Claudia Mitchell

Acoma Pueblo

Curator Claudia Mitchell is a self-taught Acoma traditional potter who learned from watching her grandmother Lucy, mother, Emma, and aunts Dolores and Carmel.


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Claudia chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Zuni k'yabokya de'ele

Zuni k’yabokya de’ele (water jar)
c. 1880
Clay and paint
9 x 13 in. (22.9 x 33 cm)
Collection Vilcek Foundation


I am attracted to this olla because of its balanced design, which allows the vessel to breathe. Similar jars are present in the SAR collection, and Zuni tribal advisors refer to this design as bats.¹ Three large bats hang down from the rim: the solid black triangles make up the tails, and the hatched X-shapes are the bodies and wings. The hatches indicate rain, while the triangles of the tails reference clouds or tail feathers, or both. The diamond and triangle between the outstretched wings provide highly structured detail in the overall design, and simultaneously ground it to the base. They remind me of stalagmites and stalactites, especially the scalloped edges of the diamond, which are reminiscent of dripping water and mineral deposits.

This well-used Zuni jar probably held water. We can tell by the yellowish stain around the chipped rim and by the discoloration of the entire vessel. While the pot does not appear to have any white hard-water deposits, past deposits may have caused the “melt-off” of the rim. The jar has a very shallow concave base that is heavily worn from use. The bulbous midsection and overall form define it as an olla or k’yabokya de’ele (water jar). On account of the worn rim, it is impossible to tell if there was a break or spirit line painted around the top of the pot.

I love these old pots! Feeling the depressions on the inside of the rim, where the potter’s fingers held the neck coils in place to shape and give definition, provides me with a connection to the olla’s maker. It is as if I can feel them using a wooden or gourd shaper on the wet clay to pull up the rim and shape the neck. In one area between the shoulder and the rim, it appears that the potter did not quite smooth one coil into the next, or it may be a patch where the clay was too thin.

I envy this potter their paint and brush. The black paint has a glossy sheen. You see this effect on many pots, especially older ones, but the majority have a matte finish. This potter had good-quality mineral stones, excellent binder, and a knack for mixing in the right proportions. The brush, too, was of a fine make, providing a consistent color along the lines.

1 Jim Enote and Octavius Seowtewa, “Zuni Collection Reviews,” database notes, December 8–9, 2010, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, N. Mex.