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156. Black-on-black plate with polished and matte feather patterns around central foliate motif

As the tradition of Southwest Puebloan pottery has increased in distinction and esteem during the last century, the artists primarily responsible for the revival of this craft, such as Nampeyo, Maria Martinez and Margaret Tafoya, have become figures of international acclaim and interest. While not as well known as some of her contemporaries, Rose Cata Gonzales belongs among this illustrious assemblage of matriarchs. She not only was an outstanding craftswoman, but also one of the "great 20th-century potterymakers of the Pueblos, contributing to the revitalization of the art, introducing innovations, and beginning a family tradition that was continued by the excellent work of her son, Tse-Pe" ("Bird Effigy-Rose Gonzales" 2009). Gonzales' innovative work expanded the artistic repertoire of pueblo potters in this era, extensively influenced the subsequent generation, and ultimately played a crucial role in what has since been termed the "San Ildefonso Renaissance."

Rose Cata Gonzales was born at San Juan Pueblo at the beginning of the 20th century. According to Gregory Schaaf, her parents died when she was very young, and, as orphans, she and her sister were raised by a relative (Schaaf and Schaaf 2000:182). In 1920, Rose married Robert Gonzales and moved with her sister to her husband's pueblo of San Ildefonso, a few miles south of San Juan. It was here she learned the craft of pottery making from her mother-in-law, Ramona Sanchez Gonzales. Rose first learned how to create polished blackware, but soon moved on to master the newly introduced technique of black-on-black pottery that would become a trademark of San Ildefonso potters. By 1930, she had begun "earnestly making pottery," producing extremely sophisticated and highly polished pieces in both redware and blackware. Gregory Schaaf has noted her redware, of particularly outstanding quality, draws on the pottery traditions of her home pueblo of San Juan (see Cat. 157; Schaaf and Schaaf 2000:182).

At first glance, the striking sheen of Gonzales' black-on-black plate catches the eye. Upon closer inspection, the viewer's attention is drawn to the intricately painted detail on the surface of the plate, which includes a central trifoliate image surrounded by abstracted feathers. The plate form is rare in Gonzales' work, and this one is rendered even rarer by her method of decoration, which is essentially a painted matte slip design (Olson 2002:144-234 SNIL). Gonzales was known for her innovative practice of carving deep designs into her pottery (Cats. 155, 157 and 158), a technique inspired by an ancient pottery shard discovered by her husband that displayed a carved pattern (Schaaf and Schaaf 2000:182). She went on to frequently employ carving in her work, while making occasional use of other decorative means. This plate, rare in that it is painted by Gonzales, speaks less of her innovative contributions to Southwest Puebloan ceramics, and more about other important developments simultaneously taking place in pottery at the northern Rio Grande pueblos.

Shortly before Gonzales arrived at San Ildefonso, the distinctive black-on-black technique was developed and quickly became a specialty of the pueblo that remains so to this day. It was the invention of acclaimed potter Maria Martinez and her husband Julian (Cats. 160-169), who were asked by archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett to attempt to duplicate examples of the ancient black pottery found in the area ("Maria Martinez [1887-1980]" 2005). Maria and Julian achieved blackware pottery by causing a sudden decrease of oxygen at the end of the firing process, accomplished by smothering the fire with manure. Julian, who was largely in charge of painting the pots his wife formed and carefully polished, began painting designs in black slip onto the polished surfaces, resulting in the breakthrough matte-on-gloss patterns that became their trademark style ("Maria Martinez [1887-1980]" 2005). These pieces became hugely popular, and the black-on-black technique quickly spread throughout San Ildefonso, where Gonzales was just beginning to learn her craft (Harlow 1977:36). Although Gonzales is best known for her carved designs, this black-on-black ware is an important part of her identification with San Ildefonso.

The plate form was introduced into Southwest Puebloan ceramics in the 20th century. Notoriously difficult shapes to polish and fire due to their tendency to crack, plates most likely were first produced by pueblo potters for sale to outsiders (Olson 2002:136-210 SNIL). In 1929, Ruth L. Bunzel stated that for flat plates "radiating designs are always used.... The flat plate is not a common form; it has only recently been introduced and its decoration is not yet highly developed" (Bunzel 1929:46). Kent R. Olson, who has not seen a pueblo plate made prior to 1930, has observed that Carl E. Guthe did not report seeing any plates in his 1925 book based on his 1921 fieldwork at San Ildefonso, suggesting that Bunzel's discussion has pinpointed the emergence of plates at the pueblo to the mid-1920s (Olson 2002:136-210 SNIL). By the time this 1969 plate was created, the plate form was popular as a surface for such intricate designs and precise painting.

Rose Gonzales passed on her skills not only to her son, Tse-Pe (Cat. 151), but also to his wife, Dora (Cats. 152, 153), whose plate is in the Olson-Brandelle collection. As a masterpiece of technical skill and creative taste, this black-on-black plate is worthy of comparison to the best of Southwest Puebloan pottery.

-Jenna Richardson (Augustana 2011) AR-343, and Tiffany Chezum (Augustana 2008)







Rose Cata Gonzales (1900–1989, from San Juan, New Mexico; married into San Ildefonso, New Mexico), Black-on-black plate with polished and matte feather patterns around central foliate motif, ca. 1969, Ceramic, hand formed and outdoor fired, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (144-234 SNIL) 2005.1.147