Frederica Antonio’s Acoma Pottery

January 23, 2017

Frederica Antonio was born in 1968 into the Acoma Pueblo, where she first developed an interest in pottery-making while observing her mother-in-law Mildred hand-coil and paint her own clay. Nowadays Antonio specializes in contemporary hand-coiled pottery of all shapes and sizes, which she then decorates with intricate, hand-painted designs.

Antonio was also one of five Pueblo potters who honored the Starbucks at Avanyu Plaza upon its grand opening in 2015 by crafting a custom “Starbucks-style” clay mug. The one-of-a-kind piece is on permanent display in the cafe for visitors to enjoy, alongside four others by artists Robin Teller (Isleta), Erik Fender (San Ildefonso), Elizabeth Medina (Zia), and Patricia Lowden (Acoma).

Below is a little background that Antonio shared with us at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center about how she combined both tradition and innovation in making her Starbucks pottery.

This is part of our Meet the Artists Behind the Cups series talking with all five of the potters who crafted clay Starbucks mugs. Check out all five posts!
January 2, 2017: Robin Teller’s Isleta Pottery
January 9, 2017: Erik Fender’ San Ildefonso Pottery
January 16, 2017: Elizabeth Medina’s Zia Pottery
January 23, 2017: Frederica Antonio’s Acoma Pottery
January 30, 2017: Patricia Lowden’s Acoma Pottery

Your design is so distinctive compared to the other four; instead of flowing nature imagery, it has a very precise geometrical pattern. Does this reflect any traditions from your own Acoma Pueblo, or is that more of a personal touch?

It’s my own personal design. I painted all the dots by hand with a single yucca brush that I made myself. I chew the yucca down to about three or four fibers so it’s thin enough to make the fine lines.

Frederica Antonio Mug (2)How did you learn that technique of chewing yucca fibers into a paintbrush? Is that something that was passed down to you or that you taught yourself?

The pottery-making process I learned from my mother-in-law, Mildred Antonio, and the painting process I learned on my own. I’ve been making pottery for over twenty years; I started learning when I was about sixteen.

What inspired you to teach yourself how to paint in such a distinctive way?

When I first started painting I just used to do the checkerboard pattern that’s traditional in Acoma, but eventually I decided to try different geometric patterns.Frederica Antonio Mug (1)

I use all-natural pigment paints made from sandstone. I soak sandstone in water and then drain out the water that rises to the top. I keep draining it and draining it until the sandy part is left, which I have to strain. It’s an old, traditional technique.

Since I’m guessing most of your pottery isn’t Starbucks-themed, could you tell us what forms you usually sculpt? 

I do some wedding vases if they’re ordered. I also make olla jars, seed pots, and flower vases, and I paint all of them. A single piece usually takes me—well, the smallest ones, about two weeks, and the larger ones usually take me about a month. That’s starting with sculpting and painting, and then firing the pieces in an electric kiln for about four hours.

Is there anything in particular you’d like people to know about this Starbucks mug you sculpted?

Actually, the symbolism of that pot is related to rain, since that’s what we pray for—rain. The lines of dots coming down represent rain falling, and the dots represent raindrops.

What was it like seeing your pottery transformed into a travel mug this way?

I was really surprised by the way they put the design on there. They fitted the lines straight on the cup, whereas on the original pottery it’s a little curved. It looks good!

Take a look at Antonio’s work in person with a visit to the Starbucks at Avanyu Plaza, where you can see her clay’s craftsmanship and hand-painted detail on permanent display.  Browse more of her artwork and purchase the replica travel mug with her designs at shumakolowa.com

Starbucks at Avanyu Plaza
2400 12th St NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
Open 7 days a week from 6am to 8pm.


  1. Linda Smith Gurganus says

    I just received my large mug in this design and love it. I loved hearing you tell how you create the design, using a yucca brush, and its symbolism. I love geometric designs, and this is exquisite.

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