New Mexican Art

ALMOST anywhere in New Mexico one's boot might turn up
from the earth potsherds with fragments of the design still
visible. These are the ancient remains of the art of the Pueblo
Indians, a sedentary and grain-growing people, living in adobe villages
along the water courses of New Mexico who developed the art of deco-
rating and firing clay pottery. Even today every village has its own
distinctive designs, despite friendly intercourse among the Pueblo tribes.

From the day she is able to walk, the Indian girl is taught to make
a spherical bowl by coiling layers of clay one above the other and polish-
ing the whole to smoothness with an inherited polishing stone. Often
to her brother falls the task of applying the designs and firing. Taking
a slender brush of yucca fibre between his fingers, and dipping it into
vegetable or mineral color, he applies it to the smooth surface of the
unfired pot. So much are these strong geometric designs and sure
whorls part of the mental configurations of the Pueblo Indian that they
were not affected by the transplanted designs of Renaissance Spain or
the later Machine Age. For a kiln, a circle of sturdy tin cans is
formed, and a few strips of iron act as modern supports, replacing the
green branches and stones of ancient use. Into this the pottery is
placed, covered by sheep-dung to maintain a hot, even fire.

Attempts to introduce the potter's wheel and a modern kiln have
failed, and museum workers and private groups interested in encourag-
ing the art have emphasized the quality of the pottery and the revival
of authentic designs, made in the old way. Today the pottery of such
people as Marie and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso pueble sets
such a high standard of skill and beauty that appreciation of the genuine
art is increasing and the souvenir "rain god" and clay "Mexican som-
brero" are falling into disfavor.

At the outdoor Indian market, such as the one held during the
summer months before the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe, a com-
parison of the designs of the various pueblos is possible. From the
northern pueblos of Picuris and Taos come bean pots of micaceous
gold clay. From San Ildefonso and Santa Clara come bowls, jugs,
and plates of luminous black and earthy red, some of them so highly
polished as to shine like metal. On the Rio Grande the old villages
of Santo Domingo and Cochiti produce bold black geometric designs