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Dolores Lewis, Acoma, Black and white seed pot with rabbit and checkerboard geometric design
Dolores Lewis
Acoma
2 1/4 in H by 2 1/4 in Dia
lkacd9264
$ 225
Black and white seed pot with rabbit and checkerboard geometric design
Condition: Very good
Signature: Dolores Lewis

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Acoma Pueblo

Acoma from the air
Sky City

According to Acoma oral history, the sacred twins led their ancestors to "Ako," a magical mesa composed mostly of white rock, and instructed those ancestors to make that mesa their home. Acoma Pueblo is called "Sky City" because of its position atop the mesa.

Acoma, Old Oraibi (at Hopi) and Taos all lay claim to being the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S. Those competing claims are hard to settle as each village can point to archaeological remnants close by to substantiate each village's claim. Acoma 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. Around In 1598 relations between the Spanish and the Acoma took a really bad turn with the arrival of Don Juan de Onate and the soldiers, settlers and Franciscan monks that accompanied him. After ascending to the mesa top, Onate decided to force the Acomas to swear loyalty to the King of Spain and to the Pope. When the Acomas realized what the Spanish meant by that, a group of Acoma warriors attacked a group of Spanish soldiers and killed 11 of them, including one of Onate's nephews. Don Juan de Onate 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 (while Spanish monks did make the almost fruitless trip, Spanish military never did make an appearance in Hopiland).

When word of the massacre (and the punishments meted out after) got back to King Philip in Spain, he banished Don Juan de Onate from Nuevo Mexico. Some Acomas had escaped that fateful 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 successful Pueblo Revolt and 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 the Spanish returned and residents of the pueblo had to make a hard decision. Many of the refugees chose to try a peaceful solution: they relocated to the ancient Laguna area and made peace with the Spanish as soon as they reappeared 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 storing food 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 deeper layer that didn't have the problem.

Acoma Pueblo c. 1923

Acoma Pueblo c. 1932

Map showing location of Acoma Pueblo

For more info:
at Wikipedia
official website
Pueblos of the Rio Grande, Daniel Gibson, ISBN-13:978-1-887896-26-9, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001
Upper photo courtesy of Marshall Henrie, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
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Seed Pots

Acoma, Hopi, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara
Seed pot jar
Sandra Victorino
Acoma Pueblo
Micaceous black Hopi seed pot
Preston Duwyenie
Hopi
Santa Clara Pueblo seed pot
Camilio Tafoya
Santa Clara Pueblo
 

It was a matter of survival to the ancient Native American people that seeds be stored properly until the next planting season. Small, hollow pots were made to ensure that the precious seeds would be kept safe from moisture, light and rodents. After seeds were put into the pot, the small hole in the pot was plugged. The following spring the plug was removed and the seeds were shaken from the pot directly onto the planting area.

Today, seed pots are no longer necessary due to readily available seeds from commercial suppliers. However, seed pots continue to be made as beautiful, decorative works of art. The sizes and shapes of seed pots have evolved and vary greatly, depending on the vision of Clay Mother as seen through the artist. The decorations vary, too, from simple white seed pots with raised relief to multi-colored painted, raised relief and sgraffito designs, sometimes with inlaid gemstones and silver lids.

 
Seed pot with sgraffito design and silver lid

Debra Duwyenie
Santa Clara Pueblo
Jemez Pueblo seed pot

Dominique Toya
Jemez Pueblo
Acoma Pueblo seed pot

Lucy Lewis
Acoma Pueblo
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Lucy Lewis Family Tree

Disclaimer: This "family tree" is a best effort on our part to determine who the potters are in this family and arrange them in a generational order. The general information available is questionable so we have tried to show each of these diagrams to living members of each family to get their input and approval, too. This diagram is subject to change should we get better info.


    Lucy Martin Lewis (c. 1900-1992)
    Her descendants who became potters:
    • Andrew H. Lewis (1927-2005)
      His son who became a potter:
      • Andrew H. Lewis Jr.
    • Ann Lewis (b. 1925)
    • Carmel Lewis Haskaya (1947-2019)
      Her daughter who became a potter:
      • Katarina Haskaya Lukee (1984-2015)
    • Dolores Lewis Garcia (b. 1938)
    • Emma Lewis Mitchell (1931-2013)
    • Ivan Lewis (1919-2001) & Rita Lewis (Cochiti)(1920-1990)
    • Mary Lewis Garcia (1933-2015)
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