Nathan YoungbloodSanta Clara
Nathan Youngblood was born at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1954. His parents were Mela (1931-1991) and Walt Youngblood. Due to his father's military career, the family moved often. Eventually, Walt was sent to Vietnam and the rest of the family returned home to Santa Clara Pueblo (Walt joined them there when he came back from the war). It was at Santa Clara that Nathan learned to make pottery by watching his grandmother, Margaret Tafoya, and his mother. Margaret and Mela showed Nathan how to make and polish the pots while his grandfather, Alcario, showed him traditional Santa Clara designs and how to carve them.
He produced his first two pieces (a tiny bowl and a clay peace pipe) in 1970 and entered them in the Juvenile Division of the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonials pottery competition that year. The tiny bowl won a second place ribbon, the peace pipe won a first place ribbon.
Nathan dedicated himself full time to making pottery in 1976 and apprenticed himself to his grandparents, Margaret and Alcario. It was an intense apprenticeship as they taught him every aspect of the traditional pottery-making path: making, carving and firing. In those early years of his career, Nathan was focused on making larger vessels, highly polished, deeply carved and physically heavy. He was also focused on creating the classic Santa Clara shapes and designs he'd been taught. By the mid-1980's he moved into creating more complex historic and prehistoric Santa Clara shapes and designs. Those more complex shapes forced a rethinking of the designs he used and he moved into carving less linear flows that incorporated more of the whole surface of a vessel. In the early 1990's he began incorporating some of the elements he loved in Asian ceramics into his pieces and that opened the door yet further to a mix of traditional and contemporary on the same piece. He also dreamed of making a Pueblo form of "Faberge egg" and experimented long and hard to create that. Incorporating three separate pieces and involving three firings, that created a tremendous amount of risk in the project. He successfully produced the first one in 1998 and said, "It is something I have dreamed of being able to make for 15 years, but until now was technically unable to create this piece. It may not speak to the traditionalist, but it had to be made."
His grandmother, Margaret, passed on in 2001 and in her honor he began to re-create many of her classic shapes, carving them with some of his own more contemporary designs. He also designed a line of jewelry and glass in those years, projects that allowed him to focus on how his imagery translated to other media.
Now he generally makes bowls, jars, vases, canteens and plates in red, black and/or tan. He both carves and paints, often on the same piece. His patterns have become increasingly complex, intricate and delicate over time. While many of his pieces have a contemporary look and feel, he always creates everything in the traditional way.
He has become known for his creative designs and the outstanding quality of his work. Often winning both 1st and 2nd Place ribbons, Nathan has won more than 140 awards for his pottery, including 40 awards at the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. His work has been exhibited in galleries from Scottsdale, Arizona to New York City. His work has also been shown at the White House, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC, the Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Museum of Natural History in Denver, Colorado and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
Over the years Nathan also served on the boards of the Southwestern Association of Indian Art, the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
Nancy Youngblood is Nathan's sister.
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Santa Clara Pueblo
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.
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
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