Polychrome jar with geometric design 
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Marilyn Ray, Acoma, Polychrome jar with geometric design
Artist: Marilyn Ray
Pueblo: Acoma
Dimensions: 2 in H by 3 3/4 in Dia
Item Number: xxacg6012
Price: $ 425
Description: Polychrome jar with geometric design
Condition: Excellent
Signature: Marilyn Ray Acoma, NM 2016
Date Created: 2016
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Marilyn Ray

Acoma
Three children on a turtle storyteller figure
 

Marilyn Lewis Ray was born into Acoma Pueblo in 1954. She is a member of one of the two non-related Lewis families at Acoma: the Lucy Lewis family of traditional potters is the more well known while the children of Katherine Lewis (Rebecca Lucario, Marilyn Ray, Carolyn Concho, Diane Lewis and Judy Lewis) have been making some of the most innovative and contemporary pottery being produced at Acoma. Each member of the family has carved out their own particular niche and Marilyn has long been focused on the art of the storyteller.

In Native American ceramic art, a storyteller refers to a figure adorned with smaller figures of children. In Pueblo society, the storyteller is a real person who communicates the legends of the culture. Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo made the first storyteller in 1964 in honor of her grandfather, a great storyteller. The tradition soon spread to other pueblos, each potter adapting the dress and hairstyles to their own society but also each exhibiting a distinctive and delightful expression of the intense love the Pueblo people have for their children. Figures with an open mouth represent a grandparent or parent singing or telling stories to their children.

Marilyn’s playful figures capture her deep sense of humor: some of the children are climbing, some playing with puppies, some just being mischievous. She says she was inspired to make pottery by her late grandmother, Dolores S. Sanchez, who encouraged her to make small animal figurines when she was twelve. Marilyn also sold her small pieces alongside those of her grandmother.

Her grandparents took her with them to help mine the clay. They taught her to use natural materials that were abundant to decorate her pieces. Most importantly, they taught her how to use the sacred earth to make a living. Marilyn's motivation intensified after her grandmother gave her a special polishing stone.

Years later, Marilyn grew bored with just black, orange and white, the basic colors for which Acoma potters are known. She began to experiment with colored clay slips and over the next four years discovered twelve new colors to use on her figures. She says she tries to work on figurines at least six hours a day but she also has to tend to her family.

Her storytellers have become collectors items. They have been featured in several books and magazines including Douglas Congdon-Martin's book Storytellers and other Figurative Pottery. In January 1993, her work was even featured on an Albuquerque billboard.

She typically enters The Heard Museum Show in Phoenix and the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market. She has won numerous awards at both. She signs her work: "Marilyn Ray, Acoma, NM" along with a date and a lizard hallmark.


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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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