Polychrome jar with corn cob stopper and dancer and geometric design 
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Charmae Natseway, Acoma, Polychrome jar with corn cob stopper and dancer and geometric design
Artist: Charmae Natseway
Pueblo: Acoma
Dimensions: 6 in H by 2 3/4 in Dia
Item Number: xxack6170m2
Price: $ 595
Description: Polychrome jar with corn cob stopper and dancer and geometric design
Condition: Excellent
Signature: Charmae Shields Natseway Acoma NM
Date Created: Circa 2000
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Charmae Shields-Natseway


Acoma
Charmae Natseway photo
Lidded ceramic box
 

Born in 1958, Charmae Shields-Natseway is a member of the Yellow Corn Clan of Acoma Pueblo. She says she has been working with clay since 1976. She comes from a distinguished family of Acoma potters that includes her mother Ethel Shields and her grandmother Dolores Sanchez. From them she learned the fundamentals of constructing pottery using the ancient method of hand coiling and pinching that has been passed down among Pueblo potters for generations. "My mother has been making pottery most of her life," she says. "I started back in seventy-six when we moved back here from Tucson. I needed a way to be self-employed and I needed money, so my mother taught me."

Long-known for her exquisite seed pots, Charmae is also renowned for her unique forms of lidded/plugged pottery shaped as cylinders, pyramids, boxes and flasks of superb quality. "I just got tired of seeing the same shapes over and over," she says. "A few years ago I made seed pots in a flat, circular form. Now I see them all over the place, so I stopped making them."

She gathers her natural clays and slips from within the bounds of Acoma Pueblo. After pulverizing the clumps of clay to a fine powder, sifting the clay for pebbles and impurities and then processing with water and other natural pigments into a fine workable medium, she begins to hand coil her vessels. When the vessels are dry, she sands them to remove any excess and to give the raw pottery a smooth finish that she will decorate with precise designs accented with colors derived from local plants and ground minerals.

"I try to always do the best work I can," she says, "and it's a challenge to be the best. Sometimes I feel there is not enough opportunity for up and coming artists. I think they're having a harder time than we did a few years ago. But, it's always good to see new artists coming up with new styles and taking different directions."

When asked if she considers her work to be traditional or contemporary Charmae responds, "I've gotten a lot of my ideas from prehistoric pottery, like the Mimbres designs, and from older Acoma pottery. Also from my grandmother's pots. I've made canteens, bowls, bean pots, ladles and plates for ceremonial use. Those are traditional. But my designs are sometimes traditional and sometimes contemporary. Sometimes, too, I make pots that have designs which at first look similar, but if you look real close, you can tell differences. I suppose it comes from using similar design elements over the years. After awhile, it's, like, hard-wired in your brain."

A bit later she says, "They say that the clay is where we come from. I consider my work a part of me. I feel good when someone buys one of my pieces who is really going to appreciate it. But, when we do sell it, we give a part of ourselves away."

Charmae is married to Thomas Natseway, the award winning Laguna miniature artist. She signs her pottery as: "Charmae Shields Natseway, Acoma, N.M.", followed by a corn stalk denoting her family clan.


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Acoma Pueblo

Acoma from the air
Sky City

According to Acoma oral history, the sacred twins led the ancestors to "Ako," a magical mesa composed mostly of white rock, to be their home. Acoma Pueblo is called "Sky City" because of its position atop the mesa. Acoma lays claim to being the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S. It is located about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.

While the people of Acoma have an oral tradition that says they've been living in the same area for more than 2,000 years, archaeologists feel more that the present pueblo was established near the end of the major migrations in the 1300's. The location is essentially on the boundary between the Mogollon (Mimbres), Hohokam (Salado) and Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo) cultures. Each of those cultures has had an impact on the styles and designs of Acoma pottery, especially since modern potters have been getting the inspiration for many of their designs from pot shards they have found while walking on pueblo lands.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado ascended the cliff to visit Acoma in 1540. He afterward wrote that he "repented having gone up to the place." But the Spanish came back later and kept coming back. By 1598 relations between the Spanish and the Acoma had deteriorated to the point where a group of Acoma warriors attacked a group of Spanish soldiers, killing 11 of them. Don Juan de Oñaté retaliated by attacking the pueblo, burning most of it and killing more than 600 people. Another 500 people were imprisoned by the Spanish, males between the ages of 12 and 25 were sold into slavery and 24 men over the age of 25 had their right foot amputated. Many of the women over the age of 12 were also forced into slavery and were parceled out among Catholic convents in Mexico City. Two Hopi men were also captured at Acoma and, after having one hand cut off, they were released and sent home to spread the word about Spain's resolve to subjugate the inhabitants of Nuevo Mexico.

When word of the massacre (and the punishments meted out after) got back to King Philip in Spain, he banished Don Juan de Oñaté from Nuevo Mexico. Some Acomas were able to escape the Spanish attack and returned to the mesa top in 1599 to begin rebuilding.

In 1620 a Royal Decree was issued which established civil offices in each pueblo and Acoma had its first governor appointed. By 1680, the situation between the pueblos and the Spanish had deteriorated again to the point where the Acomas were extremely willing participants in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

After the Spanish had retreated back to Mexico, refugees from other pueblos began to arrive at Acoma, fearing the eventual Spanish return and probable reprisals. That strained the resources of Acoma until a few years later, most of those refugees relocated to found Laguna and make peace with the Spanish as soon as the Spanish reappear in the region.

Over the next 200 years, Acoma suffered from breakouts of smallpox and other European diseases to which they had no immunity. At times they would side with the Spanish against nomadic raiders from the Ute, Apache and Comanche tribes. Eventually New Mexico changed hands, then the railroads arrived and Acoma became dependent on goods made in the outside world.

For many years the villagers were content on the mesa. Now most live in villages on the valley floor where water, electricity and other necessities are easily available while a few families still make their permanent home on the mesa top. The old pueblo is used almost exclusively these days for ceremonial celebrations.

Acoma's dense, slate-like clay, allows the pottery to be thin, lightweight and durable. After the pot is formed, it is painted with a slip of white clay. Black and red design motifs are added using mineral and plant derived paints. Fine lines, geometrics, parrots and old Mimbres designs are commonly seen motifs. The traditional paintbrush for Acoma potters is made from the yucca plant.

Historically Acoma was known for large, thin-walled "ollas", jars used for storage and water. With the arrival of the railroad and tourists in the 1880's, Acoma potters adapted the size, shapes and styles of their pots in order to appeal to the new buyers.

Acoma Pueblo is home to noted potters of the Lewis and Chino families, as well as many others. Acoma potters felt it was an inappropriate display of ego to put their signature on a pot up into the mid-1960's. The 1960's is also a time when the primary white clay vein mined by the Acomas passed through a layer of widely distributed impurities, impurities that passed through the pottery making process and appeared only in the firing. Or worse yet, sometimes well after firing. The clay problem was so bad it affected virtually every potter in the pueblo and every pot they made. So many pots spalled that even the best potters sold them anyway, often signed. Thankfully, by the late 1960's they had dug through that layer of clay and into a layer without the problem.

Acoma Pueblo c. 1923

Acoma Pueblo c. 1932

Map showing location of Acoma Pueblo


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Pottery Care & Consideration

  • The most obvious tip: Yes, the pots will break if you drop them!
  • Do not expose pottery to water (Inside or outside). Do not wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Dust pottery only with a soft, smooth cloth (no terry cloth or textured fabric). A very soft paintbrush (sable or camel) can be used.
  • Always use two hands to carry your pot: one on top and one on the bottom, or one hand on each side. Be careful with handles, they can be fragile. Do not grip or lift pots by the rim. Take care when wearing jewelry, rings can scratch the finish.
  • Place a piece of felt or cloth between the pot and the shelf to protect the signature.
  • Avoid exposing pottery to extreme temperature changes.

For those who live in "earthquake country" (also good for mischievous pets):

  • Weigh pots down with a small zip lock bag containing sand, glass marbles, rice, etc. Do not fill the pot more than one third full as you want them bottom heavy. Remember to remove the weight before moving.
  • Secure your shelves; make sure they are well attached to the walls. Shelf brackets should be of sufficient length and strength to support the weight of your pottery.
  • Prevent pots from sliding. Consider attaching a small wooden molding to the front of shelves. Line shelves with non-slip material (a thin sheet of rubber foam, Styrofoam sheeting, etc.)
  • If you need assistance with special problems, major cleaning (your grandchild spills ice cream on your pot), restoration or repair (the cat breaks a pot), or replacement (irreparable damage), please feel free to call us.

We hope these ideas help you maintain the beauty and value of your pottery for years of enjoyment.

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