National Museum of Women in the Arts
Margaret Tafoya
August 13 1904 - February 25 2001
Photograph of Margaret Tafoya, unknown date, by Susan Peterson, courtesy of the photographer. (c) Susan Peterson
Place of Birth:
Santa Clara Pueblo
Phonetic Spelling:
MAHR-gah-reht tah-FOY-yah
Minority status:
Native American
Native American Tribe:
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works
Artistic Role(s):
Traditional Art
Artist's Biography:
Tewa artist Margaret Tafoya learned the tradition of pottery making from her mother Sara Fina Tafoya and continued her family’s legacy as a talented ceramicist. Born in 1904 in the Santa Clara Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tafoya grew up assisting her mother at home. She attended the Santa Fe Indian School from 1915 until 1918, but never learned to read or write. While her father worked in the family’s fields, Tafoya patiently learned the ancient tradition of hand-building pottery. Although Native potters began making pots and jars for commercial markets, these vessels were traditionally for domestic use and their patterns represented spiritual forms important to the Pueblo.

Tafoya originally created traditional utilitarian black ware vessels. She closely followed the ancient method of coil-building her pottery with clay taken only from the Santa Clara Pueblo. She experimented with different color slips and became known for her flawless, highly polished surfaces. Working with patterns such as the kiva step, mountain, clear sky, buffalo horn, and bear claw designs, Tafoya used her fingers to impress lines into the clay. For deeper designs, she required the assistance of her husband Alcario Tafoya, a distant relative whom she married at eighteen, who carved into the surface of the vessels after they dried overnight.

During the 1950s, Native American art was widely collected. Tafoya became well known worldwide for her skill in hand-building uncommonly large clay vessels. She rejected modern techniques, scorning the potter’s wheel and addition of nontraditional gems and stones. Her ability to experiment with scale and form while maintaining strong ties to the Santa Clara tradition set her apart from other talented potters. Of her ten surviving children, eight of have become accomplished potters and continue the family legacy in Santa Clara.

Tafoya’s first exhibition was held in 1974 at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was honored with retrospectives in 1982 at the Denver Museum of Natural History and in 1983 at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. In 1984, she was named Folk Artist of the Year by the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC and in 1985 and 1992 received Lifetime Achievement awards. Tafoya continued working in Santa Clara until her death in 2001.

Place(s) of Residence:
Santa Clara Pueblo
Where Trained/Schools:
Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe, NM, USA (1915-1918)
Related Visual Artists:
daughter of Sara Fina Tafoya daughter of Jose Geronimo Tafoya niece of and influenced by Santana Tafoya sister of and influenced by Tomasita Tafoya sister of Camilio Tafoya sister-in-law of Agapita Tafoya sister of Christina Naranjo wife of Alcario Tafoya mother of Virginia Ebelacker mother of Lee Tafoya mother-in-law of Betty Tafoya mother of Jennie Trammel mother of Mela Youngblood mother of Toni Roller mother of Lu Ann Tafoya mother of Mary Archuleta mother of Shirley Tafoya aunt of Grace Medicine Flower aunt of Joseph Lonewolf aunt of Teresita Naranjo aunt of Mary Cain aunt of Mida Tafoya great-aunt of Rosemary Lonewolf great-aunt of Greg Lonewolf great-aunt of Susan Romero great-aunt of Stella Tafoya Chavarria great-aunt of Tina Diaz great-aunt of Linda Cain great-great-aunt of Denise Chavarria great-great-aunt of Tammy Garcia grandmother of and influenced Nancy Youngblood grandmother of Nathan Youngblood grandmother of Linda Tafoya Oyenque grandmother of Cliff Roller grandmother of Jeff Roller
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Lifetime Achievement Award, Women's Caucus for Art, New York, NY, USA (1992) New Mexico Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, Governor's Award, Santa Fe, NM, USA (1985) Folk Artist of the Year, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1984)
Earliest exhibition:
Seven Families in Pueblo Pottery, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Albuquerque, NM, USA (1974)
NMWA exhibition(s):
The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by American Indian Women
American Indian Pottery from the Collection
Artist retrospective(s):
Margaret Tafoya: A Potter's Heritage and Her Legacy, Denver Museum of Natural History, City Park, CO, USA (1982-1984) The Red and the Black: Santa Clara Pottery by Margaret Tafoya, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, NM, USA (1983)
Related places
Santa Clara Pueblo (died at)