What is Pueblo Pottery?

Pueblo Pottery

Pottery is one of the oldest art forms in the Native American culture. It developed out of necessity for the use of cooking, storage and water vessels. When the great civilizations such as Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly were thriving, pottery techniques excelled. The Native American was no longer nomadic and being settled in one area for years or a life time gave them the opportunity to perfect this skill. The pueblo potters of today use the same styles, skills and technique as their ancestors. 

The clay is dug in ancient clay pits which in many instances were used by their parents, grandparents and great grandparents alike. The clay is worked by hand until the right consistency is obtained. The coil method has been used in all Pueblo Pottery pieces we feature. This is where the clay is rolled between the hands to form long coils and is then wrapped around and stacked to form the shape of the pot. It is then pinched together and smoothed by hand or by a polishing stone, many passed down from generation to generation used to smooth the coils of clay into a singular flawless vessel. After the vessel is formed, it is sun dried, if painted it is done with a "slip" of clay. It is then fired, not in a modern day "kiln", but rather outside in a "kiln" built of horse or sheep manure and pottery chards. If firing is rushed or done during colder weather, it may result in a cracked or misfired piece which is very unfortunate considering the days of preparation which go into each piece. 

Each Pueblo has a style which is traditionally their own, however today many designs and techniques are borrowed or copied from each other. The Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos are well known for their black and red ware. The black pueblo pottery originating with Maria and Julian Martinez from San Ildefonso. The carved techniques used today were developed by Rose Gonzales of San Ildefonso. Acoma pueblo pottery from "the Sky City" as Acoma is often referred to,sits high atop a mesa and produces the thinnest walled of all pueblo pottery. The white clay which is used produces a thin well defined pot. Mimbres designs dating back to 500 A.D. taken from pottery chards from that era are used a lot in Acoma pieces today. The seed bowl is a popular and very traditional piece still made. Its original use was for the storage of seeds and could also be taken directly into the fields and used for planting. Jemez Pueblo produces a large amount of pottery. It is generally thicker in appearance and uses a lot of earth tones in their feathers and cloud designs. Cochiti Pueblo is well known for its creation of "storytellers" (figures of a man or woman with children on laps, shoulders etc.). These were first made by Helen Cordero to depict an elder of the tribe passing down the traditions to the younger members. Cochiti also makes a variety of pueblo pottery using lizards, turtles and other water creatures. Zia Pueblo Pottery designs include birds and rainbows. Santo Domingo also uses a bird design as well as geometric patterns. Few potters remain at Zuni but they are known for their representations of owls and their pottery using a deer with the heart line. There are numerous Pueblos in New Mexico which do little pottery or none at all. These include San Juan, Laguna, Isleta, and Pojaque. Tesuque Pueblo pottery is still produced and is similar to Jemez pottery with the exception of brighter colors being used. Taos Pueblo to the north uses a "mica"clay which produces a simple yet elegant piece which glistens like gold. The Hopi Pueblo still has many potters and is well known for their polychrome pueblo pottery which often has fireclouds or smoke patterns left from the firing. A woman named Nampeyo started a pueblo pottery revival in the early 1900's using designs from old chards known as the sikyatki style. 

The Horse hair pottery we feature is very unique!  There has been much trial and error over recent years, perfecting the horsehair style.  It was actually "discovered" when Pueblo artist Corrine Louis pulled out a batch of freshly fired pottery and one of her own strands of hair fell onto the pottery, and scorched the fine delicate hair line onto the pot...from here the idea of "throwing" horse hair onto the freshly fired wares, leaving their unique markings began. 

The Seedbowls played an important role in the Native American culture.  Dating back to Anasazi times, these wares were used to store precious seeds, keeping them safe from the elements and rodents.  In the spring, the seedbowl could be taken directly to the fields and used for planting. 

All of our Pueblo pottery is guaranteed to be coiled (unless otherwise noted), handmade, one of a kind pieces. The newer pieces are signed by their artists, something not always done in the past. However, today the signature is what can make a piece of pueblo pottery worth twenty dollars or twenty thousand dollars. We feature reasonable pieces for those of you who appreciate this fine art and are interested in starting your own collection. We also feature pieces for the trained eye to gaze upon such as Carmel Lewis, Alice and Ruben Martinez, Denise Chavarria and many other well known artists. One thing to keep in mind; many of our reasonable pieces have been made by artists who have yet to reach the status of Maria Martinez, Margaret Tafoya or Marie Chino. Remember, each piece of handmade pottery purchased is an investment. Lesser known artists of today may be the leaders in the pottery market of tomorrow. 
(Jill Holmes, © 2007)