Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heard @ The Heard 2010: Kewa Potter Thomas Tenorio Bringing Innovation One Coil at a Time

"The Santo Domingo pottery...the Kewa, I should say, is ready to be taken to another level...and I believe I am gonna do it."  --Thomas Tenorio, Kewa potter

It’s no secret to those who know me that before I came to New Mexico eleven months ago, I knew next to nothing about Native American pottery. My collection consisted of a 1920s Hopi vase that belonged to my mother’s great aunt and a contemporary Jemez pot that I picked up at an antique store in the Pacific Northwest. Ironically, it is a pot by a veteran potter whom I am now proud to call a friend. That has been the cycle of my experience in the Southwest—I hear a name, say to myself “I should meet him or her!” especially if I love their work.  And, as an arts advocate, it’s a sure bet that if I see someone’s work and I love it, I’m bound to talk about.

Actually, that’s how Uncle Paulie’s World began three years ago. Lately, I've found myself yapping about a lot of artists, so, nearly a year later, I’m finally being blessed with the opportunity to meet all the people I wanted to meet. My philosophy has been, let the Universe take care of arranging the meeting, and voila! they come into my life. I guess serendipity is really on my side. And out of it all has come some extraordinary friendships.

With all this serendipity flitting through my life, it was no surprise that I would eventually meet Kewa (formerly Santo Domingo Pueblo) potter Thomas Tenorio.  Did you know that Thomas does not come from a family with a long history of pottery making?  Self-taught, his popularity at SWAIA Indian Market has been growing in the last few years.   He has also taken what he's learned and instructed other pueblo members and his children how to create works in the traditional way.

This past August, I passed his Indian Market booth, which was mobbed by appreciative collectors, and decided I would put off introducing myself until a more appropriate time. I remember saying “I’m sure we’ll meet soon, anyway.” "Soon" took longer than I imagined, but flash-forward to two-and-a-half weeks ago when I was having lunch at Andrews Pueblo Pottery and Art Gallery in Albuquerque’s Old Town. Thomas Tenorio was out on one more wholesaling trip just prior to the Heard Museum Guild’s Indian Fair and Market the following week. One of the gallery associates introduced us and it was nice to connect in a more informal and less chaotic way than at Market.

A huge Santo Domingo pottery fan, I was first introduced to it when I hit Albuquerque’s flea market at the fairgrounds last summer. A Santo Domingo husband, wife and daughter were selling a variety of items from the back of their pickup, including some small, traditional pots. They were nice, but my eyes were drawn to a beautiful three inch-wide pot made out of red clay and delicately painted with intricate patterns on all sides. I picked it up and looked at the bottom to find that it was signed and dated “1989 Thomas Tenorio.” I remembered hearing or reading the name Tenorio in one of my books, so I asked the price. “Fifteen dollars,” they told me. I wasn’t so green that I didn’t know this was a bargain on so many levels. And that is how this lovely Thomas Tenorio pot made it into my collection, which has grown to contain more than fifty pots of various sizes.

During our first meeting, we agreed that I would interview Thomas at his Heard show table. Possessing a great sense of humor, it is obvious that he has led an interesting life and is an artist very comfortable in his own shoes.  That's why I decided to post my interview without any edits. It was conducive to showing his true personality and it was a lot of fun for both of us. His hilarious cousin and cartoonist Ricardo Cate, who was sitting at his side, set the tone from the beginning.  It was Nudge. Nudge. Wink.Wink. Giggle. Giggle. from the outset. 

Hindsight, as you watch my interview with him HERE, notice how Thomas emphatically refers to the Santo Domingo Pueblo “Kewa” name change that was officially announced just a few days after the Heard show. Also, Thomas talks about how he will be introducing some stylistically new and interesting work at Indian Market this coming August.  The artist is very confident that he will take the Kewa pottery to the next level. We look forward to market, which is sure to be an exciting weekend for his collectors.

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