Facebook Twitter



If you are an Indian, raised in the high plateaus of New Mexico, you instinctively relate to warm, colored earth and piercing blue skies.

If you are lucky enough to be raised in the Acoma Sky City Pueblo west of Albuquerque, as Trina Enciso was, you have the things of the earth and sky imbedded in your bone and being. It's a birthright - this sense of the vast majesty of the land and the harmony with which nature's components fit together - that comes naturally to those who inhabit the old town on a 300-foot mesa.Trina and Paul Enciso live in West Jordan now with their seven children - a far cry from Sky City, but the Encisos surround their children with Indian crafts. On the fireplace are kachina dolls and weavings large and small. A big, moody painting of an Indian man hangs over the sofa, and at one end of the room is Paul's loom, ready for a few minutes' work at any time.

"We are dedicated to teaching our crafts to our children and keeping our arts alive," Mrs. Enciso explained. "Many Acoma young people are not interested in preserving the old customs and traditions, and many crafts have died out in the pueblo, but we feel an obligation to respect our ancient civilization."

Trina Enciso learned her craft from her mother; and even more, from her grandmother, starting when she was 3 years old. Since March, she has been working under a Utah Arts Council folk arts apprenticeship to teach the fine points of Acoma potterymaking to her oldest daughter, April. The apprenticeship gives them a small stipend, to cover teaching time and cost of materials.

But all this is not new to April, who has been making pots since babyhood, as all the seven Enciso children like to do. The apprenticeship merely encourages April to fully assimilate all she knows.

As April smoothed the surface of a fair-sized pot, caressing the smooth, shiny glaze, Mrs. Enciso explained that Indian potters do not use a wheel (a European innovation) to make their very symmetrical vessels. These range in size from finger-tip tiny to big utility pots, still used extensively in the pueblo to store water and food.

Nor is the clay for pottery a matter to be taken lightly. It comes from the mountains near the pueblo, and for the fine points of selection, Indians rely on their senses - as well as an instructive sixth sense about what will be best.

"I used to go with my grandmother to gather the clay, and we had to prepare ourselves; it was a solemn task requiring mental receptiveness," said Mrs. Enciso. "This is a skill that April is now learning."

By nature conservationists, the Acoma take only what clay they need, and don't waste anything, she explained. "You must always show great respect for Mother Earth, and the things she gives us. And you always leave something to replace what you take away; something you've made from the clay, perhaps a pot or a piece of jewelry. I teach my children that they must respect what they see in nature. There is a purpose for everything."

April must also learn what plants and other natural objects will make good dye. "I have used anything and everything," said Mrs. Enciso with a laugh. The most usual dye plants are sage, yucca and onion skins; and natural, bright clays are also blended with the less colorful to produce the traditional blacks and whites, the sandy to red and yellow earth tones of Acoma pottery.

The Encisos now have an electric kiln to fire their pots; but in the old days in the pueblo, the process was quite different.

There the potters dug a big hole that they lined with dried cow dung, then put in the pottery, piled dung over the top, and set the whole thing ablaze. When this natural kiln cooled down, they removed the ashes on top to see what had survived. Sometimes almost all the pieces came through; at other times as much as half was lost, due to faulty clay or problems with the firing. If vessels were broken they were ground down and dampened, to again form workable clay.

As she and April held between them a finished jug, decorated with stylized water birds, Mrs. Enciso explained, "The designs that we put on jugs are traditional, another link to our identity. Besides plants, animals and natural phenomena, they represent the significance and meaning of life and its happenings, depicted in special symbols that those who know can recognize."

Weaving has traditionally been a man's craft among the Indians, so Paul Enciso is the major weaver in the family, though the others know how. And a lot of family effort goes into carding the raw wool, spinning it into thread, and dyeing it, using natural dyes. Enciso produces beautiful mats, small rugs and the bodies for coats, which are then made up with fur sleeves and collars.

The Encisos met at Brigham Young University, where both attended after graduating from high school, and theirs is an especially close family, united by common interests.

Each of the children has a poetic Indian name. They are April Morning Star, 13; Tamani Sunshine, 12; Dine White Dove, 11; Sunrise Eagle, 8; Star Red Hawk, 6; and twins Amura Morning Cloud and Amore Morning Sun, 3.

The family sometimes entertains publicly with a program on their Indian heritage, including singing, dancing and sampling of food. Their authentic dances of the pueblo are named after animals (eagle, buffalo, deer, butterfly), nature (rain, sun, harvest, planting, cycles of the seasons) and religious rituals and meanings.

"Each tribe has its own dances, and their cultures differ as much from one another as the countries in Europe," said Craig Miller, head of UAC's folk art program.

The Encisos don't think of their crafts as a business, though they do go to craft shows and sell to friends, and friends of friends. Besides the pottery, Mrs. Enciso hand-paints traditional designs on woven purses, signed with her Indian name, Tsitliyaitza, meaning Salt Maiden.

But in the final analysis, a greater motivation than just practicing a craft or even creating a work of art keeps the Encisos making pottery. "Creating a piece of pottery demands a repetition of values, a reinforcement to the children of the important things in life," said Trina Enciso.


(Additional information)

Apprenticeship grants available in folk arts

A limited number of grants will be available in March 1990 under the Utah Arts Council's folk arts apprenticeship program. These grants go to master artist and apprentice pairs who have shown commitment to and talent for a specific artistic tradition.

Awards will range from $500 to $2,500, for periods lasting from three months to one year, and may be used for master artist fees, art supplies and travel reimbursement. Applications are due no later than Dec. 1. For information, call 533-5760.