Review Essay: Surveying the Pottery Styles of Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos

The Pottery of Zia Pueblo. Francis H. Harlow and Dwight P. Lanmon. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2003. 372 pp.

The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo. Francis H. Harlow, Duane Anderson, and Dwight P. Lanmon. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2005. 185 pp.

Karen M. Duffy

The neighboring villages of Zia and Santa Ana lie along the Jemez River in central New Mexico. Sharing key traits of Pueblo culture generally, both have, for centuries, been producers of the coil-built, outdoor-fired pottery for which the pueblos are well known, but these small villages (with populations of 646 and 479 reported, respectively, in the 2000 census) have received less scholarly attention than some others, especially Zuni, the Hopi villages, San Ildefonso, Cochiti, and Acoma. The books under review, offering comprehensive historical treatments through both text and illustrations, therefore help to fill real gaps in the literature on Pueblo pottery. By virtue of their authors and approaches, subjects, and styles of presentation, the books make a cohesive, even continuous, pair. For that reason, some general comments seem in order first, and many cross-references will occur throughout my review. Nonetheless, my intention is to respect the works’ integrity as distinct studies of different traditions.

The principal author of each text is Francis Harlow, a physicist and painter who has studied and written about Pueblo pottery for more than 40 years. Here, as in his other books, he brings his scientific and artistic interests to bear on problems of typology and chronology in historic Pueblo pottery—problems that he defines and approaches in ways closely related to archaeology and, especially, an object-oriented school of art history. Indeed, The Pottery of Zia Pueblo states that its “analyses of individual examples are based more on the techniques of art history than those of anthropology. There is little attempt to place these objects in a cultural context or to find meaning in the decoration and forms of the vessels” (pp.14–15). The statement, which applies nearly as well to The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo (though, see the description of its introductory chapters below), might jolt some readers, but it is in keeping with Harlow’s dedicated lifework on pottery; as Bruce Bernstein has noted, that work is best understood as following in the scholarly tradition of Kenneth Chapman, a Museum of New Mexico curator whose studies in the first half of the 20th century focused on stylistic analyses and sequencing of historic Pueblo pottery designs (1994:19–20). To anyone familiar with this line of scholarship and Harlow’s previous publications, then, the methodology and subsequent nature of these recent books as broad surveys of artistic styles will be expected.

Perhaps more surprising is the books’ extension of an historical frame of study into the present to include current styles and practices. Judging from brief statements in the books’ texts and notes, this may be largely attributable to coauthors Dwight Lanmon, who worked on both books, and Duane Anderson, who worked on the second. For The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo, Anderson, an archaeologist and ethnohistorian serving as director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) at the time of this study, conducted on-site interviews and brought potters to Santa Fe to study collections at both MIAC and the School of American Research; Lanmon, former director of Winterthur and a longtime collector of Pueblo pottery, did corresponding work for The Pottery of Zia Pueblo. The books would be enhanced by greater clarification of how these various collaborations operated in the analysis of the material (both current and historic), but what is clear is that the (mostly) continuous alliance of scholars across the two projects is a primary reason for the books’ (mostly) consistent, compatible visions.

The Pottery of Zia Pueblo, the earlier and longer of the works, begins with a brief opening chapter on Zia’s history and a second chapter on techniques for dating pottery. The third and fourth chapters lay out the stylistic development of Zia pottery during the 18th and early 19th centuries, tracing in incremental steps its changes from Puname Polychrome, a localized regional type, to San Pablo Polychrome, a type particular to Zia. Chapters 5 through 13 feature subsequent alterations and refinements of Zia style. Of these nine chapters, two are devoted to forms, and seven to major designs and recurring motifs; multiple variations (in which Pueblo potters take great joy) are shown in detail, along with connections to similar elements at other pueblos. Among the designs featured are the well-known Zia birds and rainbow arcs, but the most important—both at Zia and in Pueblo scholarship—is what the authors call the “capped spiral,” a geometric design that H. P. Mera called the “rain bird” and identified as one of the most pervasive and popular of all Pueblo pottery design structures ([1938] 1970). Reading these chapters is an exercise in looking, as is true of Harlow’s work at its best; though descriptions of geometric designs are often awkward (they might benefit from the kind of symmetry analysis performed by Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe), I still appreciated the visual challenges and insights presented here. The book concludes with its most significant contribution, a substantial chapter on individual potters. Over the course of 75 pages, it offers entries—including Native names, biographical information, and descriptions of their work—for 40 Zia potters who lived and worked in the 20th century. (Much of the biographical data is drawn from other published sources, but it has been expanded, and many of the potters included in the present volume have not been known previously outside the pueblo.) According to the authors’ estimates, these 40 individuals represent the great majority of all potters who have worked at Zia since 1900. Even if the estimated percentage is high (it being notoriously difficult to get a full count of a pueblo’s potters, as Ruth Bunzel herself observed), the authors’ accomplishments are impressive. They have filled in an historical record previously left anonymous, and demonstrated how close scrutiny of pots and consultation with Native elders and potters (mentioned earlier in the review) can allow for attribution, albeit sometimes tentative or contested, of unsigned, undocumented works. Finally, two valuable appendices round out the book: a list of contemporary potters at Zia, and a set of documentary photographs from the 1920s, collected by Chapman, of Zia pots.

The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo is parallel in structure to its companion volume and at times overlaps with it directly in content. It too has a pair of introductory chapters. These relate succinct information on the pueblo’s history, pottery making, and methodologies for studying historic pottery. Notably, this book’s initial discussion includes a broad overview of Pueblo history, emphasizing the impact of foreign conquest and presenting helpful timelines and lists of relevant events. The addition of this greater perspective, I believe, sets readers up well for appreciating the changes in pottery about which they will be reading. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 consider the roots and development of Puname Polychrome, the localized regional pottery; during its period (1700–1760), pots made at Santa Ana cannot be distinguished from those made at Zia by design, form, or materials. At this juncture The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo is most pointedly a continuation of The Pottery of Zia Pueblo: based on research conducted in the interim between publications, the authors hypothesize one stylistic feature (i.e., a tendency to leave motif outlines open-ended rather than to close them off completely) that might associate specifically with Santa Ana. Two more chapters present the sequences of wares and styles that developed at Santa Ana during the 19th and early 20th centuries, rendering its pottery distinct. However, this pueblo’s pottery tradition was never as varied or vigorous as its neighbor’s, and after 1910, pottery making there declined sharply, nearly stopping altogether in the 1920s and 30s. In its final chapter, The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo relates the story of three pottery revivals—and the potters involved in them—that have occurred there since that time; here as in the first book, the authors have made a significant contribution in the conclusion of their survey. A pair of appendices follows: a list of current Santa Ana potters, and an inventory of Santa Ana pots in museums worldwide. Since pottery from this pueblo is rare, the inventory will prove useful to scholars and collectors.

Beautifully produced, The Pottery of Zia Pueblo and The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo are illustrated richly: approximately 700 photographs are in the former and 350 in the latter. The number and quality of the images alone make these books valuable resources for those interested in Pueblo pottery. Conveniently for the reader, the photographs have been placed on the same page as the text that discusses them; providing further clarity, labeled drawings of motifs appear in margins beside relevant paragraphs. Although different presses published these books, a high standard of visual presentation carries from one to the other because the same designer, Deborah Flynn Post, and primary photographer, Blair Clark, were employed for both.

The productions are not flawless, however. In The Pottery of Zia Pueblo, two figures were dropped from a set of six and the remaining four, as captioned, do not match with their text descriptions (Fig. 14.24, p. 267). Far more serious is a rash of disasters with the endnotes: four out of Zia’s 14 chapters are affected, particularly chapters 1 and 2, where numbers in the text are fewer than, and thus misaligned with, the notes. In the case of chapter 2, the numbering went awry immediately, leaving every note one number off. Such errors, obviously computer generated, should have been caught in proofreading. By contrast, The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo has no notes at all. If this omission was a reaction to the problems with the first book, it surely seems odd in a book that aims to speak to scholars as well as to the general public.

But an even more fundamental problem mars both books: the unexplained use of Western names for designs when Pueblo ones exist. This point has been well made by a previous reviewer of The Pottery of Santa Ana (see Bahti 2005). That book is most implicated because of its repeated reference to “the so-called Eiffel Tower design” in use at Santa Ana, but the culturally inappropriate terminology (and other examples of it mentioned by Mark Bahti) appear in the Zia study as well. The question, never acknowledged or addressed, burns: So called by whom? Potters at other pueblos call the terraced designs “rain clouds” or, sometimes, “steps of clouds” or “cloud steps.” It is hard to imagine that Santa Ana potters would be unfamiliar with this fact, but if they are (due to breaks in their tradition), the text should state this clearly, and refer to previous scholars—including Jesse Walter Fewkes, Bunzel, and Mera—who documented cloud names for the design in question. Mera even proposed a scheme of logical association of Pueblo images ([1938] 1970:6–7) that might be used to find the connection between “cloud steps” and alternate names such as “kiva steps”: that is, ceremonies held in the kiva bid rain-bearing clouds to visit the pueblo. The terraced tablita (‘dance headdress’) of Pueblo women does the same; in fact, with its curved base, the tablita resembles the Santa Ana design most closely of all. Were such possibilities discussed with the Santa Ana potters, as they have been with potters at other pueblos? Authors have a right to choose their approach, to make their contributions in their own ways as these have done; but readers have a corresponding right to know how far the choice has been carried.

Unfortunately, because these books appear to (and in truth, may) cavalierly dismiss Native knowledge and understanding, they are likely to continue to find mixed reception by scholars. One can hope for a future edition to rectify the problems. Meanwhile, I, for one, have no doubt that potters at Zia and Santa Ana will put the books to good use, and focus squarely on the indisputable contributions of each study: making images of the potters’ ancestral heritage available, and documenting the lives and works of the potters’ 20th-century relatives and predecessors.

References Cited

Bahti, Mark T.

2005    Review of The Pottery of Santa Ana Pueblo, by Francis H. Harlow, Duane Anderson, and Dwight P. Lanmon. Journal of Anthropological Research 61(4):542–543.

Bernstein, Bruce

1994    Pueblo Potters, Museum Curators, and Santa Fe’s Indian Market. Theme issue, “Southwestern Native Fairs and Markets,” Expedition: The Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 36(1):14–24.

Mera, H. P.

1970    Pueblo Designs: 176 Illustrations of the “Rain Bird.” New York: Dover. (First published as The Rain Bird: A Study in Pueblo Design. Santa Fe: Laboratory of Anthropology 1938.)


Karen Duffy holds a Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University. A former museum curator, she conducts research with potters at Acoma Pueblo, where she investigates family dimensions of the art and the nature of tradition. She is the editor of
Midwestern Folklore and the past president of the Hoosier Folklore Society. In addition to her work on Pueblo potters, she has written on limestone carving traditions in Indiana and has organized museum exhibitions on folk art, including the traveling exhibition Turkish Traditional Art Today, which she co-curated with Henry Glassie.