Alvina Yepa


Alvina Yepa ia a potter from Jemez Pueblo. She was born into the Sun Clan in August 1954. Her paternal grandparents were Cristino and Juanita Fragua Yepa, her maternal grandparents Frank and Louisa Fragua Toledo. Her parents were Nick and Felipita Yepa.

Alvina started painting and polishing pottery for her mother when she was eight years old. She grew up watching and working with her mother making pottery. The only time in her life when she wasn't making pottery (as much) was when she lived in Richfield, UT, working as a bank teller. She said she enjoyed working at the bank and was thankful for the experience but after six years, she got homesick for family and culture.

Alvina entered her first piece at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 1986. In 1987 she won a First Place ribbon and a Best of Division ribbon. That was the beginning of a long string of ribbons won at Santa Fe. Alvina has also participated in the Heard Museum Guild Indian Art Fair & Market, the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show, the Prescott Indian Art Market, the University of San Diego American Indian Celebration, the Atlanta Spirit of America Show and others. In 2008 she had a special exhibit: "As Mother Earth Spins, She Speaks: Pueblo Pottery by Alvina Yepa" at the Booth Western Art Museum.

In 1997 Alvina was invited to participate in the 14th Annual Phoenix Indian Center Bolo Tie Dinner and Awards Banquet as a "Collector's Choice Artist." Some of her work is also in the object collection of the Heard Museum.

Alvina is known for making intricately etched, larger-scale jars that often incorporate a melon-style swirl. She works mostly with Jemez red clay.

Some of the Awards Alvina has Won

  • 2023 Santa Fe Indian Market, Classification II-E, Contemporary using traditional materials and techniques, Best of Division
  • 2023 Santa Fe Indian Market, Classification II-E, Category 906 - Sgraffito and carved, any form, First and Second Places
  • 2022 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Classification II - Pottery: Best of Class. Awarded for artwork: "Hummingbird Water Jar"
  • 2022 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Classification II - Pottery, Division C - Carved, incised, sgraffito, native clay, hand built, fired out-of-doors: First Place. Awarded for artwork: "Hummingbird Water Jar"
  • 2018 Santa Fe Indian Market, Classification II - Pottery, Division D, Contemporary Pottery, Any Form or Design, Using Native Materials with or without Added Decorative Elements, Traditional Firing Techniques, Category 801 - Sgraffitto, Any Form: Second Place
  • 2018 Santa Fe Indian Market, Classification II - Pottery, Division D, Contemporary Pottery, Any Form or Design, Using Native Materials with or without Added Decorative Elements, Traditional Firing Techniques, Category 801 - Sgraffitto, Any Form: Honorable Mention
  • 2017 Santa Fe Indian Market: Classification II - Pottery, Division C - Traditional Burnished Black or Red Ware, Incised, Painted or Carved, Category 702 - Carved or incised, black or red, over 8": Second Place
  • 2003 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Classification VIII - Pottery, Division A - Traditional/Native clay/hand-built (painted): Honorable Mention
  • 1996 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, Classification VII - Pottery, Division A - Traditional construction and firing methods: Best of Division. Awarded for artwork: Red Melon Bowl

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

The nave at the ruins of the San Jose de las Jemez Mission
Ruins of San Jose de las Jemez Mission

As the drought in the Four Corners region deepened in the late 1200's, several clans of Towa-speaking people migrated southeastward to the Canyon de San Diego area in the southern Jemez mountains. Other clans of Towa-speaking people migrated southwest and settled in the Jeddito Wash area in northeastern Arizona, below Antelope Mesa and southeast of Hopi First Mesa. The migrations began around 1275 and were mostly complete by 1350.

Archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes argues that pot shards found in the vicinity of the ruin at Sikyátki (near the foot of Hopi First Mesa) speak to the strong influence of earlier Towa-speaking potters on what became "Sikyátki Polychrome" pottery (Sikyátki was a village at the foot of First Mesa, destroyed before the first Hopi contact with the Spanish in 1540). Fewkes maintained that Sikyátki Polychrome pottery is the finest ceramic ware ever made in prehistoric North America.

Francisco de Coronado and his men arrived in the Jemez Mountains of Nuevo Mexico in 1539. By then the Jemez people had built several large masonry villages among the canyons and on some high ridges in the area. Their population was estimated at about 30,000 and they were among the largest and most powerful tribes in Northern New Mexico. Some of their pueblos reached five stories high and contained as many as 3,000 rooms.

Because of the nature of the landscape they inhabited, farming was very hard. So the Jemez became traders, too, and their people traded goods all over the Southwest and northern Mexico.

The arrival of the Spanish was disastrous for the Jemez and they resisted the Spanish with all their might. That led to many atrocities against the tribe until they rose up in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and evicted the Spanish from northern New Mexico. With the Spanish gone, the Jemez destroyed much of what they had built on Jemez land. Then they concentrated on preparing themselves for the eventual return of the hated priests and the Spanish military.

The Spanish returned in 1692 and their efforts to retake northern New Mexico bogged down as the Jemez fought them doggedly for four years. In 1696 many Jemez came together, killed a Franciscan missionary and then fled to join their distant relatives in the Jeddito Wash area. They remained at Jeddito Wash for several years before returning to the Jemez Mountains. As a result of that long ago contact, there are still strong ties between the Jemez and their cousins on Navajo territory at Jeddito. On their return to the Jemez Mountains, the people built the pueblo they now live in (Walatowa: The Place) and made peace with the Spanish government.

Some of the Jemez people had been making a type of plainware pottery (simple, undecorated, utilitarian) when they were still in the Four Corners area, while others had developed a distinctive type of black-on-white pottery. In moving to the Jemez Mountains, they brought their knowledge and techniques with them but had to adapt to the different materials available to work with. Over time, the Jemez got better in their agricultural practices and began trading agricultural goods to the people of Zia Pueblo in return for pottery. By the mid-1700's, the Jemez were producing almost no pottery.

East of what is now Santa Fe is where the ruins of Pecos Pueblo are found. Pecos Pueblo was a large pueblo housing up to 2,000 people at its height. The people of Pecos and the Galisteo Basin were the only other speakers of the Towa language in New Mexico and when that area fell on increasingly hard times (Apache and Comanche raids, European diseases, drought), Pecos was finally abandoned in 1838 when the last 17 residents moved to Jemez. The Governor of Jemez welcomed them and allowed them to retain many of their Pecos tribal offices (governorship and all). Members of former Pecos families still return to the site of Pecos Pueblo every year to perform religious ceremonies in honor of their ancestors.

When general American interest in Puebloan pottery started to take off in the 1960's, the people of Jemez sought to recover that lost heritage. Today, the practice of traditional pottery-making is very much alive and well among the Jemez.

The focus of Jemez pottery today has turned to the making of storytellers, an art form that now accounts for more than half of their pottery production. Storytellers are usually grandparent figures with the figures of children attached to their bodies. The grandparents are pictured orally passing tribal songs and histories to their descendants. While this visual representation was first created at Cochiti Pueblo (a site in close geographical proximity to Jemez Pueblo) in the early 1960's by Helen Cordero, it speaks to the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren of every culture.

The pottery vessels made at Jemez Pueblo today are no longer black-on-white. Instead, the potters have adopted many colors, styles and techniques from other pueblos to the point where Jemez potters no longer have one distinct style of their own beyond that which stems naturally from the materials they themselves acquire from their surroundings: it doesn't matter what the shape or design is, the clay says uniquely "Jemez."

Location of Jemez Pueblo
For more info:
at Wikipedia
official website
at the Catholic Encyclopedia
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, Daniel Gibson, ISBN-13:978-1-887896-26-0, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001
Prehistoric Hopi Pottery Designs, Jesse Walter Fewkes, ISBN-0-486-22959-9, Dover Publications, Inc., 1973

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