Pottery by Ambrose Atencio, Click or tap to see a larger version
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Ambrose Atencio, Santo Domingo, Polychrome jar with bird, plant and geometric design
Artist: Ambrose Atencio
Pueblo: Santo Domingo
Dimensions: 8 1/4 in H by 7 1/2 in Dia
Item Number: xxsde6061
Price: $ 650
Description: Polychrome jar with bird, plant and geometric design
Condition: Excellent
Signature: Ambrose Atencio Kewa 2016
Date Created: 2016
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Ambrose Atencio

Santo Domingo
Bowl by Ambrose Atencio
 

Ambrose Atencio was born to Joseph Ray Atencio and Juanita Atencio of Santo Domingo Pueblo on June 11, 1963. He tells us he learned the traditional method of making pottery from his cousin, Robert Tenorio (and his family), starting around the time Ambrose was 13 years old. The 30+ years since then Ambrose has spent perfecting his technique. His progression is reflected in the perfect shape of his pots and in his exquisite execution of the traditional Santo Domingo designs that he chooses to use.

He collects the basic materials to make his pottery on the grounds of Santo Domingo Pueblo. When his pieces are finished and ready, Ambrose ground fires his work using cottonwood bark, like his grandmother, Crucita Tortalita (Robert Tenorio's maternal aunt), used to do. Lately he's been teaching his son Elroy to work with clay in the traditional way.

Ambrose has won multiple awards at venues such as the Indian Arts Northwest Market in Portland, Oregon, the Fountain Hills Indian Market in Fountain Hills, Arizona, the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show in Espanola, New Mexico, the Dallas Indian Arts and Crafts Fair in Dallas, Texas, the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market (where he's taken home ribbons for Best of Class, Best of Category and others), and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Art Fair in Phoenix (where he's earned 1st and 2nd Place ribbons).

Ambrose tells us his favorite shapes to make are storage jars and large dough bowls. He also really enjoys decorating them with traditional Santo Domingo birds, plants, animals and geometric designs. Like many Native American traditional potters, he says his inspiration comes from above, through the clay.

When he's not busy making new pots Ambrose says he enjoys hiking. On special occasions he enjoys music concerts, his last one being a Fleetwood Mac concert on his birthday.

He signs his work: "Ambrose Atencio KEWA" and adds the date the pot was created.


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Santo Domingo Pueblo

The Mission Church at Santo Domingo Pueblo
Santo Domingo Pueblo Mission Church

Santo Domingo Pueblo is located on the east bank of the Rio Grande about half-way between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Historically, the people of Santo Domingo were among the most active of Pueblo traders. The pueblo also has a reputation of being ultra traditional, probably due, at least in part, to the longevity of the pueblo's pottery styles. Some of today's popular designs have changed very little since the 1700's.

In pre-Columbian times, traders from Santo Domingo were trading turquoise (from mines in the Cerrillos Hills) and hand-made heishe beads as far away as central Mexico. Many artisans in the pueblo still work in the old ways and produce wonderful silver and turquoise jewelry and heishe decorations.

Like the people of nearby San Felipe and Cochiti, the people of Santo Domingo speak Keres and trace their ancestry back to villages established in the Pajarito Plateau area in the 1400's. Like the other Rio Grande pueblos, Santo Domingo rose up against the Spanish oppressors in 1680, following Alonzo Catiti as he led the Keres-speaking pueblos and worked with Popé (of San Juan Pueblo) to stop the Spanish atrocities. However, when Spanish Governor Antonio Otermin returned to the area in 1681, he found Santo Domingo deserted and ordered it burned. The pueblo residents had fled to a nearby mountain stronghold and when Don Diego de Vargas returned to Nuevo Mexico in 1692, he attacked that mountain fortress and burned it, too. Catiti died in that battle and Keres opposition to the Spanish crumbled with his death. The survivors of that battle fled, some to Acoma, some to fledgling Laguna, some to the Hopi mesas. Over time most of them returned to Santo Domingo.

In the 1790's Santo Domingo accepted an influx of refugees from the Galisteo Basin area as they fled the near-constant attacks of Apache, Comanche, Ute and Navajo raiders in that area. Today's main Santo Domingo village was founded about 1886.

In 1598 Santo Domingo was the site of the first gathering of 38 pueblo governors by Don Juan de Oñaté to try to force them to swear allegiance to the crown of Spain. Today, the All Indian Pueblo Council (consisting of the nineteen remaining pueblo's governors and an executive staff) gathers at Santo Domingo for their first meeting every year, to continue what is now the oldest annual political gathering in America. During the time of the Spanish occupation Santo Domingo served as the headquarters of the Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico and religious trials were held there during the Spanish Inquisition.

Today, the people of Santo Domingo number around 4,500, with about two-thirds of them living on the reservation. The pottery traditions of the pueblo almost died out after the railroads arrived and many Santo Domingos went to work laying tracks. Even today many Santo Domingo men work as firefighters for the US Forest Service in fire season and ply their artistic talents during the rest of the year.

Potter Robert Tenorio began working to revive the Santo Domingo pottery tradition in the early 1970's. His influence can be found among many of today's Santo Domingo potters, even if they say he stimulated them to learn on their own.

While today's Santo Domingo pottery is known for designs described as simple geometrics, another outstanding feature is boldness: the lines are thick and well-defined.

As religious leaders forbid the representation of human figures as well as other sacred designs on pottery made for commercial purposes, birds, fish and flowers are common design motifs. Depictions of mammals are rarely seen. Another typical Santo Domingo style is to paint in the negative, meaning cover the pot in panels of big swatches of black and red so that only a few lines of the cream slip show through.

Santo Domingo Pueblo location map


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Pottery Care & Consideration

  • The most obvious tip: Yes, the pots will break if you drop them!
  • Do not expose pottery to water (Inside or outside). Do not wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Dust pottery only with a soft, smooth cloth (no terry cloth or textured fabric). A very soft paintbrush (sable or camel) can be used.
  • Always use two hands to carry your pot: one on top and one on the bottom, or one hand on each side. Be careful with handles, they can be fragile. Do not grip or lift pots by the rim. Take care when wearing jewelry, rings can scratch the finish.
  • Place a piece of felt or cloth between the pot and the shelf to protect the signature.
  • Avoid exposing pottery to extreme temperature changes.

For those who live in "earthquake country" (also good for mischievous pets):

  • Weigh pots down with a small zip lock bag containing sand, glass marbles, rice, etc. Do not fill the pot more than one third full as you want them bottom heavy. Remember to remove the weight before moving.
  • Secure your shelves; make sure they are well attached to the walls. Shelf brackets should be of sufficient length and strength to support the weight of your pottery.
  • Prevent pots from sliding. Consider attaching a small wooden molding to the front of shelves. Line shelves with non-slip material (a thin sheet of rubber foam, Styrofoam sheeting, etc.)
  • If you need assistance with special problems, major cleaning (your grandchild spills ice cream on your pot), restoration or repair (the cat breaks a pot), or replacement (irreparable damage), please feel free to call us.

We hope these ideas help you maintain the beauty and value of your pottery for years of enjoyment.

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