The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has purchased Mesa Verde Pottery, an enduring icon of local tourism on the eastern entrance to Cortez.
According to several sources, the tribe plans to establish its pottery manufacturing and cultural-arts store at the location; currently, the Ute Mountain Ute pottery studio and retail store is on U.S. Highway 160 just north of the tribe’s casino.
The Montezuma County Clerk & Recorder reports the 15,000-square-foot building was purchased for $825,000 from brothers and longtime owners Scott and Jay Tipton.
“Selling to the Utes is a perfect fit,” Jay Tipton said. “The location has good exposure, and they have good marketing. We’ve been hoping for years to sell it to them in order to continue the native arts focus of the store.”
For 35 years, the innovative format of Mesa Verde Pottery is what attracted tourists and locals, Tipton said.
Native American potters created their artwork in a studio that could be viewed by visitors through a glass wall.
“It added tremendous personalization to the piece, to see the artist create it, and then buy a signed pot off the shelf,” Tipton said. “It was our single biggest selling point.”
The Tiptons started their business in 1979 in a studio across from McDonald’s in Cortez.
“Scott and I used to do the molding of the pottery ourselves in a back trailer but then turned over the pottery making to the Native American artists,” Jay Tipton said.
An expanded store was built at the current location to keep up with demand for Native American pottery. It twice doubled in size.
“The Grand Canyon was our biggest account. We could not make pottery quick enough,” Tipton said.
At its peak, Mesa Verde Pottery employed 35 workers and artists, many of whom have become famous.
Ute potters Norman Lansing and Dorothy Wing and Navajo potters Virginia Silas and Arnold Jones were some of their main producers who became successful artists.
“They’d perfect their trade in our studio and then open up their own businesses,” Jay Tipton said.
The Tiptons have a deep appreciation for Native American arts, especially pottery.
“We learned from the native tribes about the high standards and designs of pottery and helped to market their products,” Jay Tipton said. “Our biggest achievement was employing people and creating a successful business that allowed us to live in Cortez.”
After 35 years, it was time to sell. The next generation was not interested, Jay Tipton said.
“I’m focusing on family now, and Scott is busy as a congressman,” Tipton said, adding that he’ll miss the tourist buses rolling into the parking lot, disgorging hundreds of customers.
It’s not clear whether the wine-tasting room of Guy Drew Vineyards will continue at the store. The Ute Mountain Utes are a dry reservation.
“I’d like to stay on with them,” Drew said.