BOWLS: A Pueblo Necessity

December 15, 2006 until December 31, 2006

Adobe Gallery is proud to feature an exhibit of 52 Historic Pueblo Pottery Bowls and their traditional uses at the pueblos. Included are examples from most New Mexico pueblos of very large dough bowls, medium size serving bowls, food bowls, stew bowls, chili bowls, gathering bowls, ceremonial bowls, and small utilitarian bowls.

Super Bowls

Adobe Gallery Exhibit [Showcases] a unique collection

By Emily Van Cleve for the Santa Fe Journal North

While Adobe gallery owner Alexander Anthony, Jr. has always admired old pueblo water jars, he’s had a particular fondness for bowls. Half of the 57 [52] pueblo bowls dating from the 1860s through 1930s exhibited through the end of the month at Adobe Gallery are part of his personal collection.

“I used to go the pueblos to buy bowls, but not anymore”, Anthony said. “Most of the pieces on the pueblos are in family collections and are staying there. Family members don’t need to sell them.”

The only way Anthony can obtain bowls these days is by purchasing them from collectors. Through the years, he has bought several dozen of them specifically for the gallery.

The big dough bowls are among his favorites. These heavy vessels can hold enough dough to make 10 or more loaves of bread. The medium-sized bowls hold food served family-style. The smallest bowls were made for individual servings. There are a few tiny, palm-sized bowls in the in the show that usually held sacred corn meal, Anthony said. “They were primarily used in the morning to toss corn meal to the rising sun,” he added.

Since a family only needed one big dough bowl, it was customary for relatives to make many more medium and small bowls. These have survived in greater numbers. “They also were turned upside down and used as lids for water jars and storage jars,” Anthony explained. “That’s why we don’t see lids for pueblo jars.”

The clays used vary from pueblo to pueblo. Clay from Acoma and Laguna is chalky white, Anthony said, while the Rio Grande pueblos have access to earth-colored clays and Santo Domingo and Cochiti use deep red clay. Most pueblos boiled down the Rocky Mountain Bee Plant to get a black watercolor-like paint used to make designs. Red designs were made from clays.

Not every pueblo was known for making dough bowls. Anthony said he’s seen many Zuni dough bowls, which are considered among the strongest, as well as ones from San Juan [Ohkay Owingeh (pronounced O-keh o-WEENG-eh) which translates to “Place of the Strong People”], Santo Domingo, Santa Clara, Zia and Isleta. Rarely, he’s come across a big bowl from Cochiti, Acoma and Tesuque. He’s never seen one from Taos or Picuris. “I think the pueblos that didn’t really make them must have traded with the pueblos that did,” he said. “All the pueblos made medium and small bowls.”

Dating bowls is an art rather than a science. Anthony determines the approximate date by studying the shape and design, noting changes that occurred during different historical periods. None of the bowls are signed by their makers, although there are names or initials carved on some of them.

“At a feast day, a woman would put her name on the outside of the bowl to make sure she got it back,” Anthony explained. “A lot of the medium and small bowls have initials on them. Pueblo members still do that.”

The bowls have many imperfections because they were used heavily by three or more generations of family members. Some have bailing wire around their rims to reinforce a crack at the top. A vertical crack was repaired by putting piÑon pitch inside and inserting straps of sinew or leather, which were laced like a boot, on both sides of the crack.

Touching the bowls, by the way, is not only allowed but encouraged. “The patina gets better when the bowls are handled,” Anthony said. The bowls range in price from $200 to $32,000.

    View our other current and upcoming shows:

    • Historic Painted Cochiti Pueblo Drum Collection
    • Historic Pottery of Zia Pueblo
    • Southwestern Landscapes and Portraits by New Mexico Artists