Tattooed circus ringmaster figure New Arrival this week
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Virgil Ortiz, Cochiti, Tattooed circus ringmaster figure New Arrival this week
Artist: Virgil Ortiz
Pueblo: Cochiti
Dimensions: 15 in H by 11 3/4 in Dia
Item Number: dgcoe8237
Price: $ 6900
Description: Tattooed circus ringmaster figure New Arrival this week
Condition: Excellent
Signature: Virgil Ortiz Cochiti Pueblo and hallmark

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Virgil Ortiz

A Zika figure created for a Disney animated feature film

Virgil Ortiz was born into the Oak Clan of Cochiti Pueblo in May 1969. His parents were Seferina and Guadalupe Ortiz, his grandmother was Laurencita Herrera. Both Seferina and Laurencita were well-known potters and Virgil grew up watching them work with clay. During those years, Virgil's mother also taught him and all six of his siblings how to find and process the clay and how to find and prepare the native plants used in the making and decorating of Cochiti Pueblo pottery. She taught them how to work the clay, create different shapes and forms, paint designs and ground fire their pieces when they were done.

Virgil became interested at an early age, making his first storyteller when he was only 6. He went from that to Santa Fe Indian Market where his first entry to the jury earned him a 1st Place ribbon (Student, 18 years or younger) in 1983 when he was 14. After that he earned ribbons almost every year until he stopped showing at Santa Fe Indian Market in 2001.

Virgil likes to make everything from traditional jars to outlandish circus figures to science fiction figures. The forms he draws on range from circus performers to opera divas to religious figures to the Conquistadors. The designs he likes to paint are also a mix of traditional and non-traditional, integrating Pueblo history and culture with apocalyptic themes, science fiction and stories of his own. In 2017, Virgil provided 31 figures for a solo exhibit at the Denver Art Museum called “Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz.” It was the high point of his story line relating to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the first true American Revolution. In 1680, after decades of religious persecution and physical abuse the Pueblo people rose up and threw the Spanish out of Nuevo Mexico.

Virgil's artistic interests have also branched well beyond the world of pottery into designing textiles, fashions and jewelry, fashion photography and video production. Virgil also lately created a series of figures that became 3D models for an animated Disney feature film.

"Clay is the core of my creations," he says. "My work centers on preserving traditional Cochiti culture and art forms. It's important to recognize that Pueblo communities are very much alive and have a level of vitality that speaks to generations of strength, persistence, brilliance and thriving energy."

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Cochiti Pueblo

The view west from Cochiti Lake
View west across Cochiti Pueblo

Cochiti Pueblo lies fifteen miles south of Santa Fe along the west bank of the Rio Grande. What is now Bandelier National Monument is the pueblo's most recent ancestral home. They may have relocated to the Bandelier area from the Four Corners region around 1300.

Cochiti legend says that Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man came to visit the Cochitis. While all the people watched, Clay Old Woman shaped a pot. Clay Old Man danced too close and kicked the pot. He rolled the clay from the broken pot into a ball, gave a piece to all the women in the village and told them never to forget to make pottery.

Ancestral home of the Cochitis
At Bandelier National Monument

In protohistoric times, human effigy pots, animals, duck canteens and bird shaped pitchers with beaks as spouts were common productions of the Cochiti potters. Many of these were condemned as idols and destroyed by the Spaniards. That problem left when the Spanish left in 1820 but the fantastic array of figurines created by Cochiti potters was essentially dormant until the railroad arrived. Then Cochiti potters were among the first to enter the tourist market and they produced many whimsical figures into the early 1900's. Then production followed the market into more conventional shapes.

Legend has it that a Ringling Brothers Circus train broke down near Cochiti Pueblo in the 1920's. The tribe's contact with the ringmaster, trapeze artists, opera singers, sideshow "freaks" and exotic animals paved the way for a variety of new figural subjects. An astute observer will find angels, nativities, cowboys, tourist caricatures, snakes, dinosaurs, turtles, goats, two-headed opera singers, clowns, tattooed strongmen, Moorish nuns and even mermaids in the Cochiti pottery pantheon, most produced only since the early 1960's and based on characters described in Cochiti's oral history.

A few modern potters make traditional styled pots with black and red flowers, animals, clouds, lightning and geometric designs but most Cochiti pottery artists now create figurines. Most notable is the storyteller, a grandfather or grandmother figure with "babies" perched on it. Helen Cordero is credited with creating the first storyteller in 1964 to honor her grandfather. The storyteller style was quickly picked up by other pueblos and each modified the form to match their local situation (ie: clay colors and tribal and religious traditions). In some pueblos, storytellers are also now made as drummers and as a large variety of animals.

Today, Cochiti potters face the challenge of acquiring the clay for the white slip. Construction of Cochiti Dam in the 1960's destroyed their primary source of their trademark white slip and gray clay. Now the white slip comes from one dwindling source at Santo Domingo, Cochiti Pueblo's neighbor to the south.

Most outsiders who visit Cochiti Pueblo these days do so on the way to or from either the recreation area on Cochiti Lake or Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Map showing location of Cochiti Pueblo

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Laurencita Herrera Family Tree

Disclaimer: This "family tree" is a best effort on our part to determine who the potters are in this family and arrange them in a generational order. The general information available is questionable so we have tried to show each of these diagrams to living members of each family to get their input and approval, too. This diagram is subject to change should we get better info.

    Laurencita Herrera (1912-1984) & Nestor Herrera
    Their children who became potters:
    • Mary Francis Herrera (1935-1991)
    • Seferina Ortiz (1931-2007) & Guadalupe Ortiz
      Their descendants who became potters:
      • Joyce Ortiz Lewis (b. 1954)
        Her descendants who became potters:
        • Leslie Lewis
      • Mary Janice Ortiz (b. 1956)
        Her descendants who became potters:
        • Kimberly Walker (b. 1978)
      • Juanita Inez Ortiz (1960-2008)
        Her descendants who became potters:
        • Krystal Ortiz (b. 1987)
        • Lisa Holt (b. 1980) & Harlan Reano (b. 1976)
      • Virgil Ortiz (b. 1969)
      • Leon Ortiz & Jackie Ortiz
        Their descendants who became potters:
        • Amanda Ortiz (b. 1988)

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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