Margaret Tafoya is one of the matriarchs in the Santa Clara Pueblo pottery families. It was Margaret's mother, Serafina Tafoya, who showed Maria Martinez some of her polishing/burnishing techniques and also how to turn any color of clay black by smothering the fire with manure at the right time. But Santa Clara pottery tends to be more deeply carved and incised while San Ildefonso pottery tends to use matte paints to create unpolished designs on a polished surface, a process pioneered by Maria and her husband Julian Martinez. Serafina's pots were large and, more often than not, plain and utilitarian, and while Margaret's pots were also often large, they were also often carved with some form of decoration.
Maria Margerita "Margaret" Tafoya (Corn Blossom) was born into Santa Clara Pueblo on August 13, 1904. Her mother was Serafina Gutierrez Tafoya and her father Jose Geronimo Tafoya. As a master at making large finely polished blackware, Serafina was considered to be the leading potter in Santa Clara Pueblo at the time. In addition to her blackware, Serafina also sometimes made micaceous clay storage jars, redware and other smaller forms. Margaret had an interest early in life and began learning the ancient way from Serafina as a child.
Margaret married Alcario Tafoya in 1924 and they continued with her pottery business: him digging and processing the clay and firing the pots while she built, polished and carved the pots. Sometimes he helped her with the designs and the carving. But Margaret did everything else... unless she was teaching someone. And she taught a lot of people. Margaret also followed in her mother's footsteps by making larger and larger jars with simple carved designs on polished surfaces.
Over the years Margaret developed several trademarks that have been carried on by the Tafoya family. One is the bear paw imprint, another the incised kiva step shoulder, a third the carved avanyu (the water serpent). Her pottery became world famous by the 1960's and she won the Best of Show Awards at the 1978 and 1979 Santa Fe Indian Markets. She won more awards and raised thirteen children plus many grandchildren and great-grandchildren over the years. Alcario died in 1995, Margaret in 2001. Her great-grandson Ryan Roller counts himself a seventh-generation traditional potter.