In the early 1970s, I was traveling around the West selling Navajo rugs and Indian jewelry to Indian theme shops, museum stores and National Park outlets.
Several customers in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado asked me if I could obtain Pueblo pottery for them. It was becoming more popular and there was a boom in anything Native American.
I did not know anything about pottery, so I called Suzanne
Helzer who owned the Deer Dancer Gallery in Denver. She said, “Go and see
Richard Spivey in Santa Fe. He only sells the best.
”Spivey had retired from real life in San Jose, California and moved to New Mexico to buy and sell Pueblo pottery. He was the leading expert on Maria Martinez. He wrote two books about her and was a great friend to the family.
I drove down to meet him and, not only did he educate me, he enthralled me. It was a great day and I bought about $4,000.00 worth of pottery. Back then, that was a lot of pots.
The only problem was that I didn’t have that much money in the bank. It was Friday and I asked him if he would hold the check until the following Wednesday. I don’t know why, but he said he would.
I left Santa Fe and drove straight to Jackson Hole, then to Cody, then to Estes Park, Colorado and sold all but two of the pots. I then drove back to Durango, put the money in the bank and headed back to Santa Fe to buy more.
When I got there, I was disappointed as several buyers had
been in and bought most of Richard’s inventory. During the first trip, I had
purchased a Margaret Tafoya and a Maria Martinez which I had kept. Richard said
I should put a Blue Corn on the list.
Blue Corn, or Crucita Calabaza, is the second best known potter from San Ildefonso, after Maria. She was born in 1921 and after going to school at the pueblo for a few years, she was sent to the Santa Fe Indian School. Her parents died and she had some relatives in Southern California, so as a teenager, she went to live with them. I don’t know if she went to school out there, but she did housework for wealthy families in Beverly Hills.
She came back to New Mexico after a few years and married Santiago Calavaza, a Santo Domingo silversmith, and they moved to San Ildefonso. She began making pottery, a tradition in the village, but also cleaned houses. Among the most famous people she worked for was Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist at Los Alamos. This was during the Second World War when the secret team at Los Alamos was creating the Atomic bomb. Los Alamos is right next to Santa Clara and San Ildefonso and many of the domestic workers came from the Pueblos.
I have known several people who knew or heard tell of the legendary parties Oppenheimer hosted, so I suspect that a housekeeper was essential!
After the war, she had her first son, Joseph, and retired to make pottery full time. Santiago worked with her beginning in the late 50’s until he died and then, her son, Joseph began to work with her. She raised ten children.
She is revered for her polychrome, or multi-colored pottery, but she also made wonderful black on black pieces with a finish that matched Maria Martinez.
The morning after I left Spivey’s place without buying anything, I stopped at the French bakery in the La Fonda and had breakfast. There was a Wall Street Journal on the table and I began to read it. In the center column where they do feature stories, was an article about Blue Corn, the famous San Ildefonso potter. It was a great article and reinforced the advice I had received from Spivey about the importance of her work.
Killing time, I decided to visit the Fenn Gallery. Forest Fenn had come to Santa Fe following a career in the U.S. Air Force. He and his wife opened a beautiful gallery on Paseo de Peralta. It is now the Nedra Matteucci gallery and is still my favorite in Santa Fe.
One of the great things about this gallery, and one we have tried to emulate at Toh-Atin, is that they have quality work in price ranges that could fit almost anyone.
As I walked through the gallery into their pottery room, I came face to face with a lovely, small piece that had a card next to it that said, “Blue Corn, San Ildefonso”. There were just too many coincidences for me to walk out without that pot. In the course of a day of reading and hearing about this woman, she had become one of my favorite ladies. Another of my favorite ladies is my sister, Antonia, and she was having a birthday that week. I decided that she was the perfect person to appreciate the pot. She still has it today.
Blue Corn passed in 1999 having won dozens of awards including the Governor’s Award in 1981, the highest artistic honor bestowed by the state of New Mexico. In 2008, she was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by SWAIA, the organization that runs the Santa Fe Indian Market. Her work is found in every important art museum in the country including the Smithsonian.
We have a wonderful selection of Blue Corn’spottery, including one large polychrome bowl that is very rare. Please take a few moments and look them over. I think you will be glad you did. They can be yours!
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