We recently received a beautiful and unique pot by Joseph Lonewolf. This man created the beautiful miniature Santa Clara pottery decorated by etching bold patterns in the pottery surface and then lightly carving designs (sgraffito) to accent them.
He came from an accomplished family. His aunt was Margaret Tafoya. Her brother, Camilio, was his father. His mother was Agapita Tafoya, and his sister is Grace Medicine Flower. The family made traditional Santa Clara red and black pottery, but after Joseph began carving his “pottery jewels,”
Camilio and Grace started to work in the new style. His daughters, Susan and Rosemary, took it up, and both became accomplished and well known for their work. Lonewolf received the 2009 New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization that runs the Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA).
Joseph’s work does not come on the market often. The piece we are showing today was made in 1972. I remember being there when he sold it to Harold Tregent, who owned the Glen Comfort Store outside Estes Park, Colorado.
Some years ago, I told this story in a newsletter, but it’s worth retelling:
In the 1970s, as the popularity of Indian art grew, stores opened in major cities and tourist destinations in the West. The demand for quality work pushed many artists to new levels.
A few artists began to move away from traditional pottery forms, experimenting with shape and design. A brother and sister from Santa Clara Pueblo took the pottery world by storm when they began decorating their small pots with extensive sgraffito designs. Grace Medicine Flower and Joseph Lonewolf stunned collectors with the intricacy and beauty of their work. They are the children of famed Santa Clara potters Camilio and Agapita Tafoya. Their aunt, Margaret Tafoya, was arguably the most famous of all Santa Clara potters.
I was at the American Indian Art Show in Denver in 1973 when Joseph, Grace, and Joseph’s daughters, Apple Blossom and Snowflake, had one of their first major showings. They caused quite a stir, and one man nearly caused a riot.
Their pots, all beautifully carved and displayed, were in a long glass showcase near the back of the Denver Merchandise Mart. People were mesmerized by the intricacy of the work. The artist’s designs were elegant, and people were amazed watching Joseph show the pocket knife and a sharp nail that he had used to create the work on the surface of the pots!
People were looking, but they weren’t buying. It was as though no one was going to take the first leap. These pots were selling for over $100, some up to $400—new ground for small pottery.
Harold Tregent, the owner of the Glen Comfort Store outside Estes Park, Colorado, came walking down the aisle with his hands in his pocket, slowly checking out all the booths. He saw the crowd around Grace and Joseph’s booth and walked over, putting himself at the center of the showcase.
I was standing just to the side of the booth and watched as he slowly looked at the work. He had known this family of potters for years. They all visited with him while he slowly handled each piece Apple Blossom handed to him.
Harold was a quiet and soft-spoken man who didn’t like drawing attention to himself. For him, the real focus was always on the artist and their work. Yet, he found himself looking at pottery with about a dozen people crowded around him, watching and listening to his reactions.
When he put the last pot down, he said, “I’ll take them all.” That was what almost started the riot! Several people began arguing with him, saying, “You can’t do that!” and “I wanted to buy one of those.” or “That’s not fair! Who do you think you are?!”It was pretty exciting. Then Bob Ashton, the show’s promoter, walked up and pulled Harold aside, telling him that it was a retail show and he should not have bought the whole booth out to sell in his store. Ashton was fired up, but Harold stood his ground and said, “They were for sale, and I’m going to buy them.”
Joseph Lonewolf solved the problem by telling the upset customers that he would take orders from anyone who wanted pots, and Harold agreed to leave them in the showcase until after the close of the show. The show was a huge success and launched a new era for Santa Clara pottery.
Today’s small pot has Lonewolf’s interpretation of an Avanyu serpent. This design is common in Pueblo pottery and refers to the serpent that brings the water to the fields. When the water comes from the mountains down the dry arroyos, the sound is said to be the sound of the Avanyu. In the Southwest, water has always been precious, hence the importance of this mythological serpent.
The pot was purchased at the show by Harold Tregent in 1972 and, on his death, passed to his partner Donald “Van” Vandever, who left it to his sister, Dolores, who died this last year. It is now looking for a new home!