Debra Duwyenie is a niece of noted potters Gloria Garcia (Goldenrod) and Lois Gutierrez. She is also married to well-known contemporary Hopi potter Preston Duwyenie. While she mainly grew up in Santa Clara Pueblo, she spent childhood summers with grandparents in Manitou Springs, Colorado where they were caretakers of the Cliff Dwellings Museum. Speaking only in Tewa, her grandfather often sang to her and told stories of his days at the Carlisle Indian School and of his adventures as a soldier during World War II.
Taught mainly by her mother (Genevieve Tafoya), her mother's mother (Petra Gutierrez) and her father's mother (Dolly Naranjo), Debra started making pottery about 1979. At the same time she worked as the Executive Assistant to the Dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe until she met Preston and became a full time potter.
Making pueblo pottery is a complex and time consuming process as all Pueblo potters dig and process their own clay. In making her classic Santa Clara red or black pottery, all of Debra's pots begin with finely sifted clays she has dug from areas along the Rio Grande. For example, buff colored clay comes from the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe; her red slip clay comes from an area near Santo Domingo Pueblo. Each of her pieces are hand-coiled, not thrown on a wheel. She also uses a river-polished stone to hand polish her pieces.
Debra's designs are etched into the exterior surface of each piece by scraping away the polished surface to reveal the buff colored clay beneath: this sgraffito work is done prior to the firing, contrary to most potters' post-firing etching. Her exquisite carvings are made with sharply pointed scribes cut from the handles of chain-saw files.
Using cord wood plus horse and cow manure, Debra's pots are ground-fired in an area behind her home: she prefers a fire that increases in temperature slowly and allows the pottery to cool slowly after.
Debra has won numerous awards for her pottery at events such as the annual SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Museum Market in Phoenix and the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show in Espanola where she took home the Best in Show ribbon in 2010. She's also been awarded Best in Class ribbons numerous times, for pieces she made by herself and for collaborations with her husband Preston. Her favorite shapes are seed pots and small plates featuring her favorite sgraffito designs: turtles, hummingbirds, avanyus (water serpents), feathers, sun-faces, clouds, clan symbols and kiva step patterns.
Debra tells us her inspiration comes from looking at her own pots: she says they tell her "Look at me, design me, put something on me, do something to me." And as much as she enjoys making pottery, she says she enjoys being a grandmother even more. Her older work was signed "Debra Harvey" on the bottom but her recent work is signed: "Debra" along with the Duwyenie "Carried in Beauty" trademark etching.