Dora Tse-pe, a Tewa Indian born at Zia Pueblo in 1939, has developed her craft at San Ildefonso. Sometimes called "contemporary," she balances traditional methods with innovative juxtapositions of clays, colors, and textures.
Tse-pe learned pottery as a child from her mother, Candelaria Gachupin, gathering clay, sand, and the basalt that they added for temper (instead of volcanic ash). Basalt had to be stored in the ground to keep it from oxidizing. Dora would bring it home and bury it until it was time to make pots, when the basalt would be pounded and ground into a powder.
When Dora married and moved to San Ildefonso Pueblo, she already knew how to make pottery, but she watched Rose Gonzales, her new mother-in-law, make red and black pottery. "We didn't polish at Zia," says Dora, who has helped Rose gather clay and fuel for fire for ten years.
Dora says that she was inspired by Maria Martinez's son Popovi Da, by his son Tony Da, and by her mother-in-law, Rose, who came to San Ildefonso from San Juan Pueblo.
Rose was making polished black pottery as she did at San Juan. Dora says Rose claimed she taught Santa Clara potters to carve and started women carving at San Ildefonso and that she is responsible for the great tradition of carving polished red or black pots.
Dora has received a lot of recognition for her work. The first prize she ever won was a blue ribbon at the 1969 New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque for a simple, plain black pot that she had polished and fired with Rose Gonzales.
Rose often took Dora on workshop tours, and Dora took her own pots along, too. Dora says that every year at the Indian Market in Santa Fe, she gets some kind of ribbon, and that in 1988 and 1991 she won the prestigious Best in Traditional Pottery award.
Now Dora travels all over the country for shows and demonstrations and entertains workshop groups at her home on the pueblo. "I love to carve. I do some new things, but I will never get away from carving altogether. Some artists do crazy things. I won't," declares Dora, who has filled her home with traditional pots made by her mother at the Zia Pueblo.
Dora's innovation in clay work -- she sees her work as an extension of traditional pottery making -- is to combine various colored clays in the same piece, for instance, polished red clay combined with dull-surfaced, gold-flecked micaceous clay, or red polished clay combined with dull black and micaceous clays, or other combinations she works out.
Micaceous clay, used years ago for functional pots by many different Indian cultures, is now being revived for its exciting orange and gold colors; Dora has accepted the challenge of finding the clay and working with it.
She also adds turquoise and coral to accent her deep carving technique or to mark a change of clay color on a pot. Dora complains that her galleries and collectors call her work "contemporary Indian." Dora dislikes the term because she considers herself traditional. She claims to be unaware of the path she is forging.