SANTANA MELCHOR (?) (1889–1978)
KEWA POLYCHROME OLLA circa 1950
This big, important piece got us to thinking. Almost everything about it points to Santana Melchor, the Pueblo's most important potter during the middle years of the 20th century. The pure cream-colored slip almost assures the attribution by itself. The anachronistic polished red band on the underbody above the indented base is another clue. On Kewa pottery, that red band had almost disappeared after 1930, but Santana learned pottery-making in the years when potters were expected to use it. The treatment on this olla almost exactly matches what we saw on the bottom of a signed Santana piece from the Richard Howard collection, an olla almost exactly the same size as this one. And we've only seen this wave design on one other piece, and that was signed by Santana. Only one thing keeps us from making a firm attribution: the painting. Santana had a sure hand, and whoever painted this was more tentative. Santana's daughters Crucita and Dolorita were born in the 1930s, and we wonder if mom might have let them paint all or part of the piece as a learning exercise.
We found this in an antique store that had some pieces from Dick Howard's collection, and we wonder if this might have been his. It had been broken in half and carefully reglued, and we filled the crack and retouched it. What we ended up with was an opportunity to offer an impressive sixty-year-old olla probably made by a top-tier potter at a ridiculousloy low price, and it now looks like it's in near-perfect condition.
9-3/4" diameter x 8" high
Broken and repaired. Condition appears excellent after regluing and touchhup.
The wave design on a piece signed by Santana. You can see it on page 97 of the Second Edition of Southwestern Pottery.