Pottery by Mary Lowden, Click or tap to see a larger version
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Mary Lowden, Acoma, Wedding vase with twisted handle and 7 children Last month
Artist: Mary Lowden
Pueblo: Acoma
Dimensions: 3 1/2 in H by 2 1/2 in Dia
Item Number: lyacg7295
Price: $ 250
Description: Wedding vase with twisted handle and 7 children Last month
Condition: Very Good
Signature: Lowden

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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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The Story of
the Wedding Vase

as told by Teresita Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo


The Wedding Vase has been used for a long, long time in Indian Wedding Ceremonies.

After a period of courtship, when a boy and girl decide to get married, they cannot do so until certain customs have been observed. The boy must first call all his relatives together to tell them that he desires to be married to a certain girl. If the relatives agree, two or three of the oldest men are chosen to call on the parents of the girl. They pray according to Indian custom and the oldest man will tell the parents of the girl what their purpose is in visiting. The girl’s parents never give a definite answer at this time, but just say that they will let the boy’s family know their decision later.

About a week later, the girl calls a meeting of her relatives. The family then decides what answer should be given. If the answer is “no” that is the end of it. If the answer is “yes” then the oldest men in her family are delegated to go to the boy’s home, and to give the answer, and to tell the boy on what day he can come to receive his bride-to-be. The boy must also notify all of his relatives on what day the girl will receive him, so that they will be able to have gifts for the girl.

Now the boy must find a Godmother and Godfather. The Godmother immediately starts making the wedding vase so that it will be finished by the time the girl is to be received. The Godmother also takes some of the stones which have been designated as holy and dips them into water, to make it holy water. It is with this holy water that the vase is filled on the day of the reception.

The reception day finally comes and the Godmother and Godfather lead the procession of the boy’s relatives to the home of the girl. The groom is the last in line and must stand at the door of the bride’s home until the gifts his relatives have brought have been opened and received by the bride.

The bride and groom now kneel in the middle of the room with the groom’s relatives and the bride’s parents praying all around them. The bride then gives her squash blossom necklace to the groom’s oldest male relative, while the groom gives his necklace to the bride’s oldest male relative. After each man has prayed, the groom’s necklace is placed on the bride, and the bride’s is likewise placed on the groom.

After the exchange of squash blossom necklaces and prayers, the Godmother places the wedding vase in front of the bride and groom. The bride drinks out of one side of the wedding vase and the groom drinks from the other. Then, the vase is passed to all in the room, with the women all drinking from the bride’s side, and the men from the groom’s.

After the ritual drinking of the holy water and the prayers, the bride’s family feeds all the groom’s relatives and a date is set for the church wedding. The wedding vase is now put aside until after the church wedding.

Once the church wedding ceremony has occurred, the wedding vase is filled with any drink the family may wish. Once again, all the family drinks in the traditional manner, with women drinking from one side, and men the other. Having served its ceremonial purpose, the wedding vase is given to the young newlyweds as a good luck piece.

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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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