Zia Pueblo Indians
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Zia Pueblo Indians: zia pueblo pottery, zia sun symbol

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Zia Pueblo
The Zia Pueblo Indians have continuously occupied Zia Pueblo since about 1250 A. D. The Pueblo of Zia is part of the Keres Nation. The traditional language is Keresan, but many speak Spanish, some speak Navajo, and most also speak English. Zia artists are known for their unique pueblo pottery style.



There are five Pueblo reservations, three of which are located in New Mexico. The Zia Indian Reservation is located in the flood plain of the Jemez River, and the Pajarito and Jemez Plateaus in Sandoval County, about 35 miles northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Six other pueblos are also located in this county.

The current boundaries of the Pueblo of Zia Reservation cover about 190 square miles or 117,000 acres. Zia Pueblo is located 17 miles (27 km) northwest of Bernalillo and eight miles northwest of Santa Ana Pueblo on U.S. Highway 550. The Jemez Indian Reservation is in the same area, about 15 miles away.

The Zia pueblo is situated beside the Jemez River atop a small mesa which provides a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. Zia Pueblo lands have pine forest, red bluffs, white mesas, sink holes and clear, unimpeded sight lines in each direction from the pueblo. Behind the Zia Pueblo lies the Nacimiento Mountains and the Pajarito and Jemez Plateaus. Once one of the largest of the Río Grande pueblos with eight plazas and 6,000 people, the Zia Pueblo has decreased in size to a population of about 730 today. There are 167 housing units in Zia Pueblo today, with 132 of those owned by individual owners. The remaining structures are communal housing. The Zia pueblo is open to the public during daylight hours only.

More than any other tribes, the Pueblo Indians as a group, and the Zia Indians in particular, have retained most of their traditional beliefs and ways of living and have absorbed very little influence from the dominating European culture in this country. They don't allow photographing of their ceremonies, have a strict protocol of ettiquite for visitors, and discourage sharing information about their culture with the outside world. For this reason, there is very little information specifically about the Zia Indians on the internet.

Most of the Pueblos have annual ceremonies that are open to the public. In many cases, one such ceremony is the Pueblo's feast day, held on the day sacred to its Roman Catholic patron saint. (These saints were assigned by the Spanish missionaries so that each Pueblo's feast day would coincide with a traditional Catholic celebration.) The Zia Pueblo's Feast Day, coinciding with the Catholic holiday for Our Lady of the Assumption, is held on August 15th. The main public ceremony held on that day is the Corn Dance. No cameras, sketching or recording are allowed, and this is strictly enforced.

Artists from the Zia Pueblo are best known for their pottery, and to a lesser degree, some Zia artists are known for their water color paintings. Zia pottery is usually an unpolished redware with white slip, with decorations in brown or black, often with a feather or bird motif. This sacred symbol was painted on almost every surviving eighteenth-century Zia pottery vessel.

Zia pottery styles show virtually no European and little curio-market influence, and have changed very little since the mid 1700s. The matte paint styles of Pueblo pottery decoration originated late in the seventeenth century, replacing an earlier glazeware tradition called Puname Polychrome, which was used in Zia pottery originating from the years 1680-1740.

The later style, San Pablo Polychrome, bears an old Spanish name for the pueblo of Zia, and is a very sturdy, rather thick walled jar or vase of very pleasing, symmetrical shape. Until about 1765, all these vessels had one feature that is particularly useful for dating purposes: The rim top was always painted red. After that date, the rim tops of Zia pottery have always been painted black.

One of the most important ways Zia pottery differs from their neighbors is the use of hand ground basalt stone as temper for their hand dug clay. This creates a working mixture that is very time-consuming to prepare, but is very strong when fired.

Zia potters rarely polish their pottery to a high shine, preferring a softly sanded, gently polished buff slip background which is then decorated with their traditional symbols, including the Zia bird (roadrunner), and rainbow arcs. Flower forms and cloud points are also commonly used as is the Zia sun symbol. In fact, that is where the idea for it's inclusion on the New Mexico state flag came from. Both the Zia Pueblo flag and the New Mexico State Flag feature the Zia sun symbol.

Dr. Harry Mera, a physician and anthropologist at the Museum of Anthropology in Santa Fe was inspired by a pot that was on display in the museum, which was made by an anonymous Zia potter in the late 1800s. It featured a circle of white ringed in red, and from each of the four prime directions three rays emanated. In the center were two triangular eyes and a rectangular mouth in black.

From this pot, Dr. Mera came up with the red ring with four rays that is the symbol of New Mexico today. In 1925, the state of New Mexico adopted Dr. Mera's burgundy sun on a field of gold as the new state flag of New Mexico. Today, the burgundy appears as bright red.

To the Zia people, the sun symbol is an ancient design. It reflects the basic harmony of all things in the universe. To the Zia, four is a sacred number, as it is with many other Native American tribes. It reflects the four directions, the four seasons, the sunrise, noon, evening and night phases of the day and the four stages of life - childhood, youth, adulthood and old age.

The Zia also believe that man has four sacred obligations: to develop a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit and a devotion to the well being of the people. The Zia have adopted a white flag bearing the red Zia sun symbol exactly as it appears on the New Mexico state flag. Above the Zia sun is the black inscription "Pueblo of Zia." Surrounding the entire flag is a black border. The combination of red, white and black reflect the colors of the Zia pottery.

A few Zia potters still produce the large water jar ollas, up to 24" in height, and their work is prized by collectors of traditional pottery. In addition to the traditional styles, Marcellus Medina, following in the tradition first created by his father and mother, carefully decorates his wife Elizabeth's pots with highly detailed studies of ceremonial dancers, animals and other cultural motifs.

Originally using acrylic paints and mediums over gessoed pots, he is now using traditional colored, natural pigments finely ground and prepared, over finely slipped surfaces. His family's pottery remains the high point of Zia pottery.

Besides the Medina family, the Herreras and Aragon families are famous Zia potter families who are known for their beautiful, prize winning pueblo pottery.

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