If you do the tour of Acoma pueblo you will have numerous opportunities to purchase the traditional pottery. There are tables set up at strategic points on the tour with a local potter displaying their creations, and your guide will encourage you to examine these and will wait patiently for a few minutes at least while you do so – although if you’re serious about buying it’s best to wait till the end of the tour and then ask to be escorted back to the one whose work most appealed to you.
What to buy: The traditional Acoma style is very striking, usually in shades of black and red only, though some other colours are included in non-traditional designs in order to appeal to tourists. They didn’t appeal to us however, as we much preferred the simplicity of the traditional colour scheme which contrast well with the intricacy of some of the designs. These designs reflect the landscape around the pueblo and the legends of the people so you will see triangular shapes for mountains, lines showing rain, and spiritual animals such as the lizard. You will also (rather incongruously it seems) be shown designs featuring parrots. You are not going mad – there are no parrots in New Mexico! But there is an Acoma legend that tells how traders from the tribe visited rainforest areas in South America and brought back a parrot in the hope that the presence of a bird from that region would bring much-needed rain to the parched lands of their home.
What to pay: Prices aren’t cheap, as everything is hand-made (if you think you’ve found a bargain, it won’t have been made by hand), but they are better value than in tourist shops elsewhere, so if you like the work this is a great place to buy. We purchased a very small plate (about 2.5 inches across) decorated with lizards for $20 – we wanted a souvenir of our visit but were concerned about carrying anything larger and heavier (and breakable) having already bought our ceramic horse in Hillsboro a few days earlier.
The "shop" is a trailer parked at the access road to Acoma village on a promontory overlooking the valley with the Acoma mesa. Not a bad location. The problem is that it is so unassuming that it could easily be ignored. It should not be; the fellow artisan is working right there on the spot and there is no doubt that all the production is locally made, not shipped from China, or mass produced somewhere in a factory – not a minor feat these days. The stuff is interesting and the authenticity unquestionable.
Indigenous people of the Southwest have been making pottery for thousands of years and each tribe developed a distinctive, traditional style. Acoma pottery is among the most beautiful: thin-walled and painted in elaborate black designs over the white clay or an orange-coated base. Each piece is different and our guide said they often have a story or theme whose meaning isn't reveled to outsiders. Price varies depending on the size, intricacy of detail, method of formation (some are hand-shaped and some are pre-formed greenware) and notoriety of potter.
Pieces are for sale at both the visitor center and at spots along the tour of the village. We chose to buy ours on the tour as we received it from the hands of the potter who made it. She kindly allowed us to take her picture, proudly showing off her gorgeous little grandson. You can see some examples of the pottery style on the table in front of her.
If you do plan to purchase a piece on the tour, make sure you have plenty of cash along as most of of the potters can't process credit cards. Our 4 and 1/2" pot, totally covered with an intricate design, ran about $80.
What to pay: Varies
Though each vendor we passed was greated by name and specialty by our guide, shopping was discouraged during the tour. But, as you pass vendors, you are encouraged to note the section number of the area.
After the guided tour, you may request assistance of a Vendor Guide to take you back to the vendor section / part of the city you wish to revisit. It is at this point you are encouraged to shop to your heart's content.
To be allowed to sell in Acoma, the vendors must be locals, and must be willing to educate visitors on traditional and non-traditional art forms - as well as honestly state which form their own wares represent.
Bargaining is expected by the way ... so have fun!!
What to buy: Acoma pottery is hand-built and traditionally painted. A white background, with thin black lines, and hints of red are hallmark designs found on Acoma art. An additional design commonality is the use of the parrot.
Parrots in Acoma represent the feminine aspect of nature, and the matriarchal society in which the Acoma people live.
What to pay: It depends on what it is ... expect to pay less for non-traditional art forms.
Many of the people who live on the mesa are artisans. Their crafts are for sales and are displayed through out the Pueblo. I recommend that you complete the tour first and then go back to shop.
What to buy: The Acoma are world renowned for their thin walled pottery. Jewelry is also available
What to pay: Some of the pottery that I looked at sold in excess of $300!