26. Black-on-white tall-necked jar
Acoma, New Mexico, also known as Sky City, is home to some of the great potters of the Americas (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:3). Grace Chino is from one of the Acoma families renowned for pottery that is both func- tional and artistic, and her black-on-white jar in the Olson- Brandelle collection reflects aspects of her pueblo's signature style. Through the examples of the Chino family's pottery, we see that Acoma tribal members have both preserved and adapted their culture through the convergence of traditional and modern influences.
The Acoma people are influenced by the land around them. Acoma, New Mexico, is a "dry plateau country sculpted with mesas, arroyos, sandstone cliffs, and giant boulders...at an altitude over 5,000 feet" (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:4). Acoma "myths trace their ancestral origins to the Four Corners regions," making their ancestors the people referred to as the "prehistoric Anasazi" (Shephard 1956:19). The Acoma mesa has been occupied "since at least early Pueblo III times (AD 1100-1300), and scattered sherds date as early as the Pueblo I period (AD 700-900)" (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:20). In their arid landscape, water was scarce but local deposits of dark, dense clay were present that could be used to make pottery. The Acoma especially relied on pottery to carry water from cisterns back to their homes, and for "storage jars, pitchers, and ladles, canteens, seed jars, and serving bowls" (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:5).
Renowned archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett in 1943 observed about Acoma, "no other pueblo gives one such a clear sense of living in ancestral times" (Hewett 1943:91), but Acoma should not be romanticized as a stagnant society. These pueblo members represent "contemporary ancestry" by maintaining who they are, but surviving in a modern world (Hewett 1943:91).
Grace Chino adhered to traditional techniques for forming her jar. Once mined, the clay had to be ground to a powder before being mixed with temper (pulverized broken pot- sherds, referred to in the literature as both shards or sherds); then it was cleaned, soaked, dried, crumbled, sifted, ground and soaked again (Trimble 2007:88). When it was the right consistency, the clay was rolled into thin coils forming a shape. Acoma artists can "pull it paper thin" unlike anyone else (Trimble 2007:89). After the final shape took form, the pottery was coated with a white slip, stone-polished, deco- rated and then fired.
The Acoma primarily use a black-on-white style or a poly- chrome black and orange, painted with a thin brush com- posed of a chewed strip of yucca plant. Grace Chino is a part of the Chino legacy established by her mother, Marie Zieu Chino(Cats.27-28),whowasrecognizedattheinaugural Haak'u Museum exhibition at the Acoma Cultural Center as one of the four Acoma "matriarchs" known worldwide.1 Marie Chino was one of the first Acoma artists to revive prehistoric designs during the mid-1940s, based in part on her visits to the collections of the School of American Research (SAR; re-named in 2007 the School for Advanced Research). Acoma potters are known for their eye-dazzling black-on- white patterning that references prehistoric styles. The Chino family style especially has a precedent in the prehistoric designs found at Chaco Canyon (Dillingham 1990 in Olson 1-182 AC). Marie Chino rekindled the style of an overall repeating geometric black-on-white interlocking pattern, known as the stepped design, which was then adapted by Grace as seen in this vessel (Dillingham 1990 in Olson 1-182 AC). Grace Chino states, "I don't copy from books. I just do like my mother. I took over the vase with the stepped design" (Trimble 2007:93). She notes that her intricate designs are not pre-outlined; she only uses a small piece of straight paper as a drawing guide.
In addition to utilitarian functions, some pots are used for rituals and ceremonies. Ceremonies "establish rapport with supernaturals whose favors are desired; they are pleasurable, social occasions" (White 1979:63). In addition, pottery is a symbolic connection between the natural and supernatural worlds. Stephen Trimble noted that "Acomas are bathed in a pottery bowl at birth and buried with pottery when they die. A pot is shattered over the surface of each grave" (Trimble 2007:1). He quoted Dolores Garcia, an Acoma potter, who stated, "We come into this world with pottery, and we are going to leave the earth with pottery" (Trimble 2007:1).
Many external influences have affected Acoma. The use of manure for firing pots was adapted from the Spaniards (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:22). In the later 19 century, eastern museums began to purchase large quantities of prehistoric Native American art, and ultimately the interest of scholars and collectors turned to the work of living potters. This has allowed for traditions to continue and evolve, instead of being seen as "the art of dead cultures" (McFadden and Taubman 2002:191).
The increased interest in Acoma pottery led to questions about the identity of the potters. Traditionally, Acoma pot- tery was not signed, or just signed "Acoma Sky City" (Barry 1981:5), but most artists now want to establish a reputation in the art world. When traditions are passed along, the pottery continues to develop and transform. Chino's sister, Rose Chino Garcia (Cat. 33), states, "the designs we use are mostly traditionalAcomadesigns.... MysisterGraceandIhave done some experimenting with combining designs, and we do a lot of the fine line" (Maxwell Museum 1975:3).
A potter's attachment to convention has to be balanced with buyers' demands. One of those compromises has been the change from outdoor traditional firing to the use of electric kilns to avoid breakage and have clean surfaces. As of 1990, Rick Dillingham stated that almost all Acoma and Laguna potters were using electric kilns (Dillingham 1990 in Olson 1-182 AC).
Pottery for the Acoma is a connection to the past, a way of life. Grace Chino's jar represents this connection, while stand- ing on its own through its individuality. Pottery continues to be "a central feature of the Pueblo world, serving both utilitarian and ceremonial functions and tying social life to the natural environment in a fundamental way" (Dillingham, Elliott and O'Donnell 1992:5). Acoma potters and their society seem to have found a balance between maintaining a sense of their past, preserving the individual artist's voice and accepting the future.
-Margaret Lewis (Augustana 2012) AN-320
Grace Chino (1929–1994, Acoma, New Mexico), Black-on-white tall-necked jar; white slipped with Interlocking fret “Chacoan” inspired motif, ca. 1985, Ceramic, hand coiled and outdoor fired, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (1-182 AC) 2005.1.1