fig. 35: Dorothy Torivio
Photograph by Chad Penhallow.


Dorothy Torivio was born at Acoma Pueblo in the 1940s. She is recognized for her innovative work in exaggerated seed-pot forms in large and miniature sizes. She covers her vessels with black and white or polychrome patterns of staggering intricacy, painted freehand with computer-like precision.

Dorothy has extrapolated the innovative forms and decorations that were initiated by Lucy Martin Lewis and Marie Chino, famous potters in the previous Acoma generation. Her mother taught her to make pottery and still helps with the firing. An unusually deft painter who uses a traditional yucca brush, Dorothy maintains that the ideas for her decorations come from God. Her daughter helps gather the clay, grinds the mineral rock pigments, and chews the plant fronds for her mother's brushes.

fig. 36: Vase, 1995, by Dorothy Torivio.
Polychrome; 10.5"x9.25" dia.
Courtesy of Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, Santa Fe, NM.
Photograph by Craig Smith.

This artist lives a secluded life on the Acoma reservation, but her meticulous work and startlingly difficult designs are in great demand. Style and perfection are hallmarks of her painting, which, according to Phil Cohen of Gallery 10, Dorothy did not exhibit until her technique was flawless.

It is impossible to analyze the mathematical precision of these designs, which she works out in her mind and puts directly on the pot. She looks at a pot, visually divides it in half, then in quarters, then eighths, sixteenths, and more, and keeps dividing until there is no room on the surface. After the mental gymnastics, she begins to paint the pot. Curiously enough, she paints in the negative, the opposite of the way our minds read it.

fig. 37: Vase, 1995, By Dorothy Torivio.
Black-on-white; 5.25"x7.5" dia.
Courtesy of Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, Santa Fe, NM.
Photograph by Craig Smith.

Dorothy does not think of herself as a genius; she thinks what she does is only natural. This is best illustrated by a story Phil once told me. One day Dorothy was having an exhibition of her pottery in his gallery, at which she was being honored. A man approached her saying that he was a mathematics professor, and he had been trying for a long time to figure out on his computer how she did the designs until he finally arrived at the solution. Whereupon Dorothy laughed, pointed her finger to her brow, and said, "My brain is my computer."

fig. 38: Vase, 1990, by Dorothy Torivio.
Black-on-white; 10.5"x11.5" dia. Collection of Jim Jennings.
Photograph by Lee Stalsworth.

Dora Tse-Pe

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All text © Susan Peterson.
Edited by Susan Ressler, based on compilation
© 1997 Abbeville Press and The National Museum of Women in the Arts.