This book examines design in Ancestral Pueblo pottery from various museum collections in the Southwest. The concept of isomeric design is based on an analogy with isomers in chemistry, which refers to compounds that are chemically identical but have mirror-image structures. The authors, an archaeologist and and art historian, use isomeric design to describe the use of paired forms that can be perceived as reversible on painted pottery. This book provides a new and fascinating perspective on Pueblo art and culture.
For the past two millennia the American Southwest has been home to one of the most vibrant and compelling peoples ever to have graced the earth. The vitality, distinctiveness, and resilience of Pueblo culture is apparent in its traditional pottery, a famous aspect of which is intricate painted designs. These designs, based on simple geometric forms, make Ancestral Pueblo pottery distinctive and easy to recognize. Scott G. Ortman and Joseph Traugott contemplate a hidden source of its appeal: a phenomenon they call isomeric design. The concept of isomeric design is based on an analogy with isomers in chemistry, which are chemically identical compounds that have mirror-image structures. In Ancestral Pueblo painting, isomeric design is the use of paired forms that can be perceived as reversible. These designs create optical illusions and figure-ground ambiguities that challenge conventional descriptions of Pueblo pottery. Presenting one hundred examples of Pueblo pottery from various museum collections in the Southwest, Painted Reflections takes a closer look at the psychology, history, and cultural significance of this unique aspect of Ancestral Pueblo painting, providing fascinating insights into the very foundations of Pueblo culture.