Helen Baca Shupla (1928-1985) was a traditional Santa Clara Pueblo potter who married Kenneth Shupla, a Hopi kachina carver. They lived at Santa Clara but Helen spent significant time at Hopi and learned many of the techniques used by Hopi potters. It was the cross-pollination from this that led Helen to experiment with the more plastic Hopi clay. Eventually, she came up with a way to make her trademark melon jars by pushing the clay into form from inside the jar rather than carving the segments into the clay from outside. The method required great patience as it was easy to push a hole into the side of a pot and destroy it.
Helen began making black-on-black pottery around 1935 and as much as she turned out carved and incised jars, bowls and plates, it was her unique melon bowls that made her famous. Kenneth helped her with the carving, adding designs like kiva step, avanyu, rain clouds and lightning bolts to some of her works. Between 1978 and 1984 she earned four 1st Place ribbons at the Santa Fe Indian Market.
Helen taught her methods to her daughter Jeannie, and after Jeannie married Alton Komalestewa (a Hopi man), the couple lived at Santa Clara and Helen taught him her methods, too. Helen died in 1985 and Jeannie in 1989. Alton returned to the Hopi Reservation and married Pam Lalo (from Hopi Second Mesa) in 1992 and he continues to make pottery in the styles he learned from Helen, especially the melon bowl shape.
On the cover of Stephen Trimble's Talking with the Clay is a photo of some of Helen's melon bowls. Many of her pieces now command four and five figure prices...