Two-headed circus performer Last month
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Seferina Ortiz, Cochiti, Two-headed circus performer Last month
Artist: Seferina Ortiz
Pueblo: Cochiti
Dimensions: 7 1/2 in H by 6 1/2 in Dia
Item Number: sbcog8034
Price: $ 750
Description: Two-headed circus performer Last month
Condition: Very good
Signature: Seferina Ortiz Cochiti, N. M.

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Seferina Ortiz

Deer Dancer figures

Cochiti Pueblo has a long history of producing figurative pottery and has become well known for its "storyteller" figures. Storytellers are usually seated, usually female and often have one or more children on their laps or backs. Seferina Ortiz (1931-2007) was one of the most respected of the figure-making potters of Cochiti Pueblo.

Her mother, Laurencita Herrera, taught her how to make pottery early in life and Seferina continued making pottery almost until the day she died. She also passed the basics of the tradition along to her children and grandchildren, including Lisa Holt and Inez, Virgil and Joyce Ortiz. All of them became skilled at making storyteller and animal figures. Joyce became well known for her mermaid and nativity sets and miniature storytellers. Virgil pioneered a revival of the 19th century style of standing human figures and added social commentary to his mix. Inez also made beautiful large figures while Lisa teamed up with Harlan Reano of Santo Domingo and they became award-winning potters, too.

Cochiti Pueblo has a longstanding tradition of using comic figures to comment on outsiders. Seferina said she invented the bathing beauty and mermaid figures "when they built Cochiti Dam, all these white people were coming to swim at the lake and they'd flooded the fields, so I thought about making these (figures) with bathing suits and tails. We never had them before."

The members of the Ortiz family have always shown deep respect for the traditions of their people while also exercising their individual creativity. A close-knit multi-generational family, they would often share the tasks of gathering and processing clay, tempering the clay with sand and performing communal cow dung firings, with the firings usually done at Seferina's house.

Seferina's work is shown in many museum and private collections. The Peabody Museum of Harvard University alone has 32 pieces of her pottery in its collection. She contributed a piece called "Cochiti Bathing Beauty" to the Smithsonian exhibit of American Encounters, 1991-2004.

During her life she won numerous awards for her pottery at events such as the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. She signed her work: "S. Ortiz, Cochiti".

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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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