People have lived in the Pueblo of Acoma for over 2000 years. Set on a mesa of sandstone, it is referred to as “Sky City” and is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. It is situated 60 miles west of Albuquerque just south of I-40.
It is one of the most interesting Pueblos to visit. You start at the visitor’s center at the bottom and take a bus up a road that was built during last century to the top. After the tour, you can walk down the trail that was the original access to the high mesa. The Catholic Church that sits in the center of the mesa is one of the oldest in the Southwest. Over 200 homes cover the top of the mesas and the views are spectacular. The mesa is currently closed due to the pandemic but put it on your wishlist.
The potters of Acoma have been working with clay since about 1100 A.D. Because of the clay that is found near the Pueblo, the pots tend to be thin-walled, lightweight and durable. The clay is naturally grey but is layered with a soft, white clay called Kaolin which gives the pots a white color.
Designs on the pots are traditionally painted with natural pigments made from minerals, plants and other types of clay and then painted with yucca brushes. These designs are usually drawn in black and sometimes filled in with a muted brown tone. Contemporary pots can feature pictorial designs such as animals and other motifs while the traditional pots were primarily stylistic geometric patterns.
These pots have always been crafted using the coil method. Clay is dug from the areas clay beds and cleaned of sand and other impurities. It is then tempered with crushed broken pieces of clay from older pots. It is then kept moist to cure. When it is ready the clay is fashion into long ropes, sort of like we all did with modeling clay as kids and the clay is wrapped around in a coil, building the walls of the pot. After the pot is formed it is scraped with a piece of gourd to make the surface smooth.
The white clay is then put on the surface and polished with a stone that has usually been handed down for generations. The designs are then painted on the white background and the pot is fired under a smoldering pile of sheep manure. If impurities have not been cleaned out of the clay properly, there is a good chance that the pot will break during the firing process.
Marie Chino (1907-1982) and Lucy Lewis (1890-1992) were key figures in transforming pottery from utilitarian use into an art form. Their families have carried on that tradition.
Today we are featuring three contemporary Acoma “seed jars.”
These were traditionally small jars with small openings in which seeds were stored for planting in the spring. Remember it is not possible to fire a pot without some type of opening as the piece will break during firing.
These pieces were certainly not made to store seeds, but the name is descriptive of the original intent.
Note that on this pot by Diane Lewis, the opening is not a circle as you normally find. Instead, she has created her opening on the body of the Kokopelli! Pretty cool and unique!