Update: The large Acoma Tularosa Revival jar sold for $6,000.
What you see: A large Acoma Tularosa Revival jar, created circa 1920, possibly by Mary Histia. Santa Fe Art Auction estimates it at $5,000 to $10,000.
The expert: Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction.
How is “Acoma” pronounced? AH-ko-MAH.
Who are the Acoma, what region are they from, and do they still exist? Acoma is a pueblo in the northern part of New Mexico. The village is still there. It’s considered to be the oldest continually inhabited pueblo in the United States.
What do we know about how this large Acoma Tularosa Revival jar was made? It would have been made using the coil clay method. You make a snake out of the clay and coil it around and around to build the pot.
Where would the clay have come from? Traditional potters, to this day, gather their own clay. The pueblos have different local clay colors in a range from buff to red to white. Acoma is known for its white color. The clay has to be tempered using shards of prehistoric pots, so the clay will hold together and hold water. The clay is refined until it becomes workable material.
How did the potters paint the clay? They painted over it with slip, a very, very watered-down clay. This has a cream-colored slip. The designs painted on it are from mineral and vegetable dye pigments, done with a brush made from chewed-up yucca stalks.
And I understand that almost all Native American potters are women, correct? Yes. There have always been a few male potters, and in the 21st century, a husband might paint a pot [that his wife fashioned], but classically, men created rock art and women created pottery.
What does “Tularosa Revival” mean here? Tularosa is another region that was actively creating pottery between 1100 and 1300 A.D. Near Acoma, there’s a trench with shards of broken pottery from that period. Acoma potters ground them up to use to temper the clay for their pots. I speak of acquiring a piece of history when you acquire an Acoma pot because it often contains shards of ground-up pots.
This Acoma Tularosa Revival jar is described as “large”. What makes it large? Does its size give us a clue about how it was used? Yes. Smaller pots are usually for tourists, because you can’t do much with a small pot. You couldn’t get a large jar in your luggage to take it back east. This jar measures 12 inches high and 13 inches in diameter. Because it’s in almost perfect condition, I don’t think it was ever used.
How would it have been used? It has a wide opening, so it could have been used for water. The base of the jar is concave, so it sits comfortably on the head. But if it was used for water, the top would have been worn down from scraping its lip against the edge of the pool or the river. We have another piece in the sale where you can see the wear on the top. Maybe, by 1920, this jar might have gone into a collection unused.
Are the designs we see on the jar traditional Acoma designs? Do they carry any meanings? These are Tularosa designs. What makes it Tularosa Revival is the ancient designs, which were found on prehistoric shards of pottery around the Acoma pueblo. It’s a very large, much-discussed area what the patterns may or may not have signified. The answer is, we don’t know, but they are remarkable prehistoric patterns.
What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Acoma Tularosa jar would have been to make? It’s not done on a potter’s wheel. It’s all done by eye and hand. And the pattern repeats perfectly, completely around the jar. She didn’t have a pencil or a ruler. She did it completely by hand.
How do we know that the Acoma Tularosa jar dates to circa 1920? It would be the design, the level of decoration, the quality of the clay, and the fact that it was probably Mary Histia, who was doing that [style of pot] at the time.
So this jar is characteristic of what Mary Histia did? Absolutely. It’s hard to know when she was born, but her dates are 1881 to 1973.
She would have been an established potter by 1920. Definitely. By 1920, she was the queen of Acoma pottery. President Roosevelt knew of her, and had several pieces by her in the White House collection. She was a star of the pottery world.
Did she sign or mark the piece in any way? It was considered inappropriate to sign a jar around these times, but it’s very typical of the work Mary Histia was doing. We can’t say for sure it’s Mary Histia, but she was one of the great matriarchal potters from this period.
Matriarchal potters? Mary Histia was the first in a long line of distinguished potters from Acoma that includes Marie Z. Chino, Juana Leno, Jessie Garcia, and Lucy M. Lewis. Her work continues to be very collectible and very important. There’s no signatures [on it], but the Theodore Roosevelt connection made a difference. Mary Histia was the reviver of Tularosa designs. Potters after her went on to do the same thing.
What is this Acoma Tularosa Revival jar like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera does not pick up? It’s remarkable for its fineness. It’s thin, remarkably fine in its execution. It’s not a big, heavy, chunky pot. If you knock it, it makes a pinging sound, like knocking a wine glass. And it’s completely smooth to the touch, with a very fine cream slip and brown pigment painted on. It’s dazzling.
Why will this Acoma Tularosa Revival jar stick in your memory? The clarity of the design, the size, the condition–it’s just a thing of beauty. It’s mezmerizing.
How to bid: The large Acoma Tularosa Revival jar is lot 406 in Session 2 of the Joseph Pytka Collection of New Mexico Art & Artefacts, taking place February 29, 2020 at Santa Fe Art Auction.
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Images are courtesy of the Santa Fe Art Auction.
Gillian Blitch appeared on The Hot Bid in 2019, discussing an Oscar Howe painting that went on to set a world auction record.
The Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum in the Acoma Pueblo maintains a page on the history of Acoma pottery.
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