Historically, women made all the pottery, but today both men and women are accomplished artists. Creating a traditional ceramic vessel involves
This pot is particularly interesting for two reasons: it is signed and the interior is glazed. Signatures weren't common on pottery until about 1950, so this pot stands as an early example of an artist taking responsibility for her work. Glazing, common on early pottery, fell out of favor as potters chose slips with a matte finish (as seen on the exterior of this pot). The interior of this pot, however, features a lead-based slips that creates a shiny glazed surface. This may be in response to the overwhelming tourist trade that flourished during from the 1880s to the 1940s.
The slips, based on local minerals, are different for each Pueblo. For example, the white of Acoma is brighter than any other Pueblo.
Potters view their ceramics as living beings. "You're always talking to the pot when you are making it-telling it your feelings-and when you finish a pot you blow life into it and it is given life. At the end of a pot's life, when the pot is killed ….[referring to holes ritually punched in the bottom of painted bowls from the Mimbres Culture], the spirit is let go. We still do that today, an olla is broken over the deceased and it is buried with them"
(Wanda Aragon, quoted in Dillingham, Rick, Acoma and Laguna Pottery)
Parrots play a prominent role in Acoma oral history. According to their origin stories, when the world was created, the creator's daughter, Iatiku, instructed the tribe to search for a place called Ha'aka (present day Sky City). She gave them two eggs, one a dull color and the other bright blue, telling them one was a parrot, and the other a crow. They should break open the parrot egg, she said, when they reached Ha'aka. After generations of traveling, the Acoma found Ha'aka. Assuming the blue egg contained parrots, the majority of the tribe chose to remain at Ha'aka and cracked open the egg. Imagine their surprise when crows flew out. The remainder of the group took the dull egg and traveled south-some say to Mexico-and settled. To this day, parrots remain an elusive but important symbol to Acoma people. They still paint parrots on their pottery to remember the day they lost the parrot egg.
Parrot carvings dating from 900AD are common in ancient Pueblo cultures, like Mimbres and Mogollon. Archaeological excavations found evidence of parrot-raising in Acoma dating to 1100AD, indicating the birds have been significant to the Pueblo for centuries. Parrots aren't native to New Mexico, so the Acomans must have traded for them with people who lived farther south. Parrot imagery became common on pottery starting around 1860, and remains a popular today.
Acoma people wear parrot feathers in their hair, and use them to adorn masks, fetishes and prayer sticks. The parrot clan is an important part of Acoma social structure, since they are responsible for gathering salt for the tribe. Their activities all relate in some way to rain - salt comes from dried water beds, salt attracts moisture, and they gather the salt to the south of the pueblo (where parrots originate),.
Acoma Pueblo claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States (since 1100 AD). Located in the high desert of central New Mexico, Acoma receives an average of 10 inches of rain per year. Water is a precious commodity, and although jars used for storage, like this one, have very thin walls, they must also be durable.
Acoma is also known as "Sky City" because it sits atop a 357-foot sandstone mesa.