Stella Chavarria

Santa Clara
Polychrome pot by Stella Chavarria

Stella Chavarria was born in 1939 at Santa Clara Pueblo. Her mother was Teresita Naranjo and her grandmother was Margaret Tafoya’s sister, Christina. With a pedigree like that you know Stella makes exquisite Santa Clara-style pottery. Stella has also passed her learning on to her daughter, Denise Chavarria.

Her pottery is created in the traditional hand-coiled method and features sharply incised carving and exquisite polishing. She began making pottery in 1955. She concentrates on decorations depicting the avanyu (water serpent protector of Pueblo People), feathers and swirls.

Deeper carving in redware is characteristic of Santa Clara style and especially the smothered black pottery. The carver cuts away the background, leaving the design standing in relief. The design and body are polished, and the background is matte-painted.

When the pottery is leather hard, the carver goes to work. Stella uses woodcarving tools, screwdrivers, and a kitchen paring knife sharpened so many times that its blade sticks out only an inch from the hilt. She says, "I draw it out in pencil first. Everybody says that it looks easy for me to carve, but I guess after doing it for so many years, you don’t really think about it. You just do it."

Stella's work is in many of the major books published on pueblo pottery: Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery by Dillingham and Lillian Peaster's Pueblo Pottery Families, just to name a few. She has been in dozens of exhibitions going back to the seventies and is featured in many major collections including the Heard Museum. Additionally, she has won numerous awards for her work at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

She signs her work: "Stella Chavarria, Santa Clara".

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