35. Polychrome kiva ceremonial jar
On the Augustana College group visit to the Southwest Pueblos in June 2007, we drove about 20 minutes off Interstate 40 to meet with Emma Lewis Mitchell (Cat. 36), a daughter of Lucy Martin Lewis. Despite a lack of any directional signs, we arrived at Acoma Pueblo's impressive Sky City Cultural Center, and were pleasantly surprised to find- in addition to a visitor center and restaurant-the Haak'u Museum. We viewed the exhibition "The Matriarchs," which confirmed what Acoma recognizes about its potters:
The four Matriarchs promoted and cultivated a legacy, and thus helped rejuvenate Acoma's ‘Pottery Tradition' that would pave the way for all future Acoma master potters. Each matriarch (Lucy M. Lewis, Marie Z. Chino, Jessie Garcia and Juana Leno) developed and perfected a signature style now sought after by galleries and private collectors worldwide who prize these unique pieces.
The Matriarchs also promoted Acoma pottery as a means of economic self-reliance. (Haak'u Museum, ca. 2007)
Like Acoma women before her, Lucy was not sent to school, and she learned pottery from a relative, citing her great aunt Helice Vallo (Peterson 1984:36+, 40). Unlike her pre-1900 forebears, she had opportunities to sell her wares to outsiders: first, with her mother on all-day trips to the then-new rail station at Grants (later at McCartys and Acomita), and then with her own children at the closer roadside of Route 66, the famous semi-transcontinental highway that enabled touring from Chicago to California. When, in the 1960s, the giant Interstate 40 replaced the smaller highway, faster speeds precluded any wayside vending. Luckily, by that time Lucy had gathered artistic momentum. She didn't even sign her pottery until about 1950, when she entered some of her work in the Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial. There Lucy "won an Award of Merit for one of her ‘fine line' bowls [see an example in Cat. 34]-and was on the road to fame" (Collins 1975:13).
When she won the Outstanding Exhibit Award at the 1958 Santa Fe Indian Market, Lucy was invited to the Laboratory of Anthropology to see its ceramics collection and meet Kenneth Chapman (Cat. 317; Collins 1975:13-14). While Lucy always had derived inspiration from the shards she collected around Acoma, she had further opportunity for advancement with new access to museum collections. In addition to being featured in major exhibitions at the Museum of North Orange County (1975) and the Wheelwright Museum (1982), her recognition included a 1977 invitation to visit the White House, the 1983 receipt of the Governor of New Mexico Award, a Gold Medal from the American Craft Council [1985 per American Craft Council], and a 1992 Gold Medal from the College Art Association (Peterson 1997:77).
In her 1997 book, Peterson clarified several factors that marked the full extent of Lucy's accomplishment. Firstly, the potter had to manage to find time to work. Peterson stated, "I never cease to marvel at how much time in these people's lives is devoted to traditional pursuits. Many days of preparing food, making costumes, and learning the rituals are required for each of the frequent and devout observances. Pottery making must be sandwiched in. As a ‘venerable old one' in her later years, Lucy's spiritual and healing role in the pueblo was particularly demanding" (Peterson 1997:74). Moreover, Lucy's art developed in more isolation than Maria Martinez, Nampeyo and Margaret Tafoya, who earlier in their careers had some helpful interactions with outsiders:
Growing up on the mesa, Lucy saw sacred pots in the kiva, a place reserved for secret rituals. These pots were decorated with parrots, flowers, and rainbows, the legacy of the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. There was no access to museums at isolated Acoma, so Lucy was not aware of any other style of pot, historical or contemporary.... No archaeologist, museum director, or well-known collector ever came to Acoma.... to offer advice or direction. (Peterson 1997:74-75)
And ultimately, for Peterson, there was the deftness Lucy commanded in her touch, and her ability to pre-conceive her designs. "Lucy painted totally by eye and freehand, sometimes waving her brush in the air within inches of the surface of the piece to plan how the design would go.... [she] planned the starts and stops of these elaborate mazes of lines in her mind, then applied the pigment" (Peterson 1997:76-77).
Fortunately, the Olson-Brandelle collection includes examples of both the aforementioned fine-line finesse (Cat. 34) and a pot used in one or more kiva ceremonies (Cat. 35). The former has a pattern of dizzying intensity, which is also pleasing in proportion and resolution. The latter pot is so charming: the swashbuckling curves of the bird's beak, body and tail feathers; the negative/positive relationship of figure to ground in the abstracted shapes; the reversals of black and white lines. Within the body of the bird (with a beak of a parrot or macaw) there is a rectangle with crossed lines, perhaps a reference to Acoma as the homeland. Allusions to rain and sky (the bird and the kiva step shapes) and fertility for plants surely are present. On March 9, 1988, Rick Dillingham wrote to Kent R. Olson about the importance of this Polychrome kiva ceremonial jar:
The jar was made in the late 1960s and repainted by [Lucy's daughter] Emma Lewis in 1987. It was made and painted by Lucy for kiva ceremonies and has a "line-break" in the rim painting and a red splattered (slip) interior. These two design elements designate it a ceremonial jar.... The signature was done along with the second painting. A signature would not have been used on this jar originally because of its ceremonial nature. This is a rare jar from Lucy Lewis. (Dillingham 1988 in Olson 11-222 AC)
Kent R. Olson has further explained that Dillingham had met with the artist and at that time seen this jar (Olson 2002:11- 222 AC). Dillingham, who is acknowledged as a leader in 20th-century Southwest Pueblo ceramics scholarship, believed it was one-of-a-kind in having a line break. The collector expressed concern about having something "ceremonial."
To which Rick patiently responded, "They're finished with the ceremony." Thus, I [Olson] learned that such ceremonial pieces, unlike, say, a Christian communion chalice, do not forever retain their ceremonial or religious character. Also, it reconfirmed to me the practical side of pueblo society-once the ceremony is "finished," thoughts return to "how are we gonna pay the bills," and sometimes such pieces may come on the market. (Olson 2002:11-222 AC)
Through Olson's observation, we realize there was another factor contributing to the totality of what Lucy accomplished: without any formal education, she managed to balance motherhood and community responsibilities to strive further and support her family as an artist, eventually as a nationally recognized artist. Peterson concludes, "She had an energy, and artistic impulse, a penetrating aesthetic sense, an exuberance, and great skill" (Peterson 1997:77).
-Sherry C. Maurer, director of the Augustana College Art Museum
Lucy Martin Lewis (ca. 1898 to 1900–1992, Acoma, New Mexico), Polychrome kiva ceremonial jar; parrots, feather motifs and foliate pattern on white slip; line break on rim and splattered red paint on interior, made in late 1960s, repainted and refired by Emma Lewis Mitchell in 1987 per Rick Dillingham, Ceramic, hand coiled; outdoor and electric kiln fired, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (11-222 AC) 2005.1.11