Sandra Victorino has enjoyed creating traditional Acoma Pueblo pottery for
over fifteen years. By watching her grandmother and with much practice and
patience of her own, Sandra learned to paint with a yucca brush. Her designs
embody and give definition to Half Snowflake, Tear Drop, Checkerboard,Whole
Snowflake with fine line, and Original Fine line, designs.
Sandra is a proud resident of Acoma, Sky City, New Mexico. Sandra has been
married for 22 years. She has a daughter, Rochelle who lives with her husband
in Yuma Arizona, and has three boys at home Cletus Jr., Joey Vernon,
and Preston. Her husband, Cletus, formerly a uranium miner currently
works for Portland Cement in Albuquerque. All live together in a double wide
trailer in Acomita.
The largest pot she has made was about 18 inches tall. She has also made mini
pots. She makes pots in all sizes and varieties. She likes open bowls and
vases and many of her newer vases are distinguished by painted decoration inside
the mouth of the larger pots. She has been painting in the mouth of the pots
for only about a year. Sandra has not kept track of exactly how many pots
she has made but estimates she has made as many as 50 to 60 pots in one year.
The largest selection ever assembled was at Tribal Expressions February 2000
show where 25 pots ranging from $350 to $5,000 were assembled.
Sandra likes to build her pottery while standing. She spends days sitting when
she is painting so standing is preferred. She gathers and processes her own
clay, uses local plants, rocks and rain water for paint, and fires her painted
pots in shallow pits near he house to fuse the clay and slips as one unitary
Sandra uses rain water for mixing her clay and it is always near for use
when slapping, shaping, scraping, and forming the clay. Whether using a gourd,
stick or knife, all utensils are also generally wet with moisture. The water
works as a lubricant to smooth the clay and helps in the elimination of cracks
A sharp lid from a can of Spam is her ideal scraper. A butter paddle gently
pats the sides of the clay pot to help form and stretch the clay into the
With a rag soaked in white slip, Sandra applies a light coat to the surface of
a pot. Moisture form the slip is absorbed readily by the clay and while moist
she polishes the surface with a river stone which was given to her by her
grandmother, Mary Valley.
Designs are not entirely marked on the pot prior to painting. She does pencil
in section lines four or sometimes eight sections are used then linked with
slip forming squares. Her dominant color, black, is made from the combination of
a local river stone and concentrated wild spinach plant. The leaves of the
plant are boiled to a paste like concentrate and mixed with rainwater which
fires black. The Orange color is made from a local dirt that is found near
Acoma. Sandra still uses orange given to her by her grandmother has enough
to last for several years.
Firing is done in an old corral where chickens, turkeys and lambs, once were
kept by her grandparents. The corral is a good place to store the wood, manure,
and a shed there is handy for tools needed to tend the fire.
Several shallow pits are covered with tin to keep them dry and free of rain
water. Before firing, a big old fire stone is laid in the bottom of the pit
followed by shards, then the pots to be fired are laid mouth down, and covered
with more shards. Dry cow manure chips (pasture patties, prairie frisbee)
covers the pile then more chips and wood are piled around the base. Firings
are generally started in the evenings and left to cool until the following
Many of Sandra's pots reflect the precision design work of her mentor Dorothy
Torivio. Dorothy, "Auntie Dot" or "Dottie" is her mothers
sister. Dorothy is perhaps the most famous contemporary Acoma potter. Recent
acknowledgment of Sandra's skill as a potter is evidenced by the awards she
has won in juried competition. She consistently wins first, second and third
awards for her division, including Best of Show for all of Indian Market
All natural materials are used in making pottery. These are gathered from
the earth by searching, digging and picking by hand. The clay is dried and
then ground by hand and grinding stones, Shards, broken bits of pottery, are
ground to a fine powder to be mixed with the clay, and like gravel, is mixed
with concrete for a solid formation. Paints are gathered from various plants
and rocks, ground to a powder, mixed with rain water and kept moist.
Scrapers, whether made of wood or metal, are used to shape the pots after the
molding process. White slip is applied to the outside of the pots and polished
by smooth, glass like stones to obtain a glassy appearance. Brushes, made
of stiff leaves of the yucca plant, are dipped into the paints and applied
carefully to the "unfired" pots.
The clay, shards and rain water are mixed together thoroughly. This is hard
demanding work. A clump of the clay is then molded into a round shape. After
working this rough pottery into the desired shape, the pot is air dried.
Scraping takes place next to fine tune the pot's shape. After scraping, slip
is applied and the pot is left to dry. Using the glass like stones to gently
rub the pot makes the surface smooth and even. Paints are selected and, with
the artist's imagination and skill, are applied to make an elaborate and
distinctive design. the painted pots are baked or fired in kilns to achieve
the final process. The end product is a piece of uniquely crafted artwork
of the time consuming age old tradition among the Pueblo Indians.