Gonzales, Juanita – Oval Box with Mountain and Cloud Designs (1930s)
This is an unusual oval clay box by Juanita Gonzales and Wo-Peen Gonzales. Juanita would make the piece and polish them while Wo-Peen would paint the designs. The box has an oval shape and it is painted with mountain and rain designs. They are boldly painted onto the polished surface. The lid has birdwing patterns. The box was fired a deep black coloration. It is signed on the bottom, “Juanita”. It is in good condition with no chips, cracks, restoration, or repair but some surface water damage and I’ve priced it accordingly.
There has long been a fascination with boxes, that is to say, square or rectangular clay vessels with flat, clay lids. At the Pueblos of New Mexico, there is a historic precedent for these square-shaped pieces that were typically used for holding corn meal for Pueblo dances. These boxes, however, typically did not have lids, and more likely, carved or raised ends.
In the 1920s there was a revival of boxes at San Ildefonso at the same time as the “new” black-on-black style of pottery. The boxes had flat sides, but later, some were cylindrical. They were painted on each side and they had a flat lid with a handle. The style of the handle, and its direction, were often indicative of the potter. While some boxes may still have been made for cornmeal, most were made to hold cigarettes, small cigars, or curious, for the newly arriving tourist trade. The potters of San Ildefonso in the 1920s were each adept at making these pieces.
Boxes are difficult to make and crack in drying and firing. The same with the flat lids. Not surprisingly, over the past 100 years, the boxes have not fared well as they are often cracked or chipped. The lids are often missing or damaged. They are not only one of the most difficult and sought-after forms, but also one that is the least resilient to time.