Beyond Clay and Loom, Western Art Collector


Beyond Clay and Loom

Reproduced courtesy of Western Art Collector magazine, May 2009

Navajo textiles and Pueblo pottery remain hallmarks of serious collections of Southwest art.


A lovely selection of Native American arts:  Helen Shupla (1928-1985) of Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, red melon jar, c. 1980, 4.5" x 6.25"  Zuni Nahalish Corn Daner Kachina, c. 1930, 9" x 3: x 2.5"  Pima Tray with Lightning Design, c. 1940, 10.75"  Arapaho Ceremonial moccasins, c. 1890


Contemporary and historical pots are the cornerstone of collections of art of the Southwest. An interesting specialization can be combining new work with old and following the lineage of a pueblo or a particular family of potters.

Patrick and Shana Garcia-Rustin collaborate on exquisite pottery. Shana was born on Acoma Pueblo where she learned to paint pots from her father. Patrick is Apache and is known for making pots with extremely thin walls. Their “wedding vessel” is an outstanding example of their work. The graceful shape is coil formed by Patrick, and Shana painted the intricate designs.


Navajo Sampler, c. 1900, 12" x 10.5"

Navajo Sampler, c. 1900, 12" x 10.5"


The black and white designs of Acoma pottery are the most familiar to beginning collectors. The Acoma polychrome jar with birds from Adobe Gallery in Santa Fe was made circa 1920. In addition to its design of birds with whirlwind spirals, the interior of the pot boasts an orange downward spiral as “an acknowledgement and thank you to Mother Earth for the materials for making the pottery.”

Margaret Tafoya was one of the matriarchs of early 20th century pueblo pottery. This Santa Clara potter’s most recognizable work is in polished blackware with a bear paw design that she considered good luck.


San Ildefonso Pueblo, polychrome jar, c. 1900-1910, 10" x 12"

San Ildefonso Pueblo, polychrome jar, c. 1900-1910, 10" x 12"


Virginia Tafoya Garcia has been making pottery since 1987. Her red bear paw pot is signed “Virginia Garcia Santa Clara San Juan” in recognition of her descent from the two northern New Mexico Pueblos. San Juan Pueblo returned to its original name, Ohkay Owingeh, in 2005. Garcia’s pot is highly polished, which is the part of the process she admits to liking the most.

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, with two locations in Tucson and Santa Fe, specializes in Navajo textiles and Pueblo pottery is available by all the best potters including Nampeyo, Margaret Tafoya, Lucy Lewis, Helen Cordero and Tony Da. Despite the current economic conditions, Dr. Mark Sublette, owner of Medicine Man Gallery, believes the Native American art market is still highly sought after.

“Pottery buyers have been more selective in what they are looking for, and the best pieces continue to sell,” says Sublette.


Navajo Yei Pictorial Sampler, c. 1915, 14.25" x 10"

Navajo Yei Pictorial Sampler, c. 1915, 14.25" x 10"


The history of Navajo weaving is as complex as the patterns on their blankets and rugs. Sublette’s articles on “Collecting Navajo Rugs” in the February 2008 issue of Western Art Collector is an excellent resource.

Navajo “samplers,” usually less than 20 by 20 inches, are an interesting way to begin a Navajo weaving collection. They are an introduction to weaving styles and patterns, and can complement collections of pottery and other artifacts.


Nampeyo, Hopi jar, c. 1910, 3" x 7.5"

Nampeyo, Hopi jar, c. 1910, 3" x 7.5"


Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery has at any given time 500 antique Navajo weavings for sale, including rare early chiefs blankets and rare large floor rugs and runners.

“The rug market continues to be very resilient to changes in the economy,” says Sublette. “The fact you cannot only collect rugs, but decorate and use them in a functional manner I don’t see changing in the near future.”