Born at Acoma Pueblo in 1951, Rebecca Lucario is a member of the Yellow Corn Clan. She has been actively making pottery since 1965 and is recognized as one the finest Acoma potters working today with her exquisite fine line eye dazzlers and Mimbres revival designs. Her pottery is thin and elegant, her designs perfectly executed.
Rebecca learned this art growing up with her sisters: Diane Lewis, Judy Lewis, Marilyn Ray and Carolyn Concho, and she's passing the tradition on to her children. She says the ancient pottery-making techniques were passed to her from her maternal grandmother, Delores S. Sanchez (1902-1991). "My grandmother let me play with the mud they used to plaster their adobe house," she recalls. "We made little animal figures and pinch pots with red clay. I still have two pots that I made at the age of eight. One is a flower plate, the other a vase with lines. She never let us play with her clay because clay is very sacred."
In Rebecca's process she fires her pieces twice, first in an electric kiln to test the clay, then outside in the traditional manner which she says gets much hotter than the kiln firing. Her designs are so fine she may spend up to 12 hours spread over several days just on the black design work for one of her larger pots. She says she doesn't measure or plot her designs with tools, she spaces the basic design elements purely by eye. She uses a yucca brush to paint her designs and signs her creations R. Lucario.
The most difficult pieces of pottery to make are plates (they tend to buckle, warp or crack when fired). Rebecca has been known to make plates up to 30 inches in diameter. She explains, "The secret to making plates is to not make them too thin or too thick. You also have to knead the clay well to get out all the air bubbles." One of her amazing plates was featured on the cover of the 2002 catalog for the highly acclaimed Changing Hands: Art without Reservation touring exhibit organized by the American Craft Museum of New York City. She gasped when she learned that the Museum created a giant banner of her plate and unfurled it at the opening of the exhibit. "The recognition kind of snuck up on me," she said.
Since 1983 Rebecca has been a consistent ribbon winner at the annual SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market with several 1st Place ribbons in her collection.
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.
For more info: Acoma Pueblo at Wikipedia Pueblo of Acoma 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
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.
Delores Sandoval Sanchez (ca. 1888-1991) & Toribio Sanchez Their descendants who became potters:
Marie S. Juanico (b. 1937) Her descendants who became potters:
Delores Aragon (Juanico) (ca. 1969)
Katherine Lewis (b. 1932) Her descendants who became potters:
Bernard Lewis (b. 1957) & Sharon Lewis (b. 1959) Their descendants who became potters:
Eric Lewis (b. 1978)
Carolyn Concho (b. 1961) Her son and daughter-in-law, both became potters:
Alisha Sanchez & George Concho, Jr.
Diane Lewis (b. 1959)
Judy Lewis (b. 1966)
Rebecca Lucario(b. 1951) Her descendants who became potters:
Amanda Lucario (b. 1984)
Daniel Lucario (b. 1969)
Marilyn Ray (b. 1954)
Ethel Shields (b. 1926) Her descendants who became potters:
Charmae Natseway (b. 1958) & Thomas Natseway (b. 1953)