Native American Culture/Santa Clara Pottery


wedding vessel
wedding vessel  

wedding vessel
wedding vessel  
Can you help me with information regarding the attached pictures of what my mother told me was a wedding vessel she received many years ago.  Any help is appreciated.

What you have is a very fine quality, Santa Clara carved blackware wedding vase. The Naranjo family is one of the Pueblo's leading pottery families. The style of the carving/relief decoration was started in Santa Clara Pueblo as early as the 1920s. It is still done in both the stone polished (not glazed) reduction fired black finish and the regular firing which yields a deep red color. During the wood pit firing,the fire is smothered and the smoke and carbon is driven into the porous clay surface. Since not all pots fired in this manner survive, it is a very costly process. All of the Naranjo family's pottery is hand coiled, scraped and polished. Your vase is decorated with the head of the feathered dragon of the sky, called Avanyu, in the Tewa language of the Pueblo. It is the bringer of great change and the possibility for great prosperity and luck.

Madeline was a very respected potter whose work in this form has easily gone well past $1000 at retail for a larger piece over 15" tall. Here is a narrative of the twin-necked tradition as told by Theresita Naranjo a great potter of the last generation:

"After a period of courtship, a boy and girl decide to get married, but they cannot do so until certain customs have been observed.  The boy must first call all of his relatives together to tell them that her desires to be married to a certain girl.  If the relatives agree, two or three of the oldest men are chosen to call on the parents of the girl.  Here, they pray according to Indian custom and then the oldest man will tell the parents of the girl what their mission is.   The parents never give a definite answer at this time -- they just say they will let the boy's family know their decision."

"About a week later, the girl calls a meeting of her relatives.  The family then decides what  answer should be given.  If the answer is "no", that is the end of it; but, if the answer is "yes", the oldest men in her family are delegated to go to the boy's home to give their answer and to tell the boy on what day he can come to receive his bride-to-be."

"Now the boy must find a godmother and godfather.  The godmother immediately starts making the wedding vase so that it will be finished by the time the girl is to be received.  The godmother also takes some of the stones which are designated as "holy" and dips them into water to make the "holy water" with which the vase is filled for the day of the reception.  The boy must also notify all of his relatives on what day the girl will receive him so that they will be able to prepare gifts for the girl."

"The reception day finally comes and the godmother and godfather lead the procession of the boy's relatives to the home of the girl.  The groom-to-be is the last in line, and must stand at the door of the girl's home until all of the gifts have been received and opened by the girl."

"The bride and groom now kneel in the middle of the floor with all the girl's and boy's relatives praying all around them.  After the prayers, the godmother places the wedding vase in front of the bride and groom.  The bride then drinks from one side of the wedding vase and the groom drinks from the other.  The vase is then passed to all in the room -- the men drinking from one side, and the women from the other side."

"After the ritual of drinking the "holy water" and the prayers, the girl's family feeds all of the boy's relatives and a date is set for the church wedding.  The wedding vase is set aside until after the church wedding."

"After the church wedding, the wedding vase is again filled with any drink the family may choose and all of the family now drinks in the traditional manner: women on one side, men on the other side.  Having served its ceremonial function, the wedding vase is now given to the young couple as a good luck piece."

Your wedding vase is a very beautiful keepsake within a wonderful tradition.  

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Richard Sutton


As a direct reservation trader in all aspects of American Indian arts since 1985, I've answered questions regarding cultural property issues, origins of traditional crafts, materials and techniques, collecting, authenticity, symbols and, of course, repairs! We have operated a retail gallery since that time, bricks and mortar until 2007 and online since 1996. Our online operation closed in 2/2015, to allow me to finally write full-time. My writing site can be found at I'll be adding a book or two from our trader experiences under the pen name of W.T. Durand and the rest of my fiction is under my own name. We are not "New Age" practitioners of adopted American Indian religious ceremonies or combined philosophies. If you are seeking such knowledge for spiritual reasons, we will only provide answers that address factual information on these subjects. Unless one is raised in a traditional, American Indian family with language, culture and religious belief intact, we don't believe that simply applying the trappings or cultural property of a given traditional group will give a non-Indian (Native if you prefer)any insight other than the academic.


My primary focus is on Southwester American Indian Nations and their people, but I also have experience in Plains and Northeastern traditions, having engaged in active trade and retail since 1985 and study for most of my life. I am not claiming any expertise at all in the work, techniques, lifeways or crafts that are made by the Native People of Mexico. They are not the same, either linguistically or culturally but certainly their crafts deserve discussion and appraisal by those who are able to provide real information.

I was a guest on Fox Network "Lifestyles" program, during the 1990s, to discuss how to tell forgeries, and authenticating jewelry as Native American work. I have also written extensively for our website, and our Ebay Store.

UofO, 1970 active in the Authentic American Indian Arts business and direct Trader since 1985. Graphic Designer and published novelist.

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