Blue Corn

San Ildefonso
Blue Corn at work in her kitchen
Feather design on a polychrome jar

Blue Corn (1921-1999) was a potter from San Ildefonso Pueblo. She was born Crucita Gonzalez. The name Blue Corn was given to her by one of Maria Martinez' sisters during her San Ildefonso naming ceremony.

Blue Corn made her first piece of pottery at the age of three. She said her grandmother told her, "Your hands were made for pottery." That was a prophetic statement because Blue Corn made pottery for nearly her entire life.

She was born in that time when many Native American children were being educated in boarding schools. She was educated at the Santa Fe Indian School, about 25 miles from home. Both her parents died while she was away at school. Summers were spent in her grandmother's home until she graduated and was sent to live with relatives in southern California.

For a while she worked as a maid in a Beverly Hills mansion. Then she returned to New Mexico and met Artillery Sergeant Santiago Calabazas. He, too, was an orphan and was educated in boarding schools. Neither of them had graduated high school. They fell in love but World War II was on. After the war he returned to Santo Domingo and resumed his career as a silversmith. Then he and Blue Corn married. In keeping with Pueblo tradition he moved to her home at San Ildefonso.

In those years Blue Corn worked as a housekeeper for J. Robert Oppenheimer, the famous nuclear physicist who was the founder and first Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. She began making pottery after her first son, Joseph, was born.

Blue Corn was especially known for her polychrome designs on cream-colored jars and plates. She and Santiago spent several years experimenting with different techniques, forms, clays and colors.

Blue Corn produced a significant number of redware and blackware pieces through the years. By the late 1960's she was emerging as a leader in the revival of polychrome pottery. She was known for highly polished white, cream and buff slips, which she said she produced by polishing very slowly. She also selected subtle colors of clay with which to paint her designs.

Santiago passed away in 1972 and their son Joseph took his place in helping Blue Corn make her pottery.

Blue Corn was known for making jars, plates, wedding vases, oval blackware lidded boxes and black-on-black owl figures. Her favorite designs included feathers, rain clouds, turtles and the avanyu (the Tewa water serpent).

She did demonstrations and exhibitions all around the country and participated in shows like the Santa Fe Indian Market and the New Mexico State Fair, earning major awards at both. In 1981 she was awarded the 8th Annual Governor's Award, the highest artistic honor awarded by the State of New Mexico.

When she died, Blue Corn had raised 10 children and they had given her 18 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She had also taught many people how to make pottery, including most of her own children. Some of them went on to become award-winning potters in their own right.

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
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San Ildefonso Pueblo

Sacred Black Mesa at San Ildefonso Pueblo
Black Mesa at San Ildefonso Pueblo

San Ildefonso Pueblo is located about twenty miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, mostly on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande. Although their ancestry has been traced as far back as abandoned pueblos in the Mesa Verde area in southwestern Colorado, the most recent ancestral home of the people of San Ildefonso is in the area of Bandelier National Monument, the prehistoric villages of Tyuonyi, Otowi, Navawi and Tsankawi specifically. The area of Tsankawi abuts the reservation on its northwest side.

The San Ildefonso name was given to the village in 1617 when a mission church was established. Before then the village was called Powhoge, "where the water cuts through" (in Tewa). Today's pueblo was established as long ago as the 1300's and when the Spanish arrived in 1540 they estimated the village population at about 2,000.

That village mission was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and when Don Diego de Vargas returned to reclaim the San Ildefonso area in 1694, he found virtually the entire tribe on top of nearby Black Mesa. After an extended siege the two sides negotiated a treaty and the people returned to their village. However, the next 250 years were not good for them. Finally, the Spanish swine flu pandemic of 1918 reduced the tribe's population to about 90. The tribe's population has increased to more than 600 today but the only economic activity available for most on the pueblo involves the creation of art in one form or another. The only other jobs are off-pueblo. San Ildefonso's population is small compared to neighboring Santa Clara Pueblo, but the pueblo maintains its own religious traditions and ceremonial feast days.

San Ildefonso has produced fine ceramic art since early pre-Columbian times. The pueblo is most known for being the home of the most famous Pueblo Indian potter, Maria Martinez. Many other excellent potters have produced quality pottery from this pueblo, too, among them: Blue Corn, Tonita and Juan Roybal, Dora Tse Pe and Rose Gonzales. Of course the descendants of Maria Martinez are still important pillars of San Ildefonso's pottery tradition. Maria's influence reached far and wide, so far and wide that even Juan Quezada, founder of the Mata Ortiz pottery renaissance in Chihuahua, Mexico, came to San Ildefonso to learn from her.

Map showing the location of San Ildefonso Pueblo

For more info:
at Wikipedia
official website
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, by Daniel Gibson
Photo is in the public domain

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