Caught by Surprise | Native Clay |  Best of Show Santa Fe Indian Market 2023, photo: King Galleries


Jennifer Tafoya blazes a fresh, contemporary path in pottery from the Santa Clara Pueblo, building upon traditions passed down from her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and “untold generations before,” as she puts it. The dynamic combination of expertise and innovation she achieves in her work has been widely acclaimed, most recently with Best of Show during the 2023 Santa Fe Indian Market, when her pot entitled Caught by Surprise was selected from works by more than 1,000 artists from more than 200 tribes. “It was very surprising,” she says. “I was not expecting that at all.”

Viewers of the award-winning work might themselves be surprised upon encountering the vase, which is small enough to be cupped in a pair of hands. At first glance, it appears wto be a traditional piece of pottery from Santa Clara Pueblo. A closer look, however, initially rewards the eye with its richly textured surface, deeply carved using sgraffito, a classical Italian technique by which an already glazed surface is then etched with a design. Tafoya was mentored in that particular skill by her fiancé, potter Chris Youngblood. But the design itself — created over many full days of work “from when I get up to when I go to sleep” — delights even further with a prehistoric scene; a slender little Coelophysis dinosaur is startled by a fearsome pair of Allosaurus and the small Stegosaurus they are hunting.

Sea Slugs

Native Clay | Photo: King Galleries

Why did she choose such a dramatic departure from her Pueblo’s more traditional geometric or abstracted patterns? “Dinosaurs are one of my favorite subjects,” she says. “I like to read about them, and I just thought they’d be a really cool and interesting subject. I’d been doing them randomly for quite a while, but lately, more and more.” They join a roster of other subjects, including “any kind of birds or fish, turtles, frogs, tigers, dragons, pretty much whatever catches my fancy,” all embellished with colors derived from “extremely rare natural earth pigments from Native lands” and traditionally fired outdoors..


Native Clay | Photo: King Galleries

At this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market, Tafoya hopes to catch visitors unawares yet again. “I will be doing some collaborative pieces with Chris Youngblood, never-before-seen kind of stuff with really cool, different designs,” she says, deliberately withholding any specifics before adding that her main goal is to “keep making my designs more detailed, more realistic, and just do better with each passing day.”

Tafoya will participate in Santa Fe Indian Market on August 17 and 18. She is represented by King Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Scottsdale, Arizona.

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