SEATTLE Many in the Lynnwood area, including young children, are still trying to cope less than a week after 6 year old Dayvid Pakko’s death. On a rainy Thursday night, dozens of parents with their young kids crowded inside Beverly Elementary School for a support meeting.Passengers on a train that slammed into an empty freight train over the weekend in South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees, described a smoky, bloody scene in 911 calls released to the news media.”We’re very gratified,” Shouse said. “The jury had a very hard week. There was a lot of testimony to keep track of. We’re very satisfied and feel that justice was definitely done in this case.”A special camaraderie is formed over years of shared stages and postshow load offs. Communities are built there. Komatryp and Deadcore each has about a decade of paying dues. That currency has been paying off with recent prestige opening shows for national acts. The experience and memories shared mine the mountain of gold for these musicians.
mulberry purple Acoma Pueblo pottery
The Pottery of Acoma Pueblo, fourth in a series of books about Pueblo ceramics by Dwight P. Lanmon and Francis H. Harlow, is a remarkable record in text, photographs, and diagrams. There is such range and depth in the discussions of materials, paints and slips, pottery forms, and decorative motifs. Consider, for example, the title of Chapter 14 (and this is no more detailed than other chapter titles): “Acoma Pottery with Red Patterns on the Underbody and/or Interior and with Interior Droplets, circa 1850 1920.”
“I don’t think anyone else has ever noticed those red swashes on the inside and tried to come up with any sort of overall picture of what they are,” Lanmon said from his Phoenix home. “Since the book came out, a couple of Acoma potters have said those were signatures of the potter.”
Actual signatures on pots didn’t start until the 1950s, under pressure from dealers. A change in the potters’ cultural milieu that had more of an impact on pottery design and production was the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821.
Jars and bowls dominate the pottery at Acoma, which is popularly known as Sky City because of its location atop a high mesa. The people have produced few animal figures, compared to the output of Zuni Pueblo, for example. “In the older days I think what they wanted and needed at Acoma was jars and bowls,” said Harlow, a longtime resident of Los Alamos. “That was for practical purposes and for sacred ceremonial purposes.”
Although the new book focuses on Acoma pottery from 1300 to 1930, Harlow’s own investigations have been limited to the period from about 1600 to 1900. “I’ve been very interested in trying to understand the nature of their skills as painters. We don’t know what all the symbols meant, but [design is] very important to them. They are major artists, like this business of the rotational symmetry [designs] they’ve done in ways that are extremely complex. No other pueblo has been able to do them that way.”
Harlow is a puzzle solver. It’s obvious in his statements about his work: “Most of what’s been written is about the prehistoric wares coming up to the 1500s. Then it becomes very complicated because there are mixtures of people working with each other and going to each other’s pueblos. “It’s all been fabulous,” he said. “This is one of those things in my life where I could get in on the ground floor and have all the interactions with the Indians and museum personnel trying to put this together, although as [one time Laboratory of Anthropology director] Stewart Peckham used to tell me, ‘Don’t touch this thing. This is so complicated, you’ll never be able to solve these problems.’ I think I’ve made progress.”
A taste of that complexity can be glimpsed in one of the book’s appendices. In their Acoma book, they present more than 800 pottery examples. There is also a chapter titled “Acoma Photograph Album,” which shows 31 photographs of Acoma people taken in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Lanmon said that according to the Acomas’ oral tradition, they came from the Four Corners area, so they look back at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon pottery as being ancestral. Do any of the decorative motifs on Acoma pottery hark back to Mesa Verde or Chaco? “There is one that we call Tularosa, a style of ancient pottery of the 1200s and probably ancestral to Acoma, but probably not directly ancestral in design. Basic to Acoma pottery is ground up potsherds as temper, and they not only ground up mistakes but when going out on the plains to collect cow dung for firing, they also found fragments of ancient pots, and one of those designs was called a Tularosa.
“We illustrate a Tularosa black on white jar in the book, and it was reintroduced probably in the 1910s or 1920s. So there is a direct contact, but it’s more than likely 700 years apart. Also, there are two ancient black on white pots that were collected by the Smithsonian at Acoma in the 1880s, so the people had ancient pots sitting around.”
Regarding Spanish influences on Acoma pottery, Harlow said there was probably some transference of ideas around 1700,
“but on the other hand, I think it’s not tremendous. I think the Indians were very conservative. They really were not happy about Spanish people coming into the area, and they were working hard to keep their own traditions alive. They had their own religions, and they had to make sure some of their pottery was really dedicated to those who could carry messages to the gods in the skies.” The book states that the potters traditionally “believed the vessels to be sacred and blessed, a gift of Mother Earth.” The precise symbolism of many of the pottery designs remains secret.
“That’s right,” Lanmon said. “We submitted the manuscript to the tribe before it went to press, because we’re not going to get into any of that ritual stuff, to expose any of the ceremonial uses of pottery. We’re really focusing on useful, functional pottery. Cooperation was the key for us with the tribe and neither Frank nor I take any monetary return from these books. Lanmon said that some are handcrafting pots but with commercial clays and pigments, or else they are working with greenwares: preformed, mass produced, slip cast pottery. They sell the latter goods honestly as “ceramics,” while the handmade work is marketed as “pottery.”
“Still,” he said, “it is a bit of a slippery slope down toward mass production. Many are traditional, still going out to collect their own clay and pigments and forming the pots by hand, and they’re very concerned that their children and grandchildren would rather be flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for a wage.”
Nevertheless, the new book is a great source of pride for the potters of Acoma. After its publication on May 1, Lanmon received an email from one of them saying that a new group is meeting to learn traditional pottery. “My mission may be coming true,” Lanmon said. “Their ancestors will take the young people to the clay pits. It is keeping a 700 year tradition alive.”
If you visit Acoma to attend a public dance ceremony and you buy a pot from one of the people who sell vessels in front of their homes, will it be the “real thing”? Maybe or maybe not, Lanmon said. “Some potters do all three: traditional clays and forming; handmade but with commercial clays and pigments; or the slip cast. But all of the major potters are doing traditional process, for the higher prices they can get.
“The only thing that is rarely done now is firing outdoors. In part it’s because of the style of pottery that’s done now: very elaborate and finely detailed, so it’s fired using kilns. If you get a smoke cloud on the side of a pot, most collectors will say it’s defective, but what that really shows is that it was made in the traditional way from beginning to end.
“They say it’s smelly and smoky and hard on you, and finding enough cow dung these days is almost impossible. Lanmon and Francis H. Harlow identify 941 Acoma potters from the mid 1800s to today. In cases of renowned potters, such as Mary Histia and Pablita Pino, the entries offer details about their work, and all entries provide family affiliations.
After the book’s publication, Lanmon received an email from an Acoma potter. She wrote, “I was going through the pages and started questioning my dad about his parents. I was so excited to find out that my grandmother on my dad’s side is Marie Paytiamo Vallo. Then I saw a beautiful pottery made by her in the book, and it is at SAR. Now, I really want to go and see it. I remember seeing a huge bread pottery at her house when I was a little girl. My dad told me she made really huge ollas for storing bread. I will continue questioning him with more pictures and names.”
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