Candelaria Suazo

Santa Clara/
San Juan
Candelaria Suazo
Black jar with a sgraffito avanyu and geometric design

Candelaria Suazo was born to Joe and Santanita Suazo of Santa Clara and San Juan Pueblos. She has been making pottery since she was 20 years old. Among her teachers and those who still inspire her are her mother and her sisters: Margie Naranjo, Martha Haungooah, Mae Tapia and Shirley Duran. Relatives Dolores Curran and Geri Naranjo also had a great influence on her work over the years.

Making pueblo pottery is a complex and time consuming occupation. The most critical moments are mixing the clay at the beginning preparations and in the last step, which is firing the finished pot outdoors. Candelaria digs and mixes her own clay. She uses a series of screens to sift and remove the impurities. Each pot is coiled and shaped by hand, not thrown on a wheel. No glazes are used, only a stone to polish the piece. The pot is fired outdoors in a traditional firing pit using "cow patties" and dry horse manure. To obtain a black finish, a reduction process is employed where the pots are smothered with a mix of ashes and pulverized manure.

Candelaria tells us her favorite shapes to work with include miniature bowls and vases. The sgraffito (etched) style that she specializes in is accomplished after the “smothering” process that turns the pottery black. A figure such as a finely etched “avanyu” (water serpent) will surround the entire pot. Often kiva steps and cloud designs will complete the work. Other favored designs are butterflies and/or hummingbirds that are intricately carved on opposite sides of a piece. She also uses a special technique that highlights part of a pot by reheating a section of the pot and changing its color.

Candelaria says, “I enjoy making pottery because I want to keep up the traditional art of pottery making that the pueblo of Santa Clara is known for.” She exhibits at the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show and has earned several ribbons for First, Second and Third Places. She signs her work: “Candelaria Suazo, Santa Clara Pueblo.”

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

Santanita Suazo Family Tree

Disclaimer: This "family tree" is a best effort on our part to determine who the potters are in this family and arrange them in a generational order. The general information available is questionable so we have tried to show each of these diagrams to living members of each family to get their input and approval, too. This diagram is subject to change should we get better info.

    Santanita Suazo & Joe Suazo

    • Shirley Duran & Joseph Duran (Tesuque)
      • Aaron Duran (Tesuque, 1969-1994) & Tina Gasper (Zuni)
        • Koty Duran (Tesuque, 1993-)
        • Megan Duran
    • Martha Haungooah (-1981) & Art Cody aka Haungooah (Kiowa)(1943-1985)
      • Dean Haungooah (1972-)
    • Margie Naranjo
    • Candelaria Suazo
    • Mae Tapia (1952-2015) & Frank Tapia
      • April Tapia & Joseph Gutierrez
      • Ira Tapia & Morena Tapia
100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - - All Rights Reserved