In the American Southwest, a Indian ceramic tradition began to take form in the early centuries A.D. and has continued unbroken to the present time. Characterized by its many superbly varied styles, the art has been sustained by diverse Pueblo peoples and some of their neighbors, whose ancient and more recent settlements have long been established in the arid regions of Arizona and New Mexico. Ceramic artist of the Ácoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, produced an especially distinguished series of vessels during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This large, rounded, and beautifully proportioned vessel is covered by exuberant, colorful figures representing macaws and other birds, double rainbows, flowers, and plants. The fluid, lively pattern breaks from the disciplined, abstract symmetry that widely prevails in Puebloan tradition, possibly reflecting the influence of designs from Mexico or perhaps the printed or embroidered textiles from the eastern United States that reached New Mexico beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, traditional indigenous perceptions remained in play, for macaws have been featured for centuries in Puebloan rituals devoted to the sun, rain, and agricultural fertility, as shown in corresponding ceramic and mural imagery. In this context the rainbows, flowers, and the sense of thriving life also faithfully adhere to an ancient and ongoing theme of communal participation in nature’s eternal renewal.