The Acoma Pueblo is one of the oldest still inhabited dwelling places in North America. Located approximately 80 miles west of Albuquerque, N.M., The "Sky City" of Acoma is perhaps one of the most beautiful and mystifying locations.
Acoma Pottery, with its recognizable monochrome and polychrome designs, is some of the most beautiful American Indian (Native American) pottery available.
Acoma Pottery is known for its very thin walls, stylistic fluted rims, and beautifully painted geometric designs. Creating Acoma Pottery is a time consuming and resource intensive venture. From collecting the clay to the final firing, the finished product is by far some of the most beautiful Native American pottery.
The pueblo itself is located on a mesa about 370 feet above the valley floor. Very easy to defend, it also makes life difficult. It is estimated that is has been inhabited as early as 1100 A.D. The Spaniards, led by Coronado, are believed to have advanced on the mesa in about 1540 A.D. With the Spaniards arrived the missionaries. As a result, one of the most beautiful missions was built, the San Esteban Del Rey Mission.
The Acoma are a matriarchal society. The 300 or so structures on the mesa are passed on from mother to daughter and 'owned' by the women. Though not all Acoma live on the mesa year-round, a good portion return to the mesa often. Additionally, some families are chosen to live on the mesa by the tribal council year round, a great honor.
Led by "The Matriarchs" of Acoma, Acoma Pottery is now highly sought after by galleries, museums, and collectors internationally. Here are the matriarchs:
Lucy M. Lewis, Acoma
Marie Z. Chino, Acoma
Jessie Garcia, Acoma
Juana Leno, Acoma
Today, Acoma pottery making is commonly more of a hobby that supplements the income of the potters, not too long ago it was a form of sustenance that favored the prolific.
Acoma potters use the same technique that other Native American pueblos use:
The Making of Acoma Pottery
Local sources are found. The clay must be mined, cleaned, and filtered for impurities. A time consuming task.
Forming the Vessel
The vessels are not formed on a wheel like most pottery, instead, the coil method is used. Starting at the bottom, a 'snake' of clay is built from the ground up. The vessel is smoothed and sanded. The Acoma are known for their thin walled pieces, characterized by fluted tops.
Ranging from geometric to representational, there are some designs that stand out. Chaco Canyon Spikes, Tularosa Basin Lighting, Mesa Verde Fret, and Mimbres Animals dominate the designs. The designs are painted onto the formed and polished vessel by hand using natural minerals and vegetal paints. The painting is done by hand. If you think creating art on a 2-dimensional scale is difficult, try to do it on a 3-dimensional scale! Especially at Sky City is this challenging. You can only decorate during the day (there is no electricity).
This is where no potter must be able to sleep. After investing upwards of 60 hours to create a piece, there is the chance that it is all for nothing. They typically fire all of their pieces formed during the year at once.
At very high temperatures, the pots are lined around a large (and very hot) outside fire. If during the collecting they did not remove all of the impurities, the pots can explode. This not only destroys the piece, but could damage the surrounding pots.
Today's potters realize the time and energy that it takes to make a beautiful piece. Like everyone, each realizes a strength in design and some have started using 'molds' instead of using the traditional forming methods.
Additionally, it is more common to find pieces that are kiln fired vs. traditionally fired. I am not a fan of these methods, but realize that the design is where a lot of the artists feel they can best express themselves.