Corn is Life

painting by Pablita Velarde
Santa Clara artist Pablita Velarde captured the importance of corn in her paintings of the 1930s and 40s.

Bandelier Museum Collection

"From the corn we learn to live, we learn the life that is ours. By grinding the corn we learn the footsteps of life." — Sharon Naranjo-Garcia, Santa Clara Pueblo

Although most people think of corn as just food, it is important spiritually to Pueblo people, past and present. Women in Ancestral Pueblo culture prepared corn every day, using tools to grind it into meal.

Corn has continued to be central to the Pueblo diet and celebrated in traditions and ceremonies.

Bandelier Collections

Food for Another Day
Corn has been raised by indigenous people of the Southwest for more than 4,000 years. Its use by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Pajarito Plateau came much later – about 800 years ago. Corn was grown in small plots and dried. In this way, the Ancestral Pueblo people were able to store food for winter and other times when fresh food supplies were limited. When needed, it was removed from the cob and ground into meal for cooking.

Grinding Stones
A woman used two stones to grind corn. She placed a handful of kernels on the larger, flat stone. Then she moved the smaller stone back and forth, grinding the kernels into meal. Across the Americas, anywhere that corn played an important role in people’s diet, variations of these grinding tools can be found.

representations of the corn maiden
The importance of corn is often depicted by corn maidens in traditional crafts made in modern pueblos.

photo by sally king

The Tradition of Corn
Today, corn remains vital to Pueblo people both as a source of food and as a part of their traditions and ceremonies. Special corn-grinding songs are sung and traditional corn dances are held every year. Many Pueblo households still grind corn by hand when preparing meal for ceremonial occasions. The sacred Corn Maiden is often depicted in paintings, pottery, and jewelry made by Zuni artists.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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