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Indian Hills Pottery ~ Willard Spence at Nateso Pueblo

no.034 2010-12-01

Willard Spence developed this stunning crystalline glaze in the early 1950s at Nateso Pueblo in unincorporated Indian Hills west of Denver.

In his 1995, The Potter's Odyssey he describes the Indian Hills Pottery glaze recipe as a "Cone 02 Aventurine" with the following ingredients (in percents):

Borax Glass 35.5
Silica 34
Red Iron Oxide 17
Nepheline Syenite 13.5

His aventurine glaze at 2048°(Fahr) was one of the first of its kind using higher temperatures. In the early 50s aventurine (Goldstone) glazes were more often fired some 100° lower (cone 04 at 1940°).

From Robin Chotzinoff's It's a Mud, Mud, Mud, Mud World(pdf):

"Spence was a lot more interested in glazes than forms,...
Sometimes he'd just buy a piece of pottery and make a mold out of it to practice glazes on.
This could explain the three-inch squirrel attached to an ashtray..."

So our squirrel planter (and ashtray above) may have been recast from other pottery.

We don't know what glaze the squirrel has. Spence experimented extensively with glazes and outlines many in Potter's Odyssey. One possibility is his Piñon Tree Ash.

Finally perhaps the most common of Indian Hills Pottery items is their wedding jug. This example has a beautiful crystalline glaze typical of Willard Spence's work.

Parmalee Gulch

John D. Parmalee was among the first settlers of the Indian Hills area at the North Fork of Turkey Creek. His Parmalee House was the Post Office from 1926-1951.

He established the Denver and Turkey Creek Wagon Road Company linking Denver with South Park via Turkey Creek Canyon. Parts of the road are still visible today.

In the 1880s Benjamin F. Eden became the second gatekeeper on the Wagon Road.

Nateso Pueblo

In 1918, George W. Olinger a Denver mortuary magnate began buying land in the area. His aim was to build summer tourist cabins. Today some of his cabins have become year-round residences.

His first Indian Hills filing was Arrowhead Park in 1923. He sold small lots advertising "Indian Hills for Your Mountain Home".

From A Brief History of Indian Hills(pdf):

"The fifth filing in Eden Park, "...was "promoted by a rodeo in 1925, "...The NaTeSo Pueblo, built in a meadow in Eden Park, was an imaginative promotional project...

The adobe bricks were hand made (on the property) and laid by members of the Navajo, Tesuque, and San Idelfonso (note: probably should read San Ildefonso) communities in New Mexico, and the name combined a syllable from each of the three tribes...

Buses left Denver twice a day to transport the interested and curious to the pueblo, where the Indians demonstrated pottery-making, weaving, and other Indian crafts."...

After the stock market collapse in 1929 Olinger's tourist enterprise was abandoned.

Willard Spence

Forty-one year old Denver minister Willard Spence moved with his wife and two children into the Nateso Pueblo in 1949. He renovated and soon began making pottery for his Indian Hills Pottery company in the redone adobe structure. By one account the kiln he built was called "Big Bertha".

Spence trained in theology in the 1930s and spent some years as a Christian minister, but was obsessed with pottery and poetry!

He tried to spice up the tourist business at the pueblo by inviting the same family of San Ildefonso Indians from New Mexico that had been there during the 1920s. Luis Gonzalez, aka Wo-Peen, and wife Juanita were again asked to make traditional New Mexico vessels at Indian Hills.

He couldn't make a go of it and in 1953, sold the business to Lyn Beardslee who operated it until 1958. We understand Nateso again fell into disrepair until the 1990s.

It's not entirely clear when Willard Spence left the Indian Hills area but from his Potter's Odyssey it appears he remained in the area and experimented with glazes through at least 1955 or 1956.

He taught ceramics at the Denver Center of the Univ. of Colorado and the Taos Center of the Univ. of New Mexico. In the early 1970s we find Spence busy near Abiquiu, New Mexico where he founded the Ghost Ranch Ceramics Program. He conducted workshops there until his death in January 1997.

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