PUEBLO craft is continuing today but changing fast. One change is of a new kind, unknown in the pueblo history and it has taken place since the railroads brought cheap household goods. This is the dying out of many crafts as household necessities and their rebirth as skilled professions. Once every woman made pots and every man, in some pueblos, wove, for that was the only way to get kitchenware and clothing. Now these things can be bought so cheaply that no one would spend time producing them except for some special reason.
There are two such reasons. One is ceremony, which clings to the ancient things, hallowed by use. Every male dancer still wears a hand-woven kilt if he can get it. Many an altar has its handmade jar of spring water. A Hopi bridegroom receives his gift of cornmeal on a handmade basket tray. As the years go on and the villages grow more modern, perhaps these things will seem more important rather than less.
The other reason is sale. We have seen that the pueblos always traded and, perhaps, their craft workers made a specially beautiful article now and then, with the hope of getting some luxury from other Indians in exchange. But also they made their own equipment and had to. Now, no one has to. So the workers who did not care for craft or had no skill with it, have dropped out. Those who continue are the specially skilled ones, who can get a good price. It is the same thing that has happened all over the world, as one country after another got access to machine-made goods. Irish linen and Scotch tweed, once made for the home, are now for sale and perhaps not used by the people who produce them. Still, they are famous and have been for decades. Perhaps the pueblo crafts, after their new turn, will have a like history.
At present, they are in all stages of change. Weaving is still done mostly for ceremony and sold to other Indians or, perhaps, traded in the old way. Winnowing baskets and plain cooking ware are still made by many women for their own use. Decorated pottery, however, is made for sale and the buyers are the whites. This art has made the complete change from a household necessity to a money making profession. Others, like embroidery, silverwork, or drum making were never necessities, and perhaps, in former days, they were only done by a few people though not for pay. Now they are becoming money makers. Painting on paper, the new profession, was paid work from the start.
Few people devote full time to such work. Almost all carry on house work or farming as well and some may work only a few hours a week. Others make most of their living from craft and produce in quantities never heard of in the old days. This means they have much more time for skill and originality. No Indian yet manufactures in standard lots. Each article is different and each one gets personal attention. The woman who makes two hundred pots a year has time to perfect herself as her grandmother never could in making ten. She can be tempted, of course, to turn out careless work which will sell quickly and the temptation is great. Or, she may use her energy and imagination to work up new styles.
Sales will decide the results, for only an unusual woman can take time for good pots when the average buyer wants twenty-five cent ash trays. So the pressing question for Indian craft today is the method of sale. So far, there is no standard arrangement. Tewa villages, like San lldefonso and Santa Clara are so famous the people come there in sightseeing busses to visit the houses or to find the pots spread out in the plaza. Santo Domingo, Laguna and Acoma build little booths along the motor highways where tourists from all States in the Union whirl past. Many pueblo people take a sack of pots or a pile of rugs over their shoulders and go to the nearest trading store where they sell their work outright, letting the trader wait for customers. Usually the trader is a white man, since he needs a white man's capital and business knowledge. However, there are a few Indian traders and, as the schools provide advanced business training, their number may increase.
White people, too, feel some responsibility about Indian craft, since rhey are the purchasers. It is a general impression that white influence puts an end to Indian craft, or at least true Indian craft, but this is not always true. Silverwork, in the pueblos, began when the whites brought new materials and tools. Weaving took a new spurt. Pottery died down and was reborn after the coming of the railroads. Its new form, as a skilled profession, was due to Indians nourished by white appreciation. The two most famous potters, Nam-peyo of Hopi First Mesa and Maria Martinez, of San lldefonso, got their first encouragement from white museum workers. If these students had not been interested in seeing the forgotten pottery revived and in finding purchasers, even such talented women could hardly have devoted their lives to it.
Now, several white groups are helping the craft movement along its new road. They have two aims. One is to help the Indians in their search for the most beautiful designs used throughout the centuries. The other is to educate white buyers, so they will appreciate such designs. It is not so simple as might be thought for an Indian craft worker to know about the art of her own people. Suppose she is a potter. There may have been no potters in her family or, perhaps, in her whole village for a generation. Or there may have been a period of poor design after the new, cheap goods came in. She might have a hard time finding out about the beautiful things in her own native tradition were it not for the museums. For white collectors have been buying up the pots since 1879 and now there are more good ones in a museum than in almost any village.
The Indians go to see them and they ask questions. They get explanations of the sketches and notes which the whites have had time and money to make while the Indians have not. People of the river pueblos go to the New Mexico State Historical Museum and the Laboratory of Anthropology, at Santa Fe. They find friends in the New Mexico Association for Indian Affairs which gives prizes to each pottery-making pueblo every year for the best pots, new style and old style. The Hopi find a craft center in the Museum of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff.
The white groups can help with craft selling now and then or even with an engagement to demonstrate. They have, besides, the task of showing White Americans, all over the country, what good pueblo art really is. The museums send out exhibitions and printed material. The New Mexico Association for Indian Affairs advertises a weekly sale of pueblo craft in the Santa Fe plaza, with craft workers from a different pueblo every week. On Saturday mornings in summer the portico before the old governor's palace is gay with their bright shirts and shawls. White tourists pick their way among pots in shiny black or red, pottery animals, drums, bows, and arrows or string of colored corn, bright as jewels. No traveler returns to his home State without talking about the Indian market at Santa Fe.
The Indian Bureau has a special responsibility. Part of it touches the boarding schools, where some young people spend their time when they might be learning crafts at home. So weaving, silverwork, embroidery, leather work are taught under native teachers. Pottery, it turns out, can be better learned at home. The school of painting at Santa Fe is famous for a style that belongs to Southwest Indians and to no one else. Its exhibitions have gone to most of the great museums of the United States and even to Europe. There is a salesroom for all these arts at the Santa Fe school.
The Indian Bureau works, too, through the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the Department of the Interior. The Board is a recent one and its aim is to do for Indian craft all over the country what local groups are doing in the Southwest. This means to help guide the crafts workers in their new career as skilled professionals and to find them a market. Perhaps, when enough time and energy have been put into this, we may see one craft after another reborn to take its place as part of the permanent artistic wealth of America.