Use of Pueblo Design Motifs



I have studied the Pueblo People, their pottery and culture for at least 20 years. And I also have a small collection of mostly Santa Clara black-on-black pottery. I also have a few pieces from Acoma (sky city) and from Jemez.

The study of Pueblo pottery led me to inquire about the meanings of the various symbols and design elements that they use. This lead in turn to wanting to know more about their culture, their creation stories, their beliefs and their languages. As a result of these studies, I have developed a great deal of respect for these people, their culture and their beliefs.

There is much that people of European descent can learn from native peoples. It was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who said

“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.”

This statement should resonate with all of us today with the potentially damaging effects of climate change on the horizon.

I make every effort to insure that the design motifs that I use will not offend the Pueblo People. Some motifs such as the sun symbol of the Zia people are held to be sacred by them – as is the number four. I will not use the Zia sun symbol or any other symbols or motifs that I know are sacred or sensitive to any of the Pueblo People.

Wood and clay are quite different media. For that reason, some of the design motifs that I use on my work have been modified to some extent in order that they can be carved in wood. For example, long pointy motifs that lie across the grain of wood will soon split off. To use these motifs on wood, the pointy ends must be softened to avoid splitting. So I like to say that my design motifs are closely related to those used on Pueblo pottery, but that they are usually not identical. And I never ever copy a design!

John Cobb
Divide, CO
July, 2010