It was a beautiful March Saturday in Santa Fe. Michael and I had just driven from Tucson to Flagstaff to Hopi to Zuni to Santa Fe, and we were having a great trip meeting with artists and learning more about their lives and art.
After a hasty breakfast, we headed down to the Santa Fe Square to check in on some of our favorite Galleries, like Andrea Fisher and Shalako. We stopped for lunch, then went up to Canyon Road to see our friend Al Anthony at Adobe Gallery. It is a small world, and the gallery owners and artists all seem to know each other, yet they are all so willing to share information and provide guidance and direction. I think that the gallery owners that I enjoy the most are the ones who have a similar approach to lifting up the wonderful works of Native American artists and letting the stories of the artists be heard.
Though I had been to many pueblos in my life, I had not yet made it to Santa Clara, just an hour north of Santa Fe. And because the afternoon was so glorious, we hopped in the car and drove up I-25. Our goal – to visit the Toni Roller Gallery and see some of her award-winning pottery.
Fortunately, Toni’s website has very specific and detailed directions, so we were able to find her studio (next to her house) quite readily. We parked, and were met by a gentleman who introduced himself as Ted Roller, Toni’s husband. He showed us her Gallery, and regaled us with stories of learning to integrate into a family of potters. Ted was from North Dakota, and ended up in the Santa Clara pueblo after his marriage to Toni.
After a while, Toni returned from her errands and came into the gallery to visit with us. She proceeded to take us back to her workshop and storage areas, and showed us her clays, slips, and firing pit.
Toni still does her pottery in the traditional way: digging the clay from the hills and spending hours transforming it from a rock-like substance into malleable clay that she can hand-coil into pots. She showed us some of her work-in-progress, and even showed us some pottery made by her mother, Margaret Tafoya, and her grandmother, Sera Fina Tafoya. She proudly showed us the works of her children and grand-children, and I think she is very pleased that her teaching is being passed down through the generations of the Tafoya line.
After a couple of hours of chatting with this wonderful lady, my head was spinning and I was somewhat giddy with excitement. It was such an honor to talk to this highly acclaimed artist, and to acquire a pot from her that she just finished. Even better, she personally signed her book Indian Pottery for me, and it will go on my reference shelf as one of my treasured possessions.
The pot that I acquired from Toni is magnificent, as all of her work is. But last year, she found a new color of clay next to where her family had been digging for almost a hundred years. This has resulted in a light tan with black speck color of pot when fired, and it is most striking and unusual. She isn’t sure how long this new vein of clay will last, so I greedily laid claim to one of the few she had in her gallery.
My Tafoya family tree of pots is more robust. In addition to the two highly-treasured Margaret Tafoya pots, I now have a Toni Roller pot and companion story, plus one from her acclaimed potter son Cliff Roller. Still working on Cliff’s siblings… then on to the next generation, I suppose, with those emerging, talented potters. The pottery tradition runs strongly in the Tafoya family, and the artistic excellence is carefully passed from generation to generation.