I so enjoy traveling and the learning that comes along with it. I’ve just returned from a short jaunt to Albuquerque, where my BFF from first grade lives. On Sunday, we visited Acoma Pueblo, where we witnessed their unique style of pottery.
I talked to a Native American potter, who explained his painting process. It was a feast day at the pueblo, so no photos were allowed, but he showed me three different paintbrushes made from yucca.
The brushes he showed me were much simpler and smaller than this one, and his brushes didn’t have handles. The handles were simply the unscraped part of the leaf and the bristles had the green outer fiber scraped away. The brushes varied in width; some were just a few fiber strands wide, which enables the painter to get the finely detailed lines seen on these pots. The brushes I saw were also dried out and the fiber was no longer green.
The clay and pigment are all collected locally near the pueblo (each native tribe uses different clays and has different styles of pottery). The traditional pots of the Acoma are hand built from very thin coils.
I am in awe of these people who still live close to the land. Although only a handful of families actually live on the top of this mesa these days (the others live in modern houses nearby) they are still practicing their ancient traditions .
The ancient pueblo is on top of the Mesa you see here – it is hard to even see in the picture, since the adobe buildings blend into the sand. The buildings in the foreground are the modern day visitor’s center.
We have gotten quite sophisticated in our ways, and it is easy to forget our roots (literally and figuratively). This is what attracted me to paper, actually. I was inspired by the fact that I could grow a plant and turn it into sheets of paper using simple materials and techniques. And although I am carrying on a tradition, it is not a tradition that I own in the same way that the Native Americans own their traditions.
lovely post, thank you for sharing your wonder and respect. it’s apparent that this place has made a deep impression on you.
Love this post Helen! There is something elemental about working with plant materials which become tools! I teach a workshop on making yucca brushes, based on what I learned from a wonderful native american man I met down in Mesa Verde. The process and ancient design are so compelling.
Thanks, Jill. How cool that you do that. I’d love to see your brushes :).
Thanks for posting. Next time I travel to New Mexico I must go to Acomo Pueblo. My wife and I have visited several Pueblos but not Acoma. We have a pot from the Pueblo of Maria and her son. One of the last ones she created with her son.