Sharon Naranjo Garcia

By Staci Pratt (Mvskoke)


“The world begins at a kitchen table,” wrote U.S. three-term poet laureate Joy Harjo (Mvskoke). As in Harjo's poem, the kitchen table is at the center of creation for Santa Clara potter Sharon Naranjo Garcia. She works there daily on the pottery that is her heritage.

Garcia's pottery begins long before the clay gets to the table. She learned from generations before her to respect the earth from which the clay is formed. Collecting it is a family endeavor, shaped by nature and tradition. “We work with nature daily, outdoors in the early mornings before the summer's heat or waiting for the sun to warm up the earth on winter's cold days,” she said. “We are always working outside — gathering, mixing, caring for the clay, gathering wood for firing, sitting outdoors smoothing out pots to prepare for stone polishing and firing pots outside on a calm morning.” The entire process, from gathering clay to completing a group of four pots, can take months, depending on the size of the pots and the weather.

Garcia learned to work with clay from her grandmother, noted potter Christina Naranjo, who raised her. Working with clay goes back many generations for the family, and Garcia said it keeps the family strong. “Working on pottery keeps the family bonded as everyone helps with gathering clay, wood, firing and going to shows,” she said.

Garcia shares her knowledge with the young people of her family and community. She teaches traditional pottery and the Tewa language at Ohkay Owingeh Community School and the Ohkay Owingeh Summer Youth Program. She has also taught a summer pottery program with Santa Fe Public Schools. Her sons, Ira and Thunder, and her four grandchildren were her first students. “They know the entire pottery making process,

and they are all active potters,” she said. “The boys chop wood and do firing as well as mixing the clay. My granddaughter makes pottery on her summer break from college as a way to pay for school expenses.”

Garcia is a caring mentor and teacher for the next generation because she was taught well by her grandmother and other relatives. “My uncle George would take my grandmother and me to gather clay at the pueblo clay pit used since time immemorial by all the Santa Clara Pueblo potters,” she said. “Our clay is potent and durable and is used to make pots for specific uses: cooking, water storage, seed storage, to trade and barter, for cultural purposes and now mainly as decorative art objects. The clay pit is a connection with ancestors who also gathered at the site. We take clay with respect from Mother Earth. It was put there by the spirits to use as a way to do our art and sell it to sustain us. I will not use any other clay.”

Garcia recalled, “I learned pottery making by watching my grandmother. She sat many hours with a twinkle in her eyes, looking peaceful and happy, first getting a handful of mixed clay, smashing it with her hands, then coiling and shaping the pot with dried gourd pieces. My first job was placing wet newspaper into . . . dishes that would support her large completed vessels.”

Soon the young assistant began to take the next steps, watched over by her grandmother and aunts. “I wanted to feel the clay as my grandmother did, so I started working alongside her, beginning with small pieces as she made the large wedding vases, water jars and ollas,” Garcia said. “I was fascinated to watch my aunt Teresita Naranjo beautifully carving her pots or patiently polishing the pots with a stone. As I got older, my aunt Mary Cain would come in the summer from California to work on pottery and stay with us. I was exposed to her beautiful

carving. She would draw designs, and I would help carve the pots. Then she would go over my carving where needed.”

She continued, “When polishing the pottery, everyone used their favorite stone. My grandmother would put the right amount of another native clay slip [a thick liquid clay mixture], and I got to use a stone no one was using to polish it. She would go over my polishing to finish the pots. Since my grandmother passed in 1980, I have been making pottery on my own.” But Garcia said she is still learning from her elders: “Now I go to my aunt Mida Tafoya with questions I might have about my clay mixture or the firing process.”

Garcia's designs come from nature and from the clay itself. “Designs on my pieces always include sacred Avanyu, the water serpent, which was first carved on Santa Clara Pueblo pots by my great-grandmother Sarafina Tafoya,” she said. “I include designs from nature and my surroundings and from the season in which I am carving: in winter, snow designs; in summer, thunderbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies. Designs just come onto the pot, and no two pots are ever the same.”

Garcia's grandmother taught her that pottery designs can bring strength, healing and a good life. That is what she hopes to create at her kitchen table, in honor of her ancestors, in hope for the future. You can see her work on her website: snaranjogarcia.com.

Stacy Pratt (Mvskoke), PhD, is an Oklahoma-based writer specializing in Indigenous arts and literature. She regularly writes and edits for “First American Art Magazine.” Her reviews, essays and poems have appeared in “Collateral Journal,” “VIDA: Women in Literary Arts,” “When the Light of the World Was Subdued,

Our Songs Came Though: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry” and other publications.






Santa Fe New Mexican