Rio Grande Pueblos

Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

© AMNH / Denis Finnin

"One is not born a Tewa but rather one is made a Tewa. Once made, one has to work hard continuously throughout one's life to remain a Tewa."
—Alfonso Ortiz, anthropologist, San Juan Pueblo

More than a dozen Pueblos are clustered along the Rio Grande, which provides plentiful water for their crops—in contrast to the desert Pueblos of Hopi and Zuni. Distinct communities, the Rio Grande Pueblos comprise two language groups: five Pueblos near the Rio Grande speak Keresan (as do two others farther west, Acoma and Laguna), while eleven more speak Tewa, Tiwa, or Towa—distinct languages of the Tanoan family.

Lucy Year Flower (Pojoaque)

The Rio Grande Pueblos have rich artistic traditions in pottery, weaving, and painting, but except for Santo Domingo, they tend to focus less on jewelry. Ever since Katsina ceremonies and other rituals were suppressed by the Spanish in the 1600s, the Pueblos have kept their traditional religion private, and artists tend not to use religious symbols in their jewelry. Some do use Christian symbols, however, since the Rio Grande Pueblos also practice Catholicism.


Featured Artist: Phil Loretto

Phil Loretto
© Kiyoshi Togashi

Complex and densely packed with symbols, Phil Loretto's jewelry reflects a highly personal philosophy. "In Santa Fe, New Mexico, artists sell their work on the plaza. It's a marketplace that's been there since the Spanish came. I started selling jewelry there from the time I was about four or five. It's a good place to sell to the tourists, and it's a good way to make money. But you ask yourself, 'What's my objective? Is this going to be my destiny?'

"I read a lot; it's one of my passions. I got my first library card when I was five. I would read five books a week on Native American culture. Later I majored in Southwest studies and in art. I guess I've recorded history in my jewelry, because I draw what goes on in Pueblo life or in Navajo life—the traditional dances and people working in their fields. I incorporate a lot of myths and legends from South American, Mexican, and Canadian Indians in my jewelry."

Featured Artist: Mike Bird-Romero

Mike Bird-Romero
© Kiyoshi Togashi

With his wife Allison, Mike Bird-Romero searches museums, photographs, and rock-art for old Pueblo and Navajo designs to incorporate into his work. "I am trying to revive the old jewelry," he explains.

"When I started making jewelry, I learned the old techniques. In other words, I can make anything that I need to make. I don't depend on somebody else to cut my silver for me, melt my silver, make my castings, or cut my stones. I do it all myself.

"I like to use old stamps on my pieces. The stamps tell a little story, so to speak, and those stories get incorporated into my jewelry. I've got tin cans full of stamps that were collected. Sometimes I've heated them up and reworked them so they're usable again. I look at these stamps and the pieces I made with them, and I think about the old smiths."