Stephanie Riley

Acoma Pueblo

Curator Stephanie Riley is an Acoma woman, mother, and potter. She is also Registrar for Cultural Projects at the Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe.​


Tribal Affiliations:

Artwork Affiliations:

Stephanie chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:

Acoma water jar

Acoma water jar
c. 1890–1915
Clay and paint
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Collection School for Advanced Research

For My daa’ow¹

I have always admired my grandma’s ability to take on any creative endeavor. When my siblings and I were growing up, she encouraged us to make crafts or baked goodies so we could sell them and earn a little bit of money. Grandma grew up selling pottery with her mother on the side of Route 66, sometimes trading pots for things like comic books or blankets. Selling pottery was a constant in her life, an income on which she knew she could rely, and pottery-making was a skill she wanted to pass on.

As a kid, I naturally wanted to play with clay and paint when Grandma made her pots in the summertime, but I never really made anything. I simply enjoyed the smell and texture of the wet clay in my hands. Eventually, Grandma would send us away from her work table to clean up after she had painted whiskers on our faces. When I was in my early teens, she began letting me fill her designs, which she pre-marked with black paint. She always checked to see if I stayed within the lines, and made me clean up any paint that was not in designated areas. She saw my continued interest in pottery and bought me small greenware pieces to paint. I never sold anything at that age, but it sparked a flame in me. I wanted one day to show Grandma something I had made from scratch, even though I did not know a thing about the pottery-making process.

Finally, in my adult life, I learned how to make pottery. My career in museum work allowed me to organize classes to preserve traditional pottery-making techniques at Acoma. I observed instructors teach more than fifty beginner and experienced Acoma potters the entire pottery-making process. I joined the students in each class with the goal of creating something I would be proud to show Grandma.

The day came when I walked into the house with a small jar I had made (pictured left) and, without saying a word, I handed it to Grandma. I had painted a beautiful, simple design on it, one I had seen on numerous Acoma jars throughout my life—almost the same as the one on the gorgeous Acoma water jar that I have chosen for this exhibition. Anxiously waiting for her approval, I watched Grandma turn my small jar in her hand as she felt the inside and outside. “Daa’ow, you need to push your clay out more,” she said. I thought I might cry, until she smiled widely and finally told me that she liked it.

The more pottery I make, the more stories Grandma shares and the more pottery tools she passes down to me. When she sees me processing clay or painting, she tells me how glad she is that I am carrying on our culture. I always find inspiration in Acoma pottery, both historical and modern. This jar in particular reminds me why I started making pottery and of how Grandma always painted beautifully simple designs. She does not make pottery anymore, so when I get my hands in my clay, I make pots always with her on my mind. I make pottery because of Grandma and to see a smile on her face.

¹ Keres female term for both “grandmother” and “granddaughter.”