Ceramic Owls, by Kalestewa family (MMA 76.68.12, 76.68.13), A:shiwi (Zuni)
These two ceramic owl figurines were crafted by a Zuni potter of the Kalestewa family around the 1940s. They are both approximately 11 inches tall, and feature red eyes, beaks, and ears and a black and white feather design on their bodies. The two pieces were donated to the Maxwell Museum in 1976 by Clara Brignac Gonzales, a former teacher and administrator at the Zuni Day School.
The Kalestewas are a notable family of jewelers and potters from A:shiwi (Zuni Pueblo). While the Maxwell Museum’s catalog describes these vessels as made by “Mrs. Kalestewa” (probably Quanita Kalestewa, daughter of pottery Nelli Bica), pottery making was in fact a family activity. Members of the extended Kalestewa family shared in the tasks of preparing clays and slips, shaping the pots, applying decoration and firing.
According to the book Zuni Pottery by Marian Rodee and James Ostler, the Quanita and her husband Jack Kalestewa shifted from jewelry-making to pottery in the 1940s, because of the high price of silver and because breathing dust from grinding shells was dangerous. The family’s pottery is known for its use of traditional motifs and the thinness of the vessel walls — a rare quality due to the difficulty of creating thin pottery that won’t collapse during the drying and firing process.
These owls were featured in the 1984 exhibition From the Center Place: Contemporary Zuni Pottery and its Makers, a collaboration between the A:shiwi Pueblo and the Maxwell Museum.
For more, see Marian Rodee and James Ostler, 1997, Zuni Pottery. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.