The Gutierrez Family

The Gutierrez Family are potters from San Clara. The museum collection has a pot by Lela and Van Gutierrez. Tonight has I was doing some research I found that Van’s birth name was Evangelio, he went by Van. The couple had seven children: Cleto, Louis, Juan B., Margaret, Juan, Avelio, and Luther. Their daughter Margaret shared this about her parents and her brother, “They are the first who did the colors. I don’t know how they came up with it–I never asked them. I guess by trial and error they came out with these colors–picking, clays and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Mom and dad worked together, then Luther painted for her [during and after Van’s death], and after she passed away I took over. After Luther passed away, I signed the pottery by myself. My dad and Luther overlapped with painting.” Maria travels to places like the Grand Canyon, Denver, La Bajada, and Los Alamos to get clay for her pots (Dillingham, 1994).

When I started my journey as an intern “Lela/Van” were just names noted on a piece of paper in the accession folder for a particular vessel. Then I confirmed that they were potters from Santa Clara whose names were Lela and Van Gutierrez. These two potters came to life for me when I actually got to see the pot they had made up close and then I saw their signature on the bottom of the pot…I felt like this pot had a story to share! When I read what Margaret said about her parents and I found Van’s birth name, the Gutierrez family story was started to blossom before me.

Click on the Santa Clara tab to see a picture of the pot that Lela and Van made and signed. I have a photograph posted of Lela and Van on my blog entry titled, “Potters”.


Dillingham, Rick. Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery. The University of New Mexico Press. 1994.

Update on my search for two potters

Last semester, I wrote in one of my blog post that I was searching for two potters whose names are Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. I would like to update you on where I am at in my journey in search of these two potters.

A quick recap…Some of the vessels in the museum have names inscribed on the bottom of the post. My responsibility as an intern is to verify the names on the pots to confirm that indeed they are potters. I was able to verify Tomasita Montoya, Reyecita A. Trujillo, Lela Gutierrez, and Van Gutierrez to be potters. There were two names that I have not been able to verify Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. 

Petra Tafoya. Santa Clara. Ceremonial Wedding Vase. Early 1940s. White, blue, red, and beige on red clay, burnished, on red clay. 23.5×16.3 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor

Dora Cata. San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. Seed Jar. c. early 1940s. Tan, white, and red, partially burnished, on red clay, incised. 9.3×8.1 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor.

Besides the usual searching the web and looking through many books I have also contacted several people to see if they know these two potters. Something terrific that is taking place is, the people that I have contacted are contacting other people. The librarian at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis, which I met on my museum trip had someone search the Heard Museum’s  Native American Artist Database which has over 35,000+ records. Unfortunately nothing turned up 🙁 !! A gentleman who is the Curator of Ethnology at Santa Clara is also part of the people out there searching for any information on Petra and Doris.

There was considerable intermarriage between Santa Clara and San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. It is possible that Petra Tafoya is related to the Santa Clara Tafoya’s. There might be a chance that Dora might be related to a Sam Cata.

My journey in search of Dora and Petra continues…I hope that I will be able to one day blog that I found Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. That will be a GREAT blog!!

Making Pueblo Pottery

My time in the museum this week was spent working on the photographs I took of the vessels in Photoshop, finalizing the inventory sheets, making labels for the vessels in the Mezzanine, and attending a planning meeting for a fundraiser for the museum. It was a very productive week :)!

This week I would like to share with you the process of pottery making…

The process is quite similar for all the Pueblo Indians. Clay is the basic ingredient; the raw material is finely pulverized and cleaned of all stones. It is tempered with finely powdered material, such as sand, volcanic ash or potsherds that have been crushed. Temper varies among the pueblos, but the purpose of the temper is always the same. Temper keeps the wet clay from being too sticky and from cracking while the pottery dries. Each village is very conservative in sticking to its tradition, it is possible to attribute a pot to a certain village by the appearance of the temper alone.

A pot is formed by rolling the clay into small sections of “rope” and these are coiled to build up the walls of the pot. The shaping and thinning is accomplished with a piece of gourd for a scraper. If the pot is to be decorated with carving or scratching into the surface it takes place at this point.

The surface of the pot is quite rough, it cannot be highly polished and does not make a good base for painted designs. It is for this reason that most decorated Pueblo pottery is covered with slip. This is an especially fine white or red clay that is mopped on in a water suspension, while it is still damp, and is polished with a smooth stone or rag.

The under-body of the vessel is not slipped; the surface of the clay is smothered as well as possible by a process called “floating.” While the clay is still wet, the finest particles are puddled to the surface of the vessel with a smooth stone, thus producing a fine clay coating that can be polished almost like slip.

The vessels are laid out on a framework of rocks or sheet metal for firing. They are covered with slabs of dried cow dung or other slow burning fuel. If the desired color is jet black the fire is smothered; otherwise the fire produces shades of tan, cream, red, orange, and yellow.


Frank, Larry and Francis H. Harlow. Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians 1600-1880. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1990.