The western U.S. state of New Mexico has 19 Pueblo tribal communities, some of them among the oldest American Indian settlements in the United States. Many of them are well known for their pottery, and among the best known is Acoma Pueblo pottery with its distinctive black and white, geometric designs. Producer Zulima Palacio recently spent time with a well-known Acoma potter and prepared this story. Deborah Block narrates it.
Sandra Victorino makes all her pots by hand, with just a few rudimentary tools. Everything she uses comes from the ancient lands of her American Indian reservation in New Mexico. She started working with clay 29 years ago, continuing a long family tradition. Many of her pieces sell for thousands of dollars and collectors follow her work closely. Some of her pots are in museums.
Victorino says it took her a long time to perfect her own style and designs.
"At night time I would lay there and think and think what would look nice and what would be nice on the pot. I still do that, think of designs that are new."
After Victorino shapes the pots, her sons help her place them out under the desert sun to harden. "This are all the different colors I have here, you have to dig them out of the ground."
And from the yucca shrub -- common in the New Mexico desert -- Victorino gets her best brushes. Yucca is very much like the stringy parts of celery.
"This is only two strands of Yucca … I usually cut it in half and then soften them like this," she demonstrates. "This lasts me a long time, maybe three months."
Victorino uses a pencil to sketch her initial design -- then adds complexity and depth from there. She finds it amusing when she recalls she was not very good at geometry in school. "Well, one line leads to another line (laugh) -- [it] is almost like stitch, cross stitching."
For hours -- often days -- Victorino sits quietly, painting her pots. One line at a time, the designs take shape; the colors, the forms often ripe with tribal myth and religious meaning. "Long time ago they were used for storing corn seeds and for planting. They called them the seed pots."
Not far from Acoma Pueblo, in the commercial and artistic city of Santa Fe, is Andrea Fisher's Fine Pottery Gallery. Some of Victorino's pots are on display there. "Its very interesting because it is all done freehand. There is no pattern, there is no stencil. I know a few potters that just make two or three or four tick marks and then they create these incredible geometric designs."
Andrea Fisher is an authority on American Indian pottery. "American Indian pottery is looked upon by us, the outsiders of the culture, as beautiful objects but it goes much deeper than that. They are so connected to the culture and the religion."
Whether such art is fully understood or not, its baffling beauty is obvious, the complexity of its design inspiring. It is an American original.