Southwest style: New downtown Reno gallery preserves Native pottery traditions

It’s not unusual for one’s father-in-law to be an avid collector—of stamps, perhaps, or baseball cards. Mert Kenyon’s father-in-law, John Blom, had an outsized collection of traditional Southwestern pottery. As in 2,500 pieces. That passion rubbed off on Kenyon, leading him to open Pottery of the Southwest, Reno’s only gallery dedicated exclusively to Indigenous work, much of it from his father-in-law’s collection.

Blom, a Reno resident, and his friend Allan Hayes didn’t have any expertise in pottery or Native methods when they began acquiring Southwestern pottery in 1992. They didn’t hunt for appreciating investments; they bought what they liked and appreciated the traditional methods used to produce them. Eventually, the two became quite knowledgeable, going on to publish some influential books on the subject.

Kenyon, on the other hand, spent over 30 years working in the furniture business in the Southeast. When he was offered a position managing a high-end furniture store in Santa Fe, he and his wife, Heidi, relocated. When her father, Blom, visited from Reno, he brought Kenyon along to his favorite pottery markets, including the Santa Fe Indian Market, one of the largest and most important Indigenous art markets in North America. Kenyon became hooked, even deciding to open a gallery dedicated to this art form.

In 2017, with about 300 pieces of Blom’s collection as their starting inventory, the Kenyons opened Pottery of the Southwest, a small gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. The area was a haven for collectors of Native art, and the gallery quickly outgrew its space. They relocated to a larger one up the road, where they typically showcased 500 pieces at any given time. Many were from Blom’s collection, but Kenyon also had begun, thanks to Blom’s guidance, forming relationships with the artists and buying work from them.

When Blom passed away in June 2023, it prompted the Kenyons to relocate to Reno to seek a new space for their gallery.

Their search took them to the first floor of The Basement in Downtown Reno, where they leased a small gallery space.

“We thought this would be a good starting point for us, just to educate people on what [Native pottery] is all about,” Kenyon said, explaining that while many in the Santa Fe area are knowledgeable about this traditional art, Renoites mostly are not. “There was no place here to buy Native American art.”

The Reno gallery opened on Oct. 1, with an inventory of paintings, pottery, jewelry and more, primarily purchased from artists, with only 5 to 10 percent being from Blom’s collection. Over 900 pieces from Blom’s collection were donated to the Nevada Museum of Art before he passed away. They’re expected to be on view once the museum opens its new wing, which is under construction.

The pieces housed in the Reno gallery were made by members of numerous Southwestern tribes, including Navajo, Aleut, Cherokee, Hopi, and many Pueblo tribes, including Zuni, Santa Clara, Acoma, Cochiti, and more. None of it was made with a wheel; it’s all built by hand using coil and pinch methods.

“They dig their own clay, they process their own clay, they hand build everything, and everything that’s painted, they make their own paint for it,” Kenyon said. “Some fire in a kiln. Some fire outside. They use hand etching and polish with stones. There’s no glaze on these.”

Featured artists, most of whom are from New Mexico and Arizona, include Erik Fender, a polychrome (three-color) artist. Jason Ebelacker, a fifth-generation, award-winning potter and the great-grandson of Margaret Tafoya (considered the matriarch of Santa Clara Pueblo potters) is also prominently featured. Myron Sarracino, an award-winning Laguna Pueblo potter, produces hand-coiled, traditional pots that frequently display swirl designs inspired by migration trails. Much of the gallery’s pottery and paintings feature intricate, precise lines made by hand using feathers or blades, and a single piece can take several months to complete, which is why even the smallest pieces can cost several hundred dollars.

“You don’t open a gallery for the money,” he said, adding that when he sells one, the majority of his share is reinvested into other artists’ work.

“Many artists will sign with their Indian names,” Kenyon said. “And it will have sgraffito or etching done with an X-ACTO knife. And many of them have been doing it since they were five years old, watching their parents do it at the kitchen table… And a lot of them are now artists who solely rely on this as their income. That’s why we like to support living artists.”

Kenyon now is interested in taking on work by local artists working in this traditional medium, on a consignment basis. And, of course, he hopes local buyers will stop in and discover the fascinating beauty of this traditional art form, like he and his father-in-law did.

Pottery of the Southwest Gallery is located in the Basement marketplace in the historic Reno Main Post Office building, 50 S. Virginia Street, Reno. You can find more information at