Native American Pottery
Past, Present and ????

Want to add a very special decorative piece that is eye-catching yet soothing at the same time?
Want a piece of living history under your roof?
Want to collect a unique handcrafted item that will appreciate in value and collected the world over?

Get some background before you make a decision about what to buy, collect or give as a gift!

Well ... Native American Pottery ... Where to begin ...???

Every Native American tribe has or did have a tradition of pottery...their own distinctive shapes, designs, symbols, sizes and useages. The styles that come to mind are out of the Southwest. But, other tribes in other locations are catching up!

Native American Pottery of the Pueblos


Info snippet: Did you know... prior to European contact, there was no evidence of a Native American potter's wheel?!?!

And another -

Did you know... prior to European contact all known Native American pottery was made entirely by hand using techniques such as press molding, coiling and modeling?!?!

And, of course, all pottery techniques are not created equal. A lot depended on the quality and types of clay that were found in an area. For instance, for coiled pottery in the Eastern United States, there was more time spent in preparing the clay than in the West. Women spent hours mixing clay with crushed seashells, sand, plant materials, etc. until they had the right consistency, then they worked it to remove bubbles. A flat circle served as the base and coiled clay built up the item, all the while smoothing the coils to the point that they could not to be seen and the walls were of a uniform thickness. Enclosed kilns were not used - the pot and other unfired pottery were put in a shallow earthen pit, covered with wood and brush and set on fire. With the temperatures around 1400 degrees, the pottery would harden. After firing, the pot would be rubbed with special smoothing stones to finish off the surface, making it smooth and polished.

Info snippet: Did you know... Michael Simpson, author of Making Native American Pottery, comments that when examined, some of the polishing stones of one Catawba potter handed down to her by her grandmothers were found to be mastodon teeth?!?!

The earliest ceramics in the Eastern United States were made along the Georgia coast about 2500 BC. Native American pottery making signaled a cultural change from hunter-gatherer to settled community.

Info snippet: Did you know... at the same time as the Georgia ceramics, the dog was domesticated and agriculture and a more sedentary life style became common?!?!

With European contact, most Eastern Native American communities stopped making pottery and adopted brass kettles and other containers. Native American artisans in this region have worked to bring back their pottery traditions.

On the West Coast, Native American pottery was produced for ceremonial and functional purposes. However, artists were far more accomplished in other traditional crafts such as basket weaving and wood carving.

Of all the Native American tribal groups, the traditions of the southwest are the most famous - they are known for their colorful designs and figures, distinctive forms (i.e. the Wedding Vase) and unique techniques such as the "black on black" firing and horsehair.

The Wedding Vase is a really unique piece. It's been part of Pueblo life for centuries. The pot has two separate spouts with a handle or bridge joining them at the top. The bridge unites two separate lives together as one.

The future husband's parents provide the wedding vase during a ceremony two weeks before the marriage. On the wedding day, the vase is filled with Indian holy water and given to the bride who drinks from one side while the groom drinks from the other side.

Info snippet: Did you know... The Southwest's tradition is strongest because they are the only group not have been forcibly removed from ancestoral grounds?!?!

People of the Pueblo culture collected clays from secret sources, smoothed the pots to creat burnished backgrounds for designs and then painted the pottery with pigments from boiled plants or metallic rock dusts. The Navajo, a member of the Pueblo culture, mixed several clays together and after firing, they applied a coating of hot pitch from Pinon trees to the outside and inside.

Over time, each tribal group fashioned distinctive shapes and styles. Besides embellishments, symbols were added that had a deep connection with rituals, ceremonies and traditions. Among the best known pots found are from the Anasazi ruins and pottery produced by the Pueblo peoples, both located in the southwest.

Dating Southwestern Pottery:

  • Basketmaker II...50 BC - AD 450
  • Basketmaker III...AD 450 - 700
  • Pueblo I ... 700 - 900
  • Pueblo II ... 900 - 1100
  • Pueblo III ... 1100 - 1300
  • Pueblo IV ... 1300 - 1600
  • Historic ... 1600 - 1880
  • Modern ... 1880 - 1950
  • Contemporary ... 1950 - present

Not much has changed in the art of Pueblo pottery over the last two millennia. A contemporary piece contains knowledge leaping back generations.

Info snippet: Did you know... Rumor has it that horsehair pottery was discovered by a pueblo potter whose long hair blew against a piece of pottery she was removing from a hot kiln, stuck and carbonized. The result was so interesting that she duplicated it with hair from a horse's tail?!?!

As far as contemporary pottery, the works from Acoma, Hopi, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Jemez and Zia are the main sources. The Acoma pottery has fine lines and patterns, and thin walls due to the excellent tempering material of volcanic ash and minerals. The form of the Hopi's pottery is unique, as are the symbolic designs and earth-tones. Santa Clara and San Ildefonso are known for the black and red colors and high polish.

Traditional and contemporary Native American pottery of the Pueblo people continues to appreciate, standards of quality are higher and it is collected throughout the world as an art form and a medium of spirituality.

There are other types/genres of pottery, ranging from storytellers to Rain Gods. There are also numerous varieties, shapes, forms, designs, colors, and tribes.

Native American Arts has a good article on cleaning, repairing and restoring Native American pottery.

Visit Native American Pottery of the Pueblos

If Native American pottery is an art form you're interest in for collecting or either buying for yourself or giving as an Indian gift, become familiar with it. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have for sale, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, anything being marketed as genuine Native American art must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Let me know if you are interested in contacting a Native American potter. I can help with historic pottery as well as an appraisal service too! Use my contact form and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Return from Native American Pottery to Home Page