Buffy Cordero



Elizabeth "Buffy" Cordero-Suina was born to George Cordero and Kathy Cordero at Cochiti Pueblo in November, 1969. She learned to make pottery through watching and working with her father and her famous grandmother, Helen Cordero.

When Buffy was a child, her family lived in a home behind her grandmother's. That made it easy to visit. She remembers sitting at her grandmother's workbench day after day and asking her "What are you making today?" Then when she was about 11, Helen didn't answer, she just tossed Buffy a lump of clay. That's when Buffy made her first little animal figure.

Buffy says she is like her grandmother: not very good at making bowls or pots of any sort. But making figures is different. Even the clay mix is different. Helen preferred using a gray base clay instead of the more abundant red clay found around Cochiti. Buffy learned to add volcanic ash with a little sand to that gray clay to make her pieces. Then she applies a white slip over the finished surface and polishes that before adding painted decorations.

A strict traditionalist, Buffy always follows her grandmother's instructions faithfully. All of her materials are strictly natural, including the mineral paints she used (in her words: "I don't want to use weird color paint"). She doesn't work on Sundays or on feast days. She never fires when it's windy or wet. She also never fires a piece when anyone other than members of her immediate family are watching (Helen never allowed anyone to watch either).

Buffy's favorite style to make is the family's trademark storyteller, with lots of children on them. Her father's storytellers were almost indistinguishable from his mother, Helen's, but Buffy's are quite distinct. Nearly all of Buffy's storytellers have a dog on them, because Buffy's children like dogs. But even more of a trademark for her is the little boy either reclining on his back or standing with his hands on his hips.

Like her grandmother, Buffy has also made a few "Children's Story Hour" sets with a larger grandfather figure singing to separate smaller children figures scattered on the floor around him.

Early in her career, Buffy decided she wouldn't do anything new unless it came directly from the pueblo life around her: a scene, a dance, a ceremony. She was not going to make figures of tourists, circus performers, bearded ladies or mermaids like many Cochiti potters were making before she was born.

Some Exhibits that featured Buffy's work

  • Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations. Heard Museum. Phoenix, AZ. February 14, 1998 - May 17, 1998
  • Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations. The Museum of Women in the Arts. Washington, DC. October 9, 1997 - January 11, 1998
  • American Indian Art Festival and Market. Artist Square, Dallas Arts District, Dallas, TX. November 9, 1990 - November 11, 1990

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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 Cochiti people
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

For more info:
at Wikipedia
official website

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