Black on Red Kachina Olla

Tom and Sue Tapia



Sue and Tom Tapia, who are from Laguna and San Juan (Ohkay Owingeh) Pueblos, respectively, are a husband and wife, famed for their pottery collaboration.

Sue coils, carves, and stone-polishes the pot, while Tom does the masterful incised decorations.

This perfectly stone-polished, red and black pot is impeccably etched with feather designs on the bottom and one side, and a parade of Kachina figures on the other side.

A beautifully detailed Avanyu, the Water Serpent, winds its way above the bottom feathers, and below the major designs in the middle of the pot.

Each element stands out on the natural, red clay base. Every line is precise and clearly visible.

The clay was hand-gathered; mixed, coiled, and etched by hand.

The black surface was achieved by smothering the outdoor fire, that hardens the clay, with dried horse or sheep manure.

This produces an indelible blackened surface; stone polishing the solid black fired pot results in the glossy surface, which contrasts to the flower-pot matte surface of the red base.

Incising the design is the last step.

Feathers are symbols of prayers, usually for water, as here, in balance with the sun seen in the half-Sunface on the abstract side.

The kachinas, spirit figures, intercede with the heavenly powers above, to facilitate the balance of water and sun that promotes healthy crops.

All these are good luck symbols since healthy crops lead to happy and healthy people.

This piece of pottery is almost totally perfect in every way: basic form, design complementarity, skill of execution, totally traditional mode of creation.

Sadly, Tom Tapia passed away, a few years ago. Although Sue continues to create pottery, their collaboration is thus, at an end.

So, this piece is a collector’s item, signed as it is, by both,  and made years ago.

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