Friday, September 12, 2014

Objects 2. Pueblo (American Indian) Pottery

Lots of us have lots of stuff in our lives, but it's not often that we have a record of how, where and when it was acquired. My family spent the 1953-1954 academic year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we widely explored especially the Indian lands of the region, thereby making some important discoveries and lifelong connections. We were (and I am) great admirers of the arts and artisanship of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their wares had become know nationally, if not internationally, through the enterprises such as Fred Harvey, boosted by the work of architect Mary Colter, among others. Even so, in the middle of the 20th century, their rugs, masks, wood and stone carvings, stunning jewelry, and pottery were still affordable for a young professor's family.
Acoma Pueblo, called as "Sky City" for its strategic  mesa-top location, is renowned now as then for its beautiful and finely made pottery. It's some 70 miles west of Albuquerque, right along Route 66 (now Interstate 40), the perfect day-trip from Albuquerque. Here is my mother in Sky City (with me, in the striped t-shirt) picking treasurers from their maker in November (it was very nice and warm, evidently!):
Same day, two Acoma girls, Anne Marie and Tilda Rose, pose with their offerings; note the classic humped adobe brick oven in the background to the right, and the adobe homes, with ladders to access the useful space on the flat roofs.
What Mother brought home included one small dish that was meant as an ashtray, that crashed to pieces, under my watch alas, quite a few years ago. Another prize was this small "eared" pot painted with a different abstract, but historically faithful, bird motif on each side. Its hand-coiled, wood-fired character is evident.

While rustically very appealing, it was comparatively primitively made, with thick walls and base. Which is almost certainly how it's managed to survive unvanquished all these years.

Another acquisition of the day, and of the same scale but a different, though also traditional, decoration, was much more delicately shaped and painted. The form is called "olla" (pot, in Spanish):
Through time though, it paid the price for its fineness. With the shards stuck firmly together with superglue, it has an (albeit faux) archaeological feel to it.
In the early 21st Century, spectacularly fine wares are still to be had. The people of many pueblos of the American Southwest, have perfected their ceramic arts. This is a traditional "olla" form, very similar to the "archaeological" piece above, but of a much larger scale and sophisticated painted design. It is signed "R. Victarino, Acoma." It was given to me by Puebloan friends in 2011.
My friends also gave me this piece. The pot itself was not coiled, but made in a form. The skill is all in the painting. I love it just as much, though I don't know the maker.
Indian pots, highly collectible for obvious reasons, come in all kinds of sizes, shapes and forms above and beyond the olla. Here is a display in the gift shop of the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History, Phoenix, Arizona. It would be nice to bring them all home.

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