Black Santa Clara Pot

black Santa Clara potThis small pot is a beautiful piece of black ware from the Santa Clara pueblo in New Mexico. It was made (and is signed by) Flora Naranjo, matriarch of one of the most respected families of Southwestern pueblo potters. She is considered to be one of the finest pottery artists from that region. The pottery-making tradition is carried on by Naranjo’s descendants — the talent appears to be a strongly inherited trait.

I bought this piece of pottery on my first trip to Santa Fe in the mid-1970s. I knew nothing about Santa Clara pottery, but the shape and feel of it attracted me so strongly that I had to buy it. I own other pieces of black ware, purchased over the years, but none I love more than this little pot. Measuring just about 3 inches in diameter, it fits nicely into the curve of my palm. The smooth, highly reflective surface is a product of precise polishing with a special tool. The incised areas have a matte finish that provides visual and textural contrast. .

Southwestern black pottery is hand coiled, then smoothed into its eventual shape. Then it is polished by repeatedly rubbing a smooth “polishing” stone over the piece until the red clay shines. Firing is done in an “oxygen reduction” process in which the artist smothers the fire with horse manure, which traps a thick, carbon-rich smoke all around the pot. The carbon in the smoke fuses with the clay, turning it black. This process is complex and as many as two-fifths of the pieces will be destroyed before they can be completed.


  1. What a gorgeous pot. I can almost feel the base in my hand.


  2. Keith

    I have a small black San Ildefonso pot (2.25″ high, 2.75″ round) by Carol Gutierrez Naranjo and a lovely Jemez pot (3″ high, 5.5″ round) by Reyes Madalena that I bought back in the 1990s when we were in New Mexico. More recently, I’ve enjoyed the sgraffito small pots by Becky Phillips. I bought my first one back in about 2003–


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