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“Acoma Pottery Design Motifs”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Keres Food Bowl“Keres Food Bowl,” Unidentified (Artist)

Bread Bowls
When the Spaniards introduced wheat and various fruits and vegetables to the Southwest, the Acomas and Lagunas began to need new sizes and shapes of vessels for food preparation and storage. One of these was the large dough bowl, up to 18 inches in diameter, and occasionally even larger, that developed once wheat bread became popular.

The Spirit Break
On many pots, framing lines and path lines are interrupted by a small gap called the spirit break, ceremonial break, or simply the line break. This feature has occurred on Pueblo pottery for nearly a thousand years. It is a major element in prehistoric Hopi pottery and in the early glaze wares of the Acoma-Zuni area. Lilly Salvador of Acoma says that she uses the spirit break to allow the water to flow in and out of the jar, ensuring that it will always be full. Perhaps the break may also convey a sense of the continuity of life.

The Rainbow Band
A curious design element that appears on pottery made at Acoma, Laguna, and some other pueblos—particularly Zia—is the “rainbow band,” an undulating stripe that encircles the pot. If it evolved from the path line, its roots are in prehistory. If its Acoma Polychrome Jar (four colors), ca. 1880-1900“Acoma Polychrome Jar (four colors), ca. 1880-1900,” Unidentified (Artist) origins are more recent, it could have developed from the undulating vine used as a border on Spanish colcha embroidery. Probably the rainbow band appeared first at Zia, a pueblo close to early Spanish settlements.

Bird and Floral designs
Until the nineteenth century, Pueblo pottery had not shown any strong design influence from outside indigenous sources. Beginning around 1850, though, potters at Acoma and Laguna, as well as Zia, began using ornate “parrot,” deer, and flower designs, which, like the rainbow band, derived from external sources.

Jar“Jar,” Lucy Lewis (Artist)

The Deer Motif
A heartline deer—a deer with lines running to a triangular heart—is a traditional ceremonial design on Zuni pottery. Acoma potters first borrowed this design element from Zuni around 1910 and again in the 1950s. The heartline is said to represent life itself. It is inspired by the spiritual connection between a deer and the hunter.