Stella Chavarria

Santa Clara

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".

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved


Santa Clara Pueblo

The Puye Cliff Ruins
Ruins at Puye Cliffs, Santa Clara Pueblo

Santa Clara Pueblo straddles the Rio Grande about 25 miles north of Santa Fe. Of all the pueblos, Santa Clara has the largest number of potters.

The ancestral roots of the Santa Clara people have been traced to the pueblos in the Mesa Verde region in southwestern Colorado. When that area began to get dry between about 1100 and 1300, some of the people migrated to the Chama River Valley and constructed Poshuouinge (about 3 miles south of what is now Abiquiu on the edge of the mesa above the Chama River). Eventually reaching two and three stories high with up to 700 rooms on the ground floor, Poshuouinge was inhabited from about 1375 to about 1475. Drought then again forced the people to move, some of them going to the area of Puye (on the eastern slopes of the Pajarito Plateau of the Jemez Mountains) and others to Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, along the Rio Grande). Beginning around 1580, drought forced the residents of the Puye area to relocate closer to the Rio Grande and they founded what we now know as Santa Clara Pueblo on the west bank of the river, between San Juan and San Ildefonso Pueblos.

In 1598 Spanish colonists from nearby Yunque (the seat of Spanish government near San Juan Pueblo) brought the first missionaries to Santa Clara. That led to the first mission church being built around 1622. However, the Santa Clarans chafed under the weight of Spanish rule like the other pueblos did and were in the forefront of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. One pueblo resident, a mixed black and Tewa man named Domingo Naranjo, was one of the rebellion's ringleaders. When Don Diego de Vargas came back to the area in 1694, he found most of the Santa Clarans on top of nearby Black Mesa (with the people of San Ildefonso). An extended siege didn't subdue them so eventually, the two sides negotiated a treaty and the people returned to their pueblo. However, successive invasions and occupations by northern Europeans took their toll on the tribe over the next 250 years. The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 almost wiped them out.

Today, Santa Clara Pueblo is home to as many as 2,600 people and they comprise probably the largest per capita number of artists of any North American tribe (estimates of the number of potters run as high as 1-in-4 residents).

Today's pottery from Santa Clara is typically either black or red. It is usually highly polished and designs might be deeply carved or etched ("sgraffito") into the pot's surface. The water serpent, ("avanyu"), is a traditional design motif of Santa Clara pottery. Another motif comes from the legend that a bear helped the people find water during a drought. The bear paw has appeared on their pottery ever since.

One of the reasons for the distinction this pueblo has received is because of the evolving artistry the potters have brought to the craft. Not only did this pueblo produce excellent black and redware, several notable innovations helped move pottery from the realm of utilitarian vessels into the domain of art. Different styles of polychrome redware emerged in the 1920's-1930's. In the early 1960's experiments with stone inlay, incising and double firing began. Modern potters have also extended the tradition with unusual shapes, slips and designs, illustrating what one Santa Clara potter said: "At Santa Clara, being non-traditional is the tradition." (This refers strictly to artistic expression; the method of creating pottery remains traditional).

Santa Clara Pueblo is home to a number of famous pottery families: Tafoya, Baca, Gutierrez, Naranjo, Suazo, Chavarria, Garcia, Vigil, Tapia - to name a few.

Harvest, Santa Clara Pueblo c. 1912
Courtesy Museum of New Mexico Neg. No. 4128

Santa Clara Pueblo c. 1920
Courtesy Museum of New Mexico Neg. No. 4214

Santa Clara Pueblo location map
For more info:
at Wikipedia
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, Daniel Gibson, ISBN-13:978-1-887896-26-9, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001
Upper photo courtesy of Einar Kvaran, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved

Blackbowlcarvedwithastylizedavanyudesign, Click or tap to see a larger version
See a larger version

Stella Chavarria, Santa_Clara, Blackbowlcarvedwithastylizedavanyudesign
Stella Chavarria
Santa Clara
$ 750
Black bowl carved with a stylized avanyu design
4 in H by 6.75 in Dia
Condition: Very good
Signature: Stella Chavarria Santa Clara

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved

Chavarria 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.

    Pablita Chavarria (1914-1979) & Jose M. Chavarria
    • Florence Browning (1931-) & Lowell Browning
    • Stella Chavarria (Tafoya) & Loretto Chavarria
      • Denise Chavarria (1959-)
      • Joey Chavarria (1964-1987)
      • Loretta Sunday Chavarria (1963-)
    • Elizabeth Naranjo (1929-2017) & Ernest Naranjo
      • Frances Chavarria
      • Betty Naranjo (1956-) & Robert Naranjo
      • Ernest J. Naranjo & Kathleen Gutierrez
      • Regina Naranjo
      • Yvette Naranjo
    • Reycita Naranjo (1926-2003) & Adolphe Naranjo (-1990)
    • Clara Shije (1924-) & John S. Shije
    • Mary Singer (1936-) & Lawrence Singer
      • Anna Bailon (1961-)
      • Fergus Singer
    • Mildred Chavarria (1946-)

Some of the above info is drawn from Pueblo Indian Pottery, 750 Artist Biographies, by Gregory Schaaf, © 2000, Center for Indigenous Arts & Studies

Other info is derived from personal contacts with family members and through interminable searches of the Internet and cross-examination of the data found.

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved