American Indian Pottery

We feature traditional Native American pottery from the Pueblos of Acoma, Hopi, Jemez, Laguna, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Zia and Zuni, as well as fine Casas Grandes pieces from the village of Mata Ortiz.

Please follow the links to these at the bottom of the page.

American Indian pottery is handcrafted of the classic elements of earth, air, fire, and water, all of which are provided by the very locale in which the pot is created.

Potters dig native clay from ancient family, clan, or tribal pits, and grind it by hand until it is of a fine texture. Further crushing and filtering leave the clay in a suitable consistency for working. Local 'temper' of sand or finely-crushed pottery shards is then mixed with the raw clay to add strength to the piece when it is fired.
A piece of pottery is traditionally built by the coil-and-scrape method, in which wet clay is first rolled into slender ropes which are pressed and pinched one by one on top of each other until the rough final shape is formed. The coils are then smoothed and shaped and the excess is scraped away by a piece of gourd or other utensil. The pot is set aside to dry until it reaches a 'leather-hard' stage, after which it may be sanded to further smooth the surface. Next, a 'slip' or mixture of water and very fine clay is applied to the surface and the slip coat is allowed to dry. The last stage of preparation prior to painting the pot is a careful and thorough polishing with a small, smooth stone, often a river pebble that is passed down from generation to generation.
In decorating the vessel. the potter faces the difficult task of painting on a pot that does not present a flat surface. Attaining a coherent, accurate, and pleasing design over the entirety of a round surface challenges the skill of the experienced potter. For this reason, many potters who work as teams (most often wife/husband or mother/daughter) specialize, with one member crafting the pot and the other painting it.
(The painter, incidentally, traditionally is given credit for the completed piece.)
Firing is either by the traditional pit-firing method or, sometimes, in an electric kiln. In pit-firing pots to be fired are placed in a shallow outdoor pit, where they are first carefully and completely covered with broken pieces of pottery (sometimes sheet-metal) to shield them from direct flame, and then with dried cow, horse, or sheep dung to be used as fuel. After firing the manure, and patiently but expectantly waiting for the pile to cool, the fortunate potter will carry away a piece of art from the ashes.