Robert Patricio was born to Doris and Patrick Patricio Sr. of Acoma Pueblo in June, 1976. He says he was about nine years old when he began learning the traditional methods of creating hand coiled pottery. At first he learned by watching his great-grandmother Marie Z. Chino, then he got his hands dirty working with his mother. Today he counts his mother, great-grandmother and aunt Grace Chino as his main inspirations.
Now, more than 30 years after he began, Robert specializes in producing hand coiled and hand painted pottery. After collecting the various clays, slips, and natural vegetation, Robert begins the traditional process. First, he prepares the clay by sifting for impurities and then hand mixing with water. Next, he constructs his vessels with snake-like coils. Then these are set out to dry and later scraped to a smooth finish. While the pottery is drying he boils and strains all the natural vegetation and creates his colors from plants such as wild spinach (bee-weed) and wildflowers. The process is completed by laying out the designs, painting the designs with his clay slips and then firing the pots.
The designs on his pottery are usually interpreted from ancient pottery shards found on the lands of Acoma Pueblo. His polychrome and his black and white designs include geometric, fertility, Tularosa spirals, parrots, and kiva step patterns.
Robert has participated in shows at the New Mexico State Fair (earning 1st Place, 2nd Place and Honorable Mention ribbons), Heard Museum Indian Arts Fair & Market in Phoenix (earning a 2nd Place ribbon), the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show, and the Santa Fe Indian Market where he has taken home 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place ribbons. In 2010 he also earned the "Best in Pottery" ribbon at the Santa Fe Indian Market.
His favorite shapes to make are tall jars and his favorite designs to paint are black-and-white rainbirds. Robert signs his pottery as: R.M. Patricio, Acoma, NM or R. & M. Patricio, Acoma, NM. - the "M" being his wife, Melanie.
Robert is exceedingly proud of his six beautiful daughters. Three of them (Kylie, Felisha and Juanita) have already begun to follow in their father’s footsteps by creating and selling their own pots and by earning ribbons on their own.
In 2023, Robert was awarded the Best of Division ribbon of Pottery II: Division B: Traditional painted pottery at Santa Fe Indian Market. He was also awarded the First Place ribbon in Category 602: Painted polychrome pottery in the style of Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, any form.
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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 is located about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.
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. 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 of the 1300s. The location is essentially on the boundary between the Mimbres-Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan 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 ancient 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. In 1598 relations between the Spanish and the Acomas took a really bad turn with the arrival of Don Juan de Oñaté and the soldiers, settlers and Franciscan monks that accompanied him. After ascending to the mesa top, Oñaté 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 Oñaté's nephews. 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 eventually 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 got back to King Philip in Spain, he banished Don Juan de Oñaté 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 the Spanish retreated back to Mexico. Refugees from other pueblos began to arrive at Acoma, fearing an eventual Spanish return and reprisals. That strained the resources of Acoma until the Spanish actually did return. The residents of the pueblo had to make a hard decision. Many of the refugees chose to try a peaceful solution: they quickly relocated to the ancient Laguna area and made peace with the Spanish as soon as they appeared 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 first they sided with the Spanish against nomadic raiders from the Ute, Apache and Comanche tribes. Then New Mexico changed hands, the railroads arrived and Acoma became dependent on goods brought in from the outside world.
For many years the villagers had been content on the mesa top. 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 for ceremonies and celebrations these days.
It's the dense, slate-like clay, that allows Acoma pottery to be thin, lightweight and durable. After they form a pot, they paint it with a white slip. Once dry, black and red design motifs are added using mineral and plant derived paints. Fine lines, geometrics, parrots and old Mimbres designs are common motifs. The traditional paintbrush is chewed from the yucca leaf. 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 1880s, Acoma potters adapted the size, shapes and styles of their pots in order to appeal to the new buyers.
Acoma potters felt it was an inappropriate display of ego to sign a pot up into the mid-1960s. Then Lucy Lewis, Jessie Garcia and Marie Z. Chino started signing their pots. The 1960s is also a time when the primary Acoma white clay vein passed through a layer of widely distributed impurities, impurities that passed through the clay filtering process and showed up only during and after the firing. The problem was so bad it affected virtually every Acoma potter and every pot they made. Thankfully, by the late 1960s they had dug through that layer of clay and into a deeper layer that didn't have the problem.
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