149. Polychrome plate with motifs of the avanyu, clouds and feathersIn northern New Mexico at San Ildefonso Pueblo, a Tewa revive the use of polychrome in San Ildefonso (Hoffman and group continues to transmit the traditions of their ances- Hoffman 2007:127). She was highly regarded for her pot- tors, as many other pueblos do. One of the more well-known tery skills, and Susan Peterson included her as one of the six Tewa artists was Crucita "Blue Corn" Gonzalez. By using matriarchs of Southwest Puebloan pottery who established an expanded palette of subtle clay colors, as seen in this the foundation for the field today (Peterson 1997:19). In 1981, plate, Blue Corn and her husband, Sandy Calabaza, helped Blue Corn was honored with the 8th Annual Governor's Award, considered to be New Mexico's highest tribute (Schaaf and Yan 2000:162), and she was posthumously awarded the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award by SWAIA (Southwestern Association for Indian Arts; "San Ildefonso Pottery-Blue Corn" 2009).
At the age of three, Blue Corn was introduced to making pottery by her grandmother, who taught her the traditional coiling technique (Schaaf and Yan 2000:162). During her youth in San Ildefonso, her fellow villagers Maria and Julian Martinez had begun to bring fame to the pueblo with their black-on-black pottery wares (see Cats. 161-167). Blue Corn's parents died when she was a child attending Santa Fe Indian School, so she was sent to live with relatives in Southern California. At the age of 20, she married a Santo Domingo silversmith, Santiago (Sandy) Calabaza. During World War II, she commuted to Los Alamos and was employed as a housekeeper for famed physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. After the birth of her first son, she returned to pottery and mastered the black-on-black technique of her native
pueblo. Her husband later joined her in the work (Schaaf and Yan 2000:162).
Of their humble beginnings, Blue Corn noted that she and Sandy would hitchhike from their home, at the time in Albuquerque, each carrying a child and a box of their pots to sell (Schaaf and Yan 2000:162). As their careers progressed, a sense of humor must have sustained them. Blue Corn related that once, when they arrived in San Diego to do a demon- stration for a television program, Sandy was asked where his machine (potter's wheel) was to make pottery. "He pointed at me and said, ‘There is my machine-walking through that door.' When he told me what they said, I told them that I plugged myself into the wall in the morning, made pots all day, and then unplugged myself at night to go to sleep" (Blue Corn qtd. in Schaaf and Yan 2000:162).
As the Calabazas expanded their interests beyond the black- on-black pottery type associated with the Martinez family, they looked at older traditions from their pueblo. They especially concentrated on experimenting with new poly- chrome effects. By the late 1960s, they became recognized as leaders in this development (Schaaf and Yan 2000:162). Apparently, their inspiration for working in polychrome came from a prehistoric pot sherd they found, and they continued to create more colors (Trimble 2007:48). "These pigments may have been various clays mixed with metallic oxides, or, perhaps, boiled plant residue such as the ones other Indians have used to dye yarns. In any case, the natural sources for her marvelous colors were her secret" (Peterson
1997:100). This polychrome plate in the Olson-Brandelle col- lection has been painted with several different slips to create the delicate coloring.
In a 1988 correspondence to Kent R. Olson, Rick Dillingham recorded that Sandy Calabaza painted this polychrome plate and it was "one of the few plates Sandy did before his death in 1971 and represent[s] the best work he did in pottery painting" (Dillingham 1988). The plate has special impor- tance because it was pictured in the successful 1987 book by Stephen Trimble,Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery (page 42), as well as in the 2007 revised edition,st Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery in the 21 Century (page 48).
Plates are not a traditional utilitarian ware in Southwest Puebloan cultures, where bowls, communal and individual, were used for meals. Plates are difficult to create. The thin, flat forms break easily during production and often take more effort than is reasonable (Blair and Blair 1986:101). However, beginning in the 20th century, Southwest Puebloan pottery became fashionable, and many artists adapted to make their wares marketable to outsiders. Since the mid- 1920s, pueblo potters have created plates as an artistic chal- lenge and commodity.
As much as the plate form is not a traditional Tewa article, the Calabazas were not abandoning their heritage by producing one in polychrome. This plate contains detailed and intricate Southwest Puebloan iconography, dominated in one half by the image of an avanyu, or plumed water serpent, along the outer rim. Undulating beneath stylized rain clouds, the creature wraps itself around the symbols depicted in the center of the plate. Water is immensely important to the Southwest Pueblos, because their survival depends on this scarce resource. The avanyu "symbolizes the importance of water to indigenous desert cultures" ("The Avanyu" 2007), and as a regulator of rain, often is shown with its zigzag tongue sticking out, which symbolizes lightning, a miracu- lous sight in an arid countryside. One can trace the avanyu back to at least 1200-900 BC in Mexico. A ceramic pot in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from Puebla, Las Bocas, titled Bowl Carved with Image of a Celestial Being, has a prominent serpent figure identified as having an "upturned paw-wing" that looks like a plume. Adjacent to the creature on the Mexican bowl is a symbol "that is a reference to the crossing point of the path of the sun and the Milky Way, a region over which this supernatural being presided" ("LACMA Collections Online-M. 2002.13" 2007).
The motifs in the other half of this plate are different stylizations of birds' wings-the feathers represent these creatures plate form, and expanded color possibilities for Southwest that take prayers from the pueblo up to the sky. Some of the designs reference the pueblo's surroundings, rain and good omens. The full meaning of the iconography on this plate may never be understood outside of San Ildefonso.
This polychrome plate is an expression of prayer and gratitude for water. Here, Blue Corn and Sandy Calabaza have applied traditional techniques and symbolism to the modern western plate form, and expanded color possibilities for Southwest Puebloan pottery.
-Victoria Richmond (Augustana 2011)
Crucita Gonzales Calabaza/Blue Corn (1921–1999) and Santiago (Sandy) Calabaza (1918–ca. 1972) (both San Ildefonso, New Mexico), Polychrome plate with motifs of the avanyu, clouds and feathers, dated by Rick Dillingham to ca. 1970–71, Ceramic, hand formed and outdoor fired, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (136-210 SNIL) 2005.1.139