The New Mexico Bowl Trophy: A Pot for Peak Performance

The New Mexico Bowl Trophy: A Pot for Peak Performance

Lee Allen

In one of the finest examples of NCAA-sanctioned post-season college football ever, the University of Arizona Wildcats pulled off a last-second victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on December 15th.   After being down by 21 points early on, the Wildcats clawed their way back to victory by scoring 14 points in the last 46 seconds setting a bowl record for the smallest margin of victory -- 1 point.

Not only was the contest filled with both spectacularly successful plays and some not-so-successful mishaps, a nearly colossal error almost took place in the waning seconds of competition.

As 25,000 fans watched the almost unbelievable turnaround on the field, a nearby engraving device was about to begin the process of inscribing Wolf Pack on the base of the winner’s trophy. With post-game prescience, the game’s executive director Jeff Siembieda advised caution.

The Gildan New Mexico Bowl trophy is a Zia Pueblo clay pot featuring depictions of football players and team logos, made especially for the game by husband-and-wife team Marcellus and Elizabeth Medina. “While I’m not knocking some of the standard brass or glass trophies, this isn’t one of the typical treasures," says Simbieda. "It’s unique art, one of the most unusual trophies in all of sports.  Our intent was to create something unusual and because New Mexico is unique, we wanted to be able to grab some of the flavor of the state and encapsulate some of that regional culture in trophy form. ”

Knowing that accuracy was more important than speed in this case, Siembieda urged holding off on the inscribing procedure, warning: “Don’t put the winners name on the trophy just yet because this one isn’t over until the clock expires.”

In staying the engraver's hand, Siembieda made the right call -- and in fact, without Siembieda there wouldn’t be such a trophy. 

Knowing the symbol was sacred to the tribe, it was he who traveled to the Zia Pueblo in 2006 to seek permission for the use of the Zia sun in the bowl logo.  Tribal leaders not only gave their blessing, they asked that Zia art be used for the awards.  And, says Siembieda, “We’ve shown our gratitude by commissioning their artists to create these unique trophies given every year since the bowl’s start.”

Elizabeth Medina got the job of digging her own clay, hand-coiling, sanding, stone polishing, and firing the thick-walled pottery at an outdoor kiln.  Her 58-year-old husband Marcus, a former tribal governor and a self-taught painter since age 10, got the illustration duties. 

“I gather the clay within the pueblo after I ask Mother Nature for her permission to take it,” says the potter.  “I mix the clay with a basalt rock so it won’t explode during firing, then build the pot and let it dry for several days before firing it for 2 hours using cedar wood, sheep, and cow manure in the kiln.  Once it’s dry, my husband takes over.”  Says Marcellus: “I use about 20 coats of crushed marble that comes from Europe, like the kind Michelangelo used on the Sistine Chapel.  And like my wife, before I paint the illustrations, I ask the spirits for permission to do so.”

By using a white base coat on the pot, traditional Zia patterns hand-painted in black really stand out before colored acrylic paints are used to depict football players in game stances along with team logos and the New Mexico Bowl insignia. 

The Medinas are acknowledged as a premier team among potters; Elizabeth has consistently won craft awards over the past 30 years while some of Marcellus’ works are displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. The pot they create for the bowl game is said to have a market value of $2,500.  “We need Native American recognition and this is a great opportunity to display native art and our spiritual beliefs about what we do,” says Marcellus.

Also unique to the New Mexico event is crafting by fellow Zia artist, Ralph Aragon, who fashions and paints leather shields given to the game’s Outstanding Offensive and Defensive players -- in 2012, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and linebacker Marquis Flowers.

Although the 2012 bowl was so exciting it had fans in a frenzy at the end, Siembieda laughingly says: “Arizona was supposed to miss the winning extra point and the game would then go to into triple overtime before they got the win.” 

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