IMAGINE an exhibition of pueblo crafts. On one table is a yucca ring bas-ket made practically as it would have been a thousand years ago. On the next is a glossy black plate by Maria Martinez, one of the most famous examples of pueblo craft. Its technique was developed within the last twenty years. On the third is an embroidered "manta" from Acoma. Its diamond weave was used in the thirteenth century but the wool of its fabric was brought by the Spaniards in the seventeenth. The embroidery may have been learned then too but the red yarn, which accents its splendid dignity, was not plentiful until the railroads brought it from American cities.
Pueblo craft contains elements from all the ages and so do the pueblos themselves. A trip through these Indian villages of Arizona and New Mexico might lead us to Santa Clara on the Rio Grande with its electric lights and water hydrants. There we might see cars beside some houses and through modern glass windows we would glimpse well furnished kitchens and bedrooms. Yet the pottery sold in the market place would be in the ancient pueblo tradition and the church in the style of old Spain. A drive of less than a hundred miles would bring us to Taos, with terraced buildings out of the fourteenth century. If it were a feast day, we could see some village official in buckskins, which show that the pueblos once had much traffic with the "buffalo Indians" of the plains. Next we might jog across a desert to see the Hopi villages perched atop the once almost inaccessible Arizona mesas. On their rocky paths we could meet men in modern American dress, giving donkeys or "burros" introduced from Spain. They go to the corn fields which streak the valleys and where they cultivate varieties of maize which may date from 700 A.D.
The following study of pueblo crafts necessarily takes account of the influences which have played on these ancient villages, since their known history began in 300 A.D. It is never possible to isolate one product as in "true pueblo style," uninfluenced by whites or by other Indians. The crafts were and are living arts, developed to fill practical needs. In the course of their history, different phases of each have reached a peak, and there they have paused or dwindled until new materials, new tools, new ideas, or all three, produced a revival. Major changes usually came from the arrival of a different people. The relics show how the pueblos learned first from the south, then from the Spaniards, from the Navajo, Paiute, and Walapai, from the Plains Indians, and from White Americans.
The result was no mere copying, nor is it today. Each new resource was adjusted to the needs of pueblo life and combined with materials and ideas already in use. Thus Indian corn, coming to the pueblos from their southern neighbors, was adapted to suit their barren plateau. The variety grown by the Hopi became so strong and drought resistant that it is used by modern agricultural experts to strengthen the taller breeds of other climates. Pueblo embroidery, some say, has been learned from the whites. Yet its most unique and beautiful color schemes come from the days when native dyes were the blue of copper sulphate, black of iron, and yellow of ochre or rabbit brush. Its designs are sometimes those of the most ancient basketry, dating more than 1500 years ago. Even watercolor painting, with the most modern of materials, achieves the serenity and jewel-like brilliance of a pueblo ceremony.
Plate 1-1 a. The D' shaped apartment house of Pueblo Bonito.
Plate 1-1 b. A Mesa Verde cave dwelling.
The following pages do not attempt a complete history of pueblo crafts. That would require volumes and its early stages, particularly, would lead far into archaeology. Still, we miss much light and shade of the picture as seen today, unless we know something of the materials which have gone to make it. The outline below, therefore, gives the main stages in pueblo history, only telescoping some of the earlier ones for purposes of simplicity. The dates are those established by the modern science of tree rings, first worked out in the Southwest. This means counting the rings which a tree trunk adds to its growth every year, the new wood always at the outside. In wet years the new ring is thick, in dry ones, thin or absent. The general series is the same for all trees of one kind in one general locality. It is possible, therefore, to compare logs cut at different dates and finally to establish a tree calendar, stretching back even through the first century A.D. This work has been done in the pueblo country, where students have examined thousands of old charred timbers and related them to the scraps of pottery, string and dried corn found nearby. This has resulted in some definite dates for pueblo history as outlined below.
This marks the first steps of the ancestors of today's pueblo Indians in agriculture, pottery, and housebuilding. It finds a people known as the Basketmakers from their principal art, scattered in a wide radius around the "Four Corners" where the modern States of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet. These people wandered about hunting and seed gathering, but they also raised small ears of corn. During the period, new influences came from the mountains at the south, where lived a people a little more advanced in the arts than the Basketmakers. These influences crept in unevenly, but in some parts of the country appeared a "permanent" house, even though it was no more than a slab-sided pit roofed over with boughs. The Basketmakers took up the idea of pottery and began to work it out for themselves, though in the style of their mountain neighbors. They improved their corn; they raised squash and a few beans.