The Pojoaque Pueblo may be best known today for the Poeh Cultural Center, a magnificent well-curated museum and education center owned and operated by the pueblo. Located about 15 miles north of Santa Fe, the Poeh (in normal years) attracts a broad spectrum of visitors who are able to learn more about the daily lives of pueblo members and the outstanding works of art that they produce.
The Poeh has been successful recently in reclaiming some of the historic pots taken by the Smithsonian almost 100 years ago. Even better, Poeh conducts workshops and classes for tribal members helping them learn the techniques of making pottery, jewelry, and other artistic mediums. The people of Pojoaque are focused on both the strong legacy of the past and building a successful community for the future.
In addition, this progressive pueblo with a 2500-year history also operates the Buffalo Thunder resort complex, featuring the Hilton Hotel and casino, Homewood Suites, The Cities of Gold hotel and casino, the Tewa golf course, and other local businesses. That makes the Pueblo the largest private employer in the northern part of Santa Fe county. The Hilton is possibly best known for its public exhibition of over 400 pieces of museum quality pottery from the 19 New Mexico pueblos, well worth a few hours to gawk and drool.
But there is a lot more to this pueblo than just the Poeh or the lush resorts and casinos. I wanted to explore more, even given the constraints of the pandemic, and discovered that the Pojoaque Pueblo Governor, Joseph Talachy, has been quite effective in helping the people of Pojoaque Pueblo manage the pandemic in their pueblo. The pueblo members are all masked up, practicing social distancing, and limiting trips to just those necessary for essential jobs and getting food. Unlike most other pueblos, however, Pojoaque pueblo is more of a collection of tracts of land interspersed with old Spanish claims, leading to interesting borders.
Recently, Michael and I were able to take a quick morning visit to the pueblo to meet with John Huntress, who may be one of the most knowledgeable turquoise experts alive today. The meeting was arranged for us by our friend Dayton Simmons of Silver Day Trading. Dayton is also a renowned turquoise expert and a long-time friend of John. As an aside, Dayton also does all of my jewelry repairs for the Gallery, as his expertise in this area is excellent.
John has lived at the pueblo for roughly 30 years, and works closely with a number of pueblo artists to provide them with high quality, natural turquoise and other gemstones, and in turn markets their beautiful jewelry around the world. His long background in cutting stones, starting when he was not even 10 years old, has given him a lot of connections to miners and turquoise mines. John sources the raw stone, cuts beautiful sets of cabochons, and provides them to the Pojoaque jewelry artists to create their work. The artists either sell their work to collectors and galleries, or trade them back to John for more cabochons.
At almost 70, John regaled us with story after story about the hunt for gem-quality turquoise from different mines. He even has a number of mine claims that still produce some quantities of raw stone. To a large degree, John’s story, from his childhood in Scottsdale, through stops in various locations like Prescott, Sedona, Silver City, and now Santa Fe County, is very reminiscent of the old trading post founders of the 19th and early 20th century. These trading posts would be located in or next to pueblo or tribal land, and the traders would interact on a daily basis with Native Americans to provide them with foods, raw materials, and other items that would help the Native Americans lead more pleasant lives. John, with his ability to bring in and cut the highest quality turquoise stones, has aided the Native American jewelers of Pojoaque Pueblo, and often surrounding pueblos, to take their artistry to the highest levels. And having an expert able to grade and identify different types of turquoise is an invaluable resource, as the provenance of turquoise stones is tied directly to those miners who brought it out of the ground and those craftsmen like John who initially cut the stone into cabochons.
In the near future, we will have another blog on the different types of turquoise and how to recognize one from another. We will also cover how to tell gem-quality turquoise from lower-quality turquoise, and augment our jewelry buying guide as well. A well-informed buyer is much more likely to be happy with his or her acquisition, and higher quality tends to stand the test of time in value.