A life-long resident of Acoma Pueblo, located on a high plateau near Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lucy Martin Lewis continued centuries-long traditions of pottery making. American Indian pottery making is predominantly handed down through the matrilineal line, with women learning techniques and approaches from their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts.
This olla—a ceramic jar with a short neck and broad shoulders—demonstrates Lewis’s distinctive aesthetic characterized by fine, linear geometric patterns in black on a white (kaolin) ground. After gathering clay and pigments for her pots from Acoma lands, Lewis built up forms from coils of clay and then scraped and smoothed them into thin-walled vessels. With astonishing precision, she painted designs on her pots freehand, devising patterns to fit the shape of each vessel.
Originally, Pueblo pottery was used for ritual purposes or for practical needs, such as holding food or water. It was only within Lewis’s lifetime that pottery came to be appreciated as art, and potters began to sign their pots to identify themselves as artists. Lewis began to sign her work in 1950. Because Acoma Pueblo potters traditionally did not sign their names, hers was an act of independence, and it generated controversy within the community.