.  Up before dawn every day, they all worked the fields and raised poultry and livestock.  Their children worked before going to school.  Grandma taught her daughters to can meat, vegetables, and chili for the lean winter months.  I'm proud to say I learned to clean tripe, or menudo at Grandma's kitchen sink and I still crave her homemade cheese.  I remember once Uncle Wayne and I played on top of the phete, a type of open portal where we dried corn for making chicos. We threw corn kernels all over the place and got a tanning for it.  But we learned.

Grandma and Grandpa taught their children to plan for the future.  During the Great Depression, they were known to deliver baskets of "extra" eggs, milk, butter, meat, and/or produce to Santa Clara families in need.  Some of the children of those families remembered and in later years, came to offer their services as electricians, plumbers, or whatever she needed in a kind of repayment.  They may have been little children but they did not forget.

It had been the practice of her mother to keep rather quiet about her skills as a potter and Grandma Margaret followed suit.  It wasn't until about 1960 that collectors began to take notice of the quality and quantity of Grandma's pottery. Her children encouraged her to accept public recognition of her skill and artistry. In 1978 and 1979, Grandma's work was awarded Best of Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market. She thought at the time that it was the highest honor she could receive and from 1980 on, she no longer entered her pieces for judging at the Market, saying the younger ones should have a chance.

She never took her celebrity status very seriously.  As the awards were showered upon her, Grandma most looked forward to eating out as part of each celebration.  Of all the foods she tasted, she most loved the menudo at La Cocina or Angelinas and green chili hamburgers at Bert's Burger Bowl!  Once a collector asked her, "Margaret, you're such a little lady.  However do you make such large pots?"  Without batting an eye and in her mischievous way, she said, "I just stand in the bottom and build the walls up around me."

She enjoyed family celebrations.  One Easter Sunday, several years ago, all the little ones were busy hunting eggs.  Grandma was so little, we had to put a her in the middle of her aprons so they would fit her.  She put on the apron with Easter eggs on it and spied her old beat-up bucket in the corner of the shed.  So she grabbed it and set about hunting Easter eggs, too!  Here was feisty old Grandma scurrying about with her holey bucket.

Grandma never acknowledged her advancing age, only referring to the end of this life with the phrase,  "If I die..." rather than, "When I die."  She spoke to me many times of the passing of her father, Great-Grandpa Geronimo, who went to Our Lord at the age of 103.  She told me that if she had to die, she wanted it to be a death like her father's.  On the day he died, he blessed everyone, turned in his bed to see the crucifix on the wall more clearly, and just went to sleep. Grandma blessed us all in her prayers every night for as long as I can remember.

To date, Grandma has 30 grandchildren, 45 Great-Grandchildren, and 11 Great-Great-Grandchildren, and I know of one more on the way.  In her later years, she blessed us more than once, sometimes forgetting that one had already been mentioned in the prayer. Even later, she added the phrase, "Bless all my children and grandchildren, even if I forgot their names."  She thought of her chickens, dogs, and cats as her children and also added them to her prayers.

Grandma blessed us for the final time Sunday evening.  Her prayer was no longer audible, but we knew she was praying.  The Good Lord granted her wish, and she slipped peacefully away. For that, we can be grateful and rejoice that she has joined her parents and Grandpa in heaven.

In reflection, during the four days after the wake and funeral, I regret not having written down the following notes I had intended to add:

It is important that I express my personal gratitude to the small group of relatives who made it their daily priority to provide the majority of care giving for my Grandmother in the last ten years or so.  Thank you, Aunt Esther, for coming all the way from San Juan Pueblo to visit and care for Grandma.  Thank you, Aunt Jennie for being with Grandma even when you had other things to do.  Thank you, Uncle Leo for being Grandma's daily companion, gardener, and wood stove tender.  Thank you to my mother, Toni Roller, for showing me by example what loving your parents means.  Thank you to Uncle Wayne for your tender patience with all of us.  And especially to Aunt Berda, you devoted yourself to becoming Grandma's "right hand," coordinating the care-giving schedules, firmly nudging us all along with our responsibilities, and at the end of Grandma's life reminding us that all is as it should be.  To these, and all who gave of themselves to help Grandma, God bless you fourfold and grant you a long life.  Susan

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is an obituary of the artist by Douglas Martin in the The New York Times, March 8, 2001:

Margaret 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 on Feb. 25 at her home in Santa Clara Pueblo near Santa Fe.  She was 96.

Her name in Tewa, the language of seven Southwestern pueblos, six in New Mexico and one in Arizona, was Corn Blossom. She was the matriarch of Santa Clara Pueblo potters, who are more numerous and produce more pottery than those of any other pueblo.

Her work, known for exceptionally large vessels, is exhibited in public and private collections around the world. She was named folk artist of the year by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984.

The art form she practiced has long been dominated by women, and Corn Blossom was the last of a group of women who attained fame through their mastery of it. Gone are Blue Corn and Maria Martinez of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Christina Naranjo of Santa Clara and Grace Chapella, a Hopi.

Today Indian arts command astronomic prices and space on museum shelves in faraway cities, but fewer and fewer Pueblo Indians can speak or even understand Tewa. Mrs. Tafoya, though, was rooted in the old ways.

She spurned inventions like the potter's wheel. She kept chickens, milked her own cows, churned her own butter and rejected natural gas heat in favor of the traditional beehive fireplace.

After a brief fling with an Apache, she married a young man from the home pueblo, a distant relative with the same last name.

According to the Web site of the National Museum of American History (, Santa Clarans use the same word for clay and for people: nung.

Mrs. Tafoya always prayed to Mother Clay before working. "You can't go to Mother Clay without the cornmeal and ask her permission to touch her," the museum Web site quotes Mrs. Tafoya as saying. "Talk to Mother Clay."

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.

Mrs. Tafoya clearly loved her art, but it was also how she supported her 10 children who survived their first year; 2 others did not. As she said, "I have dressed my children with clay."

Maria Margarita Tafoya was born in her pueblo on Aug. 13, 1904. Her mother, Sara Fina Gutierrez Tafoya, or Autumn Leaf, was "undoubtedly the outstanding Tewa potter of her time," Mary Ellen and Laurence Blair wrote in "Margaret Tafoya: A Tewa Potter's Heritage and Legacy" (Schiffer, 1986).

Her father, Geronimo, or White Flower, was mainly concerned with raising food for the family, but he was also the main marketer of his wife's pottery. He would load up his burros and make sales trips of up to 500 miles.

Five of the couple's eight children became excellent potters, driven and inspired by their perfectionist mother. Margaret's rigidly traditional approach was suggested by her insistence on using corn cobs, rather than sandpaper, for polishing.

She and her siblings made their first pottery when their mother tossed them pieces of clay. "We get a piece of her clay and try to make animals or maybe bowls," Margaret said. "We make these just for fun."

Her mother allowed the young girl to sell her first piece of pottery to a Santa Fe dealer. "I sure don't remember how much I got," she said in an interview in the book. "It was a small piece, you know. It made me feel good. I felt I should make some more."

Margaret 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 Margaret's works but never signed them. In the 1930's and 40's the Tafoyas often exchanged pottery for children's clothing. Mrs. Tafoya returned to work as soon as possible after the birth of each of her children.

At first she and her husband took her pottery to cities and fairs to sell. Then, tourists arrived in buses and cars to buy it directly. In the 1950's the family become friends with the owner of a resort at Royal Gorge on the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. He persuaded them to be resident Indians each summer. They would dance and sell pottery.

As the value of Indian art skyrocketed, such direct selling was no longer necessary. Dealers today place blind orders for anything they can get by the best-known potters. But Mrs. Tafoya enjoyed attending group shows simply to see what others were doing.

In 1977 she visited a gallery show in Santa Fe that included 51 potters from 11 tribes. Afterward she invited the great Hopi potter Grace Chapella, then 103, to her home. The two conversed in old Tewa, which is to today's Tewa what Elizabethan English is to modern English.

"The Tafoya daughters were told that it was rude to interrupt with questions, so they missed much of the conversation," the Blairs said in their book.

Mrs. Tafoya once said that she learned to make pottery "just by watching my Grandma," and most of her own children and grandchildren learned the same way.

Mrs. Tafoya never used the words "when I die," saying instead, "if I die."

And she does live, in clay and in blood. "The children, I'm proud of them because they like to do this pottery," she said.

Biography from Adobe Gallery:

Margaret Tafoya (1904-2001) was the last of the matriarchs of the early 20th century pueblo potters.  Born in 1904 at Santa Clara Pueblo, Margaret learned her skills from her parents, Sara Fina and Geronimo Tafoya, who were expert potters.  some of her pieces are inspired by tales she heard from her parents and grandparents.

Margaret and her mother were known for their ability to make unusually large storage jars and water jars.  Tafoya's trademark is polished blackware.  Her work is often decorated with bearpaw designs, which she considered good luck.  Tafoya is considered a master of the art.  She made deeply carved blackware and redware vessels, which are highly valued by collectors.  She believed the secret to her technique were her polishing stones, which have been passed down through the generations.

Tafoya taught her children, Virginia Ebelacker, Mela Youngblood, Toni Roller, and Esther Archuleta, her pottery-making skills.

A National Heritage Fellow, Margaret TAfoya was part of the National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts Program in 1984.  In 1985, Margaret Tafoya was one of three New Mexicans selected to receive the Governors Award, New Mexico's highest artistic honor, awarded for a major contribution to the arts of New Mexico.

Margaret Tafoya passed away during the night on February 25, 2001.

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