The Pottery of Acoma Pueblo


Until quite recently, pottery making was considered by Pueblo people to be women’s work; Pueblo potters were almost always women. Before the 1930s, men who decided to become potters adopted the female lifestyle, including dress. A few became noted potters. In the late 1800s, We-wha at Zuni Pueblo and Arroh-ah-och at Laguna became well known for their pottery and received the highest prices for their work. At Acoma in 1900, Juana Wanya was identified as one of the best potters of the pueblo; she was a male who dressed and lived as a woman and adopted a female name. In the 1970s several men at Acoma became potters or began to decorate pottery, presumably as a result of unemployment. They differ from earlier male potters, however, in that they do not live as women; many are married to women.

Juana Wanya (b. ca. 1860/1864)

Juana Waniehe (Wanya), a man, was identified as a pottery maker in the 1910 federal census. He was living in the same dwelling as Bautista Waniehe (Wanya); his wife, Pablita (also identified as a pottery maker); and their children San Juan and Pablita (also identified as a pottery maker). The younger Pablita’s children were identified as Santiago and Wadalupe. Pablita Wanya was Juana Waniehe’s sister; the younger Pablita was his niece. The elder Pablita later married Frank Wilbur Sarracino. The younger Pablita later married Bautista Pino. A “batchelor” [sic] identified simply as Juana in the 1907 pueblo census was probably the same person.

Three potters—identified as a man-woman, his sister, and his niece—were photographed by Sumner Matteson, who called them “the best potters of Acoma.”

He noted that the person in the center of the photograph was “A ‘Mojarow’ or manwoman.” The photographer unfortunately neglected to note given or family names. A second, undated photograph, taken around the same time, shows the same three potters, this time at the Laguna Pueblo train station, where they presumably were selling pottery.

It is almost certain that the potters photographed by Matteson in 1900 were Pablita Wanya, her brother Juana Wanya, and her daughter Pablita.

Elders at Acoma recall the man-woman potter by the Indian name Wa-ki. That name is found on a bowl glazed at Laguna Pueblo by Josephine Foard. It is the only known piece of pottery identified as the work of Juana Wanya.


Excerpted from the Museum of New Mexico Press book, The Pottery of Acoma Pueblo, by Dwight P. Lanmon and Francis H. Harlow. Clothbound, 624 pages, 932 color photos and 481 drawings, $150. This and other publications by the Museum of New Mexico Press are available at bookstores and museum shops, including the Museum of New Mexico Foundation Shops in Santa Fe, by calling 800-249-7737, or at