Photography: Courtesy HF Coors

But spell this striking, historic china Mimbreño.

You could hardly get a more iconic plateful of Western design history than Mimbreño restaurant china. It’s downright legendary stuff. Based on pottery motifs from ancient tribes in New Mexico’s Mimbres Valley, the pictograph patterns were designed by Mary J. Colter in the 1930s when she worked as chief interior designer and architect for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Company, which had a contract with the railroad to civilize Western travel by providing quality food and lodging along its routes.

Later, Fred Harvey also operated the railway’s dining cars. From 1937 to 1971, Mimbreño china was used in the Santa Fe Railway’s Super Chief dining cars. Today, those original pieces are rare and highly collectible. Fortunately, you can buy newly minted Mimbreño made largely from the original artwork positives from HF Coors in Tucson, Arizona. For company president Dirck Schou, the decade it took to nail down the licensing agreement was a labor of love.

A Southwest native, Schou loves Colter’s national park achievements, which include the Grand Canyon’s Desert View Watchtower and Phantom Ranch, as well as the interiors of the park’s famed El Tovar Hotel. He considers La Posada Hotel, in Winslow, Arizona — where she designed or selected everything from the buildings and landscaping to the furniture and dinnerware — her crowning achievement.

But as a longtime potter, Schou considers Colter’s most evocative work the maroon and black Mimbreño. For him it carries the mystery and artistry of the little-known indigenous people whose ancient pottery inspired her. “I continue to be taken by the art and the story of this small, otherworldly valley in New Mexico where these Native Americans created this unbelievable, gorgeous utilitarian artist-ware.”

HF Coors makes Mimbreño in Tucson, Arizona, where you can tour the factory and shop in the factory store; 520.903.1010,

From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.

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