Hopi Pottery, Acoma Pottery, Santa Clara Pottery and Zuni Pottery are all considered Pueblo Pottery. All pueblo pottery share in common the characteristics described in the text below. We feature on our website the pottery of award winning Contemporary as well as noted Legendary Pueblo Potters.
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All traditional Southwest Native American Pueblo Pottery is entirely handmade... from digging, cleaning, soaking, crumbling, and sifting the clay... to making the natural dyes and yucca brushes. That is just the beginning. Now a unique design must be created, the slip needs to be made, a kiln or fire needs to be built to "fire" the pot and then on to the final finish and polish. This is the pueblo potter's process. And, no matter how much care is taken not every pot will survive the process.
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Pueblo Pottery Gallery
Who are Native American Pueblo People? Pueblo people live in stone villages (pueblos) that span from Toas, New Mexico to the Hopi Pueblo mesas in Northern Arizona. Although, Pueblo People speak six different languages, they share much of the same history, traditons, values and high desert landscape.
Acoma Pottery - The Acoma people share a unique bond with their land and ancestors. The Acoma are bathed in traditional Acoma pottery at birth. They are burried in an Acoma Pot at death. All Pueblo Pottery is created with natural materials gathered from the surrounding area. Clay is searched for and dug from the ground, often after an offering of corn meal is made, asking permission of Mother earth to use a part of her body to help support themselves and their young. Minerals and plants are refined to make paints, while rocks, pottery sherds (shards) and gourd rinds are used for shaping and polishing. This was the way of their ancestors and this is the tradition they choose to continue. It is a link to the very beginning of their civilization.
Gathering the Clay: Many Pueblo Potters refer to picking clay as "picking flowers", it is a gift
from Mother Earth,
and like all her gifts it is sacred. Pueblo Potters take only the amount of clay
they are going to use. Some potters will
keep their clay sources a secret, while at other pueblos
everybody uses they same clay pit. Some pueblo potters chose to stop working when their clay
source dries up rather then searching for new clay. Pueblo Potters estimate that about half of the time needed to make a new pot is spent preparing the clay.
The raw clay must be dried before soaking and sometimes is ground and sieved clean to prevent a "rotting smell" that may occur later in the process. The potters will then let the clay soak in washtubs or barrels while they replace the water to purify the clay dissolving any unwanted minerals. Once the clay is saturated, they can begin the sifting process which removes larger impurities like rocks, branches and roots. Potters cannot use this pure clay. They must add a temper of sand, finely ground rock or sherds from a broken pot. This enables the clay to dry more evenly from the outside to the inside. Without this temper, the pot would crack as it dries and shrinks.
Creating traditional Santa Clara Pueblo Pottery: Rose Naranjo, a Santa Clara potter says, "The clay is very selfish, it will form itself to what the clay wants to be". The potters must find a calm center and tune into the clay to create such beautiful pieces of pottery. If the Potter has good intentions, and is "one with the clay", the clay will please both itself and the potter, becoming an extension of the potters spirit.
Proably the most distinguishing characteristic of Southwest pueblo pottery are the coils. Clay Coil pots are built entirely by hand. They are never being thrown on a wheel. Many believe that using a wheel takes away from the artistic aspect, making it "too perfect". Small pots and figurines can simply be pinched out of small balls of clay, but anthing larger must have a base called a puki, to support the rest of the pot. Once the puki is formed, usually from a bowl or pie tin, the Potter takes the first coil of moist clay and presses it against the inside wall of the round base. Each coil is added one by one, each being about an inch in diameter. The potter must constantly knead the clay to relinquish all air bubbles that would cause problems when firing. After a pot has been created, the artist refines the pot as they see fit. Pueblo Potters have long used pot sherds or pieces of gourd rind for scraping. Today potters use pieces of coconut shell, discarded eyeglass lenses, wooden spoons, the tops from candy and tabacco tins or most anything that will achieve the desired result to shape the new pot.
Thin walled pottery is a sign of an artists skill. Some potters strive for thinner and thinner walls, while others prefer thicker more substainable walled pottery. Concerning the coils... scraping will remove almost all evidence of the clay coils. However, some artists prefer corugated pottery and leave every coil visible and even decorate them.
Scraping, Sanding and Polishing Hopi Pottery: Once the clay has dried, the potter will re-shape the pot by scraping and sanding. The potter must always be cautious not to sand a hole through the wall of the pot. This is easier said then done when using corncobs or chunks of lava rock as was done many years ago. Todays tools (window screens, steel wool, or comercial sandpaper) make that process easier.
Throughout the drying process, the potter must watch for cracks and bubbles. Minor imperfections can be fixed with moist clay and a wet cloth but major flaws means that the pot must be broken down and merged with the next batch of clay. Next, the rough pot needs a layer of slip.
Most pots need slip in order to be polished. Hopi pots are the only pots that can be polished without being modified. This stone or hand-rubbed polish accomplishes several things. It smooths the surface of the pot while also adding color. Most importantly, it provides a canvas for the plant-derived dyes or incising. Potters must work quickly before the slip dries. If the slip dries the pot can no longer be polished. Some scratching is an unavoidable consequence of the polishing process.
Guaco: Pueblo potters paint their feelings and put stories on their pots. Some potters look at the pots until they are sure which design they wish to create. Only the most accomplished potters can freehand a design directly to the pot. Most potters will first put ideas to paper where the consequences of making a mistake are relatively insignificant. But a flat sheet of paper is not a three dimensional pot. The art on the completed pot must be symetrical, artful and beautiful. No easy task regardless of how it is done.
Dried Yucca leaves are chewed down to a certian number of fibers (usually between 1-12) and used as paint brushes. The paint is a usually made from wild spinach, or guaco boiled down to a thick residue. This can keep for years and will turn to paint when mixed with water. However, proportions must be exact or the paint could flake off when firing or fail to turn dense black.
Judgement day: Rose Naranjo calls firing "Judgement day", after all the work and hours that have gone into every pot, only one step remains between this stage and a finished pot. Potters will build a outdoor kiln out of old bed springs, and rocks, using wood and manure as fuel. This is a very vulnerable stage for both potters and the pots. A random gust of wind can lower the tempature inside the kiln enough to make the pots explode. Some artists make an offering before firing pots. Others, use secret firing locations that have been blessed by a medicine man. No matter how many precationary measures are taken, over time not every pot will survive. Every potter has broken pots in their home. These pots recieve just as much love and care as a perfect pot.
Shortcutting Traditions: Traditional Potters believe that if you use commercial clay, you cannot
tell a story. However some potters are using commercial clay, or even ceramic blanks they simply
paint. This is called greenware, cast, or slip cast. Pots like this have little to no collector
value. We do NOT sell greenware
Collectable Pueblo Pottery is meant for display only. Never clean, wash or use this pottery.