Robert Tenorio was born in 1950 into the Santo Domingo “Kewa” Pueblo. He has been working with clay since the age of 10. He was taught all the fundamentals of hand coiling pottery using ancient traditional methods from his family members. Lupe Tenorio shared some of her special techniques with Robert. He was also inspired to continue the long lived family tradition from the admiration he had for old pottery from his village.
Robert is one of the foremost pueblo potters. He wins ribbons regularly at Santa Fe Indian Market and other prestigious competitions. His work is among the most traditional of any potters working today. All of his pieces are hand coiled and fired outdoors with cottonwood bark. He is especially well known for creating some of the largest pieces produced by any pueblo potter.
Robert began his career by studying jewelry making. In 1968, he enrolled at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Learning to make jewelry "was the popular thing then," he recalls, plus "I wanted to make jewelry to help with the family. Robert began by making stew bowls for his mother. When other women at the Pueblo saw them, they wanted bowls too and so Robert's mother was constantly at the school asking him to make more bowls.
In those days, Robert's bowls were made from stoneware, a type of processed clay that is fired in a kiln. Today, Robert uses native clays and traditional firing methods.
The black on Robert's pottery usually comes from the Rocky Mountain bee plant. "We boil the whole plant," he says, however he has discovered that boiling almost any kind of plant will produce a black juice. Robert prefers the bee plant because in the old days "it was our people's food, and it's still present in our food. We call it wild spinach."
In thinking about his distinguished career, Robert observes: "I don't ever want to become too famous or too rich. We're all striving for life, and pottery is bringing me and my family life. I feel I was put in this world to revive Santo Domingo pottery. And now that I've done that, I feel good about it. I'm content. Everybody living will go, but my pots will stay here on this earth forever."
He signs his pottery as: Robert Tenorio, followed by small dipper star formation, and Kewa. He is related to: Paulita Pacheco (sister), Gilbert Pacheco (brother-in-law), Hilda Coriz (sister), Ione Coriz (niece), and Juanita Tenorio (mother).