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.
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 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.
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.
Not much has changed in the art of Pueblo pottery over the last two millennia. A contemporary piece contains knowledge leaping back generations.
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.
There are other types/genres of pottery, ranging from storytellers to Rain Gods. There are also numerous varieties, shapes, forms, designs, colors, and tribes.
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.