Debra Duwyenie

Santa Clara
Debra Duwyenie
A plate with a sgraffito design

Debra Duwyenie is a niece of noted potters Gloria Garcia (Goldenrod) and Lois Gutierrez. She is also married to well-known 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" or "Debra" on the bottom but her most recent work is signed: "Debra" along with the Duwyenie "Carried in Beauty" trademark etching.

Some of the Recent Awards Debra has Earned

  • 2019 - First Place, Division D, Category 801 - Sgraffito, any form, a collaboration with her husband, Preston, Santa Fe Indian Market
  • 2023 - Second Place, Division D, Category 801 - Sgraffito, any form, a collaboration with her husband, Preston, Santa Fe Indian Market
  • 2023 - First Place, Division D, Category 806 - With added elements (like beads, feathers, stones, etc), any form, Santa Fe Indian Market
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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
Map showing the location of Santa Clara Pueblo
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