(Right above: an Ansel Adams photograph of the
San Estaban Mission Church)
Some of this history has been chronicled in an article in the current, May 2008 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.
Some of this history has been chronicled in an article in the current, May 2008 issue of
Another cornerstone of its success has been the incredible talent of the
(Left: an Edward Curtis photo of Acoma women carrying pots )
Among the most prominent contemporary pottery artists at Acoma Pueblo are Sharon Lewis, Diane Lewis, Carolyn Lewis Concho, Rebecca Lucario, Judy Lewis and Marilyn Henderson. These “sisters in the clay” are not related to the legendary Lucy Lewis. But they have created their own reputation based on their own beautiful work.
They often create small pots known as seedpots. They are recognizable by the small hole that traditionally was used to insert seeds and shake them out at planting time. The small hole was a feature designed keep out hungry rodents and insects.
The earliest versions of the seed pot were plain and utilitarian.
Over time, the designs became more detailed. Exterior painting began to become polychromatic, with details of various creatures that are important to life among the
These sweet, whimsical creations, often carry price tags that cause new collectors to hesitate. How can such a small pot cost so much?
Let’s start with the raw material. It is dug from special clay deposits miles from the pueblo village. They are only accessible by foot, requiring long and tiring journeys before any refinement of the clay begins.
The clay comes from remote locations that are miles from the Acoma Pueblo village. Potters can only get to them by walking long distances over difficult terrain. When harvested, the clay is in chunks that are hard as slate. The chunks must be broken up by hand. Sometimes the clay is dry. Other times it is damp and requires drying for several days before it is sifted and winnowed to filter out unwanted elements. The clay is then crushed and ground fine with a smooth stone. Then temper, in the form of finely ground potsherds from old broken pots, is added to the clay. The temper binds the clay to give it the strength and pliability required for trouble-free firing. This results in pottery walls that are very thin, yet quite strong.
The next step is the process by which the dry clay becomes workable so that it can form a pot. The dry, tempered clay and water are mixed slowly with more temper added until the potter’s experience tells her it has the right texture and consistency to be made into a pot.
A pot begins by placing the clay in a half-gourd, a shallow basket or another bowl to support the base as coils of clay are added around the upper edges. This work requires delays to let each coil “set” enough to support the next coil. Eventually the shape is defined and the scraping of the surface begins. A gourd is used to scrape the walls smooth. This scraping takes place in stages, allowing for drying to take place, until it is as thin as the potter wants. Finally, it is burnished with a smooth “sanding” stone.
Even with the brilliant white clay that
The paints that
Traditional painting is done with a sliver of yucca that has been chewed to a single strand. The finely detailed painting is even more impressive when considered in this context.
The final step is the firing. In the early days, the pots were fired in open outdoor fires. Changes in weather and temperature would cause frequent breakage, after hours of work had been invested in the unfired pot. The more delicate the form, the more vulnerable the pot.
As a result, sometime in the 1970s,
(At left: a typical Carolyn Concho seed pot.
Note the 3-dimensional lady bug being serenaded
by a painted kokopelli.)
Special Note: There seem to be some