This is a traditional clay box by Ramona Gonzales. Ramona was known for her delicately painted pottery. This box is rectangular in shape and fully polished. The long sides have feather and mountain patterns. The short sides have cloud and plant designs. The lid has triangular mountains. This is an early piece from Ramona. Note in the painted areas how you can see the outline and the shading separately. This is how she first began painting black-on-black pottery. As well, do you see something unusual with the lid? The opening of the handle points to the short side,s not the long sides, like many other potters. This is a visual clue to Ramona’s boxes. The signature is also her earlier style of signature. It is signed on the bottom in the clay, “Ramona”. It is in very good condition with no chips, cracks, restoration or repair. Because Ramona passed away so young, her boxes are among the most diffcult to find.
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.