Once scorned as nontraditional curios by collectors and academics, Tesuque rain gods are now thought of as authentic expressions of an indigenous art form.
Tesuque rain gods are small ceramic figures. They are not nor have they ever been sacred images. Instead, rain gods were developed at Tesuque Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, to sell as souvenirs to tourists. They were an entrepreneurial response to new economic challenges that resulted from New Mexico becoming an American territory. Thousands of them were made, marketed, and sold, mostly along the route of the Santa Fe Railroad, between 1885 and 1925.
In 1904 rain gods sold for 15¢ or 25¢ each. By the 1980s, they were selling for about $30. Dana Lipsig paid over $1,000.00 for some examples. Lipsig said she fell in love with rain gods without really knowing what they were. She found them at galleries, antique shops, and flea markets. The rain gods in her collection date from the 1880s to the early 1900s; most were made between 1905 and 1910.
Ignacia Duran (Tesuque Pueblo) observing some of her Rain God creations (copyright Adobe Gallery).