"We would load all the pottery into a wagon and drive to the main road between Grants and Albuquerque [Route 66]; that was before it was paved. We would sit there at a roadside stand and sell the pottery to people driving by." Ethel talking about selling pottery with her mother in the early 1940s
Ethel Shields was born into Acoma Pueblo in 1926. Her mother was Delores Sanchez. Among her siblings were Katherine Lewis and Marie S. Juanico. All three girls learned to make pottery as they were growing up. Delores lived to be 103 and taught some of her grandchildren to make pottery, too.
Ethel sold her first pieces around 1938. During her career she made traditional polychrome and Mimbres-Revival jars, bowls, effigy pots and canteens, nativities, Storytellers, Christmas ornaments and miniatures. Her favorite designs included turtles, human figures, birds, snakes, animals, corn, feathers-in-a-row and fine lines.
Ethel married a jeweler, Don Shields, and their family moved to Tucson for 12 years. She worked for the Indian Center there. After they returned to Acoma, she began making nativity sets. Over the years she made hundreds of them. Then she started making storytellers and other human figures.
She made a trip to Mesa Verde with her family and was inspired by the effigy jars and canteens on display that had been found in pueblos abandoned 800 years before. When she got back home she studied ancient black-on-white Anasazi and Tularosa designs. Then she started making effigy bird and turtle forms based on the ancient shapes and forms. She made storyteller pitchers with faces, arms and legs covered in babies. She made canteens in the shape of corn cobs and turtles. She started participating in the Santa Fe Indian Market in the early 1980s and earned many awards over the years.
Ethel and Don had 8 children, among them Charmae Shields, Chris Shields and Jack Shields (who became a powwow dancer). Ethel also taught Thomas Natseway, her son-in-law, and daughters-in-law Verda Mae Shields and Judy Shields. She stopped making pottery a few years ago.