NATIVE AMERICAN POTTERY GUIDE

The most celebrated and recognized art form of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, Pueblo pottery is known around the world for its remarkable beauty and craftsmanship. It has been made in much the same way for over a thousand years, with every step of creation completed by hand. Pueblo potters do not use a wheel but construct pots using the traditional horizontal coil method or freely forming the shape. After the pot is formed, the artist polishes the piece with a natural polishing stone, such as a river stone, then paints it with a vegetal, mineral or commercial slip. Finally, the pot is fired in an outdoor fire or kiln using manure or wood as fuel. Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Jemez and Acoma Pueblos have distinctive pottery styles that are especially prized by collectors, but there are accomplished potters working in all Pueblos. Today, Pueblo pottery is an exciting and dynamic form, with many artists pairing traditional techniques with innovative and stylized designs. Those potters who continue to create pots using traditional methods possess an extraordinary level of skill, and their pots are highly valuable works of fine art that will be enjoyed for generations to come. 

 

Acoma Pottery

Acoma Pueblo has a tradition of pottery that stretches back centuries. Today, it is most known for a matte polychrome style of pottery featuring orange and black designs on a white background or black fine-line designs on a white background. This traditional style is widely sought after by Native art collectors and, in addition to its distinctive color scheme, can be identified by fluted rims, very thin walls and complex geometric designs. Acoma artists are known for the fineness of their pottery painting, often incorporating hatching patterns that symbolize rain as well as rain parrot designs, an animal that in Acoma legend led people to water. Lightning, clouds, rainbow bands and other elements of weather and nature are also popular designs. One of the most iconic and valuable pottery styles, Acoma pots represent a storied history of beauty and craftsmanship. Explore More From Acoma Pueblo >

Avanyu Design

The avanyu is a water serpent that the Pueblo people consider to be the guardian of water. Depicted as a horned serpent with lightning emerging from its mouth, the avanyu is believed to live in the Rio Grande and its tributaries. The creature’s body typically looks like a rippling stream, and the lightning coming from its mouth signifies thunderstorms that bring rain. A common design in the pottery of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos, the avanyu represents the importance of water for the Pueblo people. See Artwork with the Avanyu Design >

Cochiti Pottery

Cochiti Pueblo has been making sophisticated clay pottery and figurines for hundreds of years. It may be best known as the birthplace of the Storyteller figure, one of the most widely collected and recognized Pueblo art forms. Storytellers were developed by Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero in 1963 and traditionally depict a male elder telling stories to children, all with open mouths. Cordero was inspired by the traditional “Singing Mother” figure often represented in clay, and by her grandfather, a legendary Cochiti storyteller. In Pueblo culture, stories are passed down orally from generation to generation, and the Storyteller figure represents the importance of the storytelling tradition. Today, Cochiti potters make traditional Storytellers as well as more contemporary figurines that depict non-traditional subjects such as animals and are often whimsical or humorous in style. Cochiti’s traditional pottery style is a black, red and buff polychrome with the base and interior of the vessel painted red. Traditional designs include birds, animals, rain, clouds, flowers, lightning and other motifs drawn from nature. Today, pottery-making remains an extremely strong and vibrant art form in Cochiti Pueblo, with many artists producing work of incredibly high quality in both traditional and contemporary styles. Explore More From Cochiti Pueblo >

Hopi Pottery

Hopi pottery is known around the world for its fineness and elegantly painted, fluid designs. Gold-hued pots made from clays found at First Mesa are perhaps best known, though Hopi potters also create beautiful red and white vessels. The modern era of Hopi pottery begins with Nampeyo, a potter who was inspired by ancient vessels uncovered at the ancestral site of Sikyatki in the late 19th century. Her work led to a revival of Sikyatki yellowware, which features brown or red designs painted on a buff-colored background. This color comes from a gray clay that turns light yellow-gold when fired. Hopi redware features black designs on a rich red-brown background, a color that comes from a yellow clay that turns red when fired. Hopi potters use a yucca leaf brush to paint both traditional and contemporary designs onto the surface of their pots, then fire in open pits using sheep manure or cedar as fuel. Today, Hopi artists produce some of the most exquisite handcrafted pots available, and their vessels are among the most collected art forms in Southwestern Native art. Explore More From Hopi >

Isleta Pottery

Today there are very few artists creating traditional pottery in Isleta Pueblo, and Isleta pottery is one of the most difficult to find of all types of Pueblo pottery. Very little is known about the history of pottery production in Isleta Pueblo. Historically, Isleta artisans made heavy redware similar to Ohkay Owingeh but eventually moved to polychrome, a style introduced by Laguna Pueblo potters who came to Isleta in the late 19th century. Traditional pottery-making nearly died out in the 20th century but was revitalized in the 1980s by Stella Teller and her family, known for their exquisite handmade figurines and storytellers. Caroline Carpio is another prominent potter who has won acclaim for her elegant contemporary fine art pottery. With so few Isleta artists creating pottery using natural clay and traditional methods, any piece is a rare and valuable work of art. Explore More From Isleta Pueblo >

Jemez Pottery

Jemez Pueblo potters are known for their artistry and innovation, with many artists producing premium handcrafted vessels in traditional and contemporary styles. Before the arrival of the Spanish, Jemez was known for its traditional black-on-white ware, but production of this type of pottery died out in the early 18th century. Most pottery used in Jemez Pueblo after that came from nearby Zia Pueblo. There was a revival of Jemez pottery-making in the early 20th century inspired and influenced by Zia pottery designs, but it was not until the 1960s and 70s that a significant number of Jemez potters began producing high-quality work using ancient methods. These potters developed a distinctive style of black-on-red and black or red-on-tan, while dramatically improving their technical mastery of the form. Since the 1980s the popularity of handcrafted Jemez pottery has soared. Today, many artists create pots in the signature Jemez red style, but there are potters working in a range of colors and forms. Jemez potters make Storytellers, wedding vases, seed pots, sgraffito-etched vessels and more, and are widely recognized for their craftsmanship, creativity and experimentation in design and technique. Explore More From Jemez Pueblo >

Laguna Pottery

Today there is very little pottery produced in Laguna Pueblo with no more than a handful of artists creating pottery using the traditional methods passed down for generations. The traditional pottery of Laguna is very similar in color, design and style to that of neighboring Acoma Pueblo. Sometimes the designs painted on Laguna vessels are simpler and more bold, but it can be very hard to distinguish between the styles of the two Pueblos. In the 1970s, Laguna artists re-established the traditional craft of pottery-making with the help of a federally-funded program. These artists began producing polychrome pottery with red, yellow and orange geometric designs. Today a very small group of artist including Myron Sarracino continues to create fine traditional work, but pottery from Laguna Pueblo remains rare and valuable.  Explore Laguna Pueblo >

Nambé Pottery

Nambé Pueblo was historically known for making elegant pottery and valuable cookware, but today it is extremely difficult to find handcrafted pottery from Nambé. For hundreds of years, the Nambe people made cooking pots from micaceous clay as well as plain blackware for utilitarian purposes, but traditional pottery-making declined in the 20th century. When the Native arts market boomed in the 1970s, a handful of artists began producing micaceous clay and polychrome pottery again, as well as polished blackware influenced by Santo Clara styles. However, pottery production in Nambé Pueblo remains extremely limited, and any Nambé vessel created through.  Explore More From Nambe Pueblo >

Navajo Pottery

The Navajo are most known for their artistic traditions of weaving, basketry and jewelry, but they have also been making fine pottery for hundreds of years for ceremonial and utilitarian purposes. Early Navajo pottery from the 17th and 18th centuries resembled Pueblo pottery forms, though Navajo vessels often had thicker walls and an incised decorative band around the neck. Navajo potters developed their own distinctive style by applying a glaze of hot piñon pitch to the surface of their pots after firing, giving vessels their characteristic brown-red color and beautiful gloss. Traditional Navajo pots are smoothed and scraped with corncobs and fired in an open pit using juniper wood as fuel. They typically do not feature painted designs, a practice discouraged by elders to maintain cultural and religious privacy. The production of Navajo pottery decreased dramatically in the 19th century with the arrival of railroads in the Southwest. Tourists also preferred Pueblo to Navajo pottery, and Navajo artisans found greater success weaving rugs and making jewelry. A handful of potters in the Shonto and Cow Springs region of Arizona continued to make traditional pottery, and in the 1950s the form underwent a revival led by Navajo potter Rose Williams and her daughter Alice Cling. Their work truly elevated the form, bringing Navajo pottery to the attention of collectors around the world. Though much Navajo pottery still does not include painted designs, many artists now use appliqué, incised patterns or colored slips to add complexity and decorative elements to their work. Today, the beautiful burnished vases and pots created by Navajo potters are admired as fine art and add much to the vibrant Native American pottery traditions of the Southwest.  Explore More Navajo >

Ohkay Owingeh

The traditional style of Ohkay Owingeh pottery is a polished red and black pottery similar to Santa Clara. By the late 19th century, traditional pottery-making in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo had nearly died out. In the 1930s, a group of potters led by Regina Cata revived an historic style of pottery from the 15th century based on artifacts uncovered at a nearby ancestral site called Potsuwi’i. This revival style was called Potsuwi’i Incised Ware, and vessels in this style have a highly polished red slip base and rim and a central portion of unpolished tan clay that is carved with geometric designs, typically a pattern of fine parallel lines. This style is unique to Ohkay Owingeh and today is considered the Pueblo’s traditional pottery form.Today, many potters have developed variations on the Potsuwi’Ii style, by using new color palettes or carving sgraffito designs, such as the avanyu, feathers and scalloped patterns. Micaceous clay pottery similar to that of Taos and Picuris Pueblos has also been revived. Explore More From Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo >

Picuris Pottery

Taos and Picuris Pueblos produce a type of traditional pottery that is very distinct from other Pueblo pottery styles. Clay from Taos and Picuris has a very high mica content, which gives all of their pottery a very beautiful, almost metallic shimmer. Occasionally potters apply an additional micaceous clay slip before firing, or add knobs or a very simple design punched into the clay, but generally Taos and Picuris pots are unique for being unpainted, unpolished and with minimal decoration. These micaceous clay pots range in color from a lovely orange-peach to almost black. What also sets Taos and Picuris pots apart is that they are functional and can be used for cooking. The bean pot is one of their well known forms and is an excellent baking and stovetop cooking piece. Very little traditional pottery has been produced at Taos and Picuris Pueblos since 1950, but there are a few artists working to revive the tradition who create spectacular examples of traditional micaceous clay pottery. Explore More From Picuris Pueblo >

Pojoaque Pottery

Today it is extremely difficult to find handcrafted pottery from Pojoaque Pueblo as there are only three or four active potters. Micaceous clay wares were the traditional style created in the 17th and 18th centuries was but today no one is creating work in this style. The pottery created by Pojoaque is derived from other Pueblos, particularly Santa Clara polychrome and incised styles. Cordie Gomez, who creates micaceous clay pottery that evokes the style of Taos Pueblo, comes the closest to being a true Pojoaque potter. With so few Pojoaque artists creating pottery using natural clay and traditional methods, any piece is a rare and valuable work of art.  Explore More From Pojoaque Pottery >

Rain Parrot Design

The rain parrot is a popular design motif in Pueblo pottery, particularly that of Acoma Pueblo, representing the Pueblo people’s reverence for rain and water. Southwestern people were introduced to parrots by Spanish traders and captivated by their beautiful colors. According to Acoma legend, the birds led people to water, and Pueblo people see them as special creatures who can mediate with the spirit world. Rain parrots are generally represented as a triangular beak with swirling tail feathers, though stylized and contemporary versions are also common.  See artwork with the Rain Parrot Design >

San Ildefonso Pottery

San Ildefonso Pueblo is best known for its black-on-black style of pottery made famous by legendary potter Maria Martinez. Along with her husband Julian, Maria pioneered this style that combines matte and polished black surfaces around 1920, drawing upon pottery artifacts being excavated at the time from ancient Pueblo sites. They shared their techniques with the rest of San Ildefonso, which energized the economic and cultural life of this small Pueblo. Today, San Ildefonso black-on-black vessels are extremely valuable and one of the most recognized forms of Pueblo pottery in the world. In the 20th century, San Ildefonso potters became known for their originality, innovating new designs and shapes. Along with Santa Clara, they were among the first potters to carve designs into the clay rather than painting upon the surface, a huge shift in style that had a tremendous impact on the Pueblo pottery world. In addition to blackware, contemporary San Ildefonso artists also create beautiful redware and polychrome style pottery. Though San Ildefonso is a small Pueblo, their potters have had an enormous impact on the development of modern Pueblo pottery, and their work continues to be highly valued and collected today.  Explore More From San Ildefonso Pueblo >

Santa Ana Pottery

Santa Ana pottery is among the most difficult to find of all types of Pueblo pottery, and there are only a handful of active potters working today. Historically, Santa Ana did not have a strong pottery tradition like nearby Zia Pueblo, and people of Santa Ana Pueblo often traded crops and other goods for Zia wares. Artisans who did create pottery in Santa Ana often emulated Zia’s style. Pottery production had mostly died out by the 1920s and was not revived until the 1970s under the leadership of Eudora Montoya, the only remaining traditional potter at that time. Hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Montoya taught classes in traditional pottery-making, an effort continued by her student, Elveria Montoya. Santa Ana potters are known for creating sturdy vessels with red clay collected from the banks of the Jemez River. Traditionally, the base and interior are painted red, and the body is painted with a buff slip. Red or black designs are painted onto the body, usually bold geometric shapes. With so few Santa Ana artists creating pottery using natural clay and traditional methods, any piece is a rare and valuable work of art. Explore More From Santa Ana Pottery > 

Santa Clara Pottery

Santa Clara Pueblo, a Tewa-speaking Pueblo located along the Rio Grande River in northern New Mexico, has one of the most dynamic and innovative pottery-making communities in the world. Today, the Pueblo’s best known pottery style is polished blackware with precisely carved sgraffito designs. Blackware can be traced back to the 12th century and was revived in the early 20th century by potters from San Ildefonso Pueblo. Though their style is similar to San Ildefonso’s, Santa Clara potters set themselves apart by carving designs into the clay rather than painting them on the surface. This type of low relief carving, called sgraffito, was a major shift in style that had a lasting effect on modern Pueblo pottery. Blackware remains popular, but there are many Santa Clara artists who have developed their own signature styles. Known for their creativity, these potters experiment with non-traditional, asymmetrical vessel shapes and contemporary design motifs. No matter their style, Pueblo potters from Santa Clara have an unbelievable mastery of their craft, making their handmade pots among the most valuable in the world. Explore More From Santa Clara Pueblo >

Santo Domingo Pottery

Santo Domingo is most known for its beautiful heishi necklaces handcrafted from shell and gemstones but the Pueblo also has a long and distinguished tradition of beautiful handmade pottery. The pottery of Santo Domingo can appear more simple in form and design than the work of other Pueblos, with artists often specializing in larger forms like water jars, ollas and dough bowls. The traditional Santo Domingo style features brown, black or red designs on a buff background, often with a red base, though red-on-black and blackware pots are also made today. Santo Domingo vessels are most easily distinguished from pottery of other Pueblos by their large, blocky and often symmetrical designs. The Pueblo is one of the most conservative, and painting realistic animals, human figures or other sacred symbols on pottery is discouraged. Common designs include flowers, geometric motifs such as circles and scalloped patterns, and stylized birds and animals. Today there are a number of skilled Santo Domingo potters creating elegant traditional pots, carrying on the legacy of an ancient and beautiful craft.  Explore More From Santo Domingo Pueblo >

Storytellers & Figurines

Native American and Pueblo people of the Southwest have been making clay pottery figures since ancient times. Their creation was discouraged by Christian missionaries and the form was not widely practiced in the 16th-19th centuries. Figurative pottery was revived in the 20th century and clay figurines have since become one of the most popular and widely collected Native American art forms. Storytellers are a type of clay figure that is unique to the Southwest. They were developed by Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo in 1963 and traditionally depict a male elder telling stories to children, all with open mouths. Cordero was inspired by the traditional “Singing Mother” figure often represented in clay, and by her grandfather, a legendary Cochiti storyteller. In Pueblo culture, stories are passed down orally from generation to generation, and the Storyteller figure represents the importance of the storytelling tradition. Today, Native artists across the Southwest create Storytellers, sometimes depicting the elder and children as clowns, drummers, acrobats, cowboys or animals, and handcrafted figurative pottery continues to be one of the most exciting, colorful and successful pottery forms.  Shop Storytellers Now >  Shop Figurines Now >

Zia Pottery

Zia Pueblo has a centuries-old tradition of making fine pottery. Historically, pottery was a thriving industry for this water-poor Pueblo and they were able to sustain themselves by trading their fine ceramics with Jemez, Santa Ana and San Felipe Pueblos. Zia artisans traditionally made large jars and bowls for storage that were prized by neighboring Pueblos. Zia is the only Pueblo to use red clay tempered with crushed black basalt. The traditional Zia style features a slipped white or buff background with a red base and designs painted onto the central area in black, brown or red. The Pueblo’s signature design is the Zia bird, depicted with a single large eye and forked tail feathers. Zia potters also paint deer, flowers, arches, rainbow bands and other natural imagery onto their vessels. Today, pottery remains a vital art in Zia Pueblo with many artists still creating beautiful handcrafted pots with natural clay, carrying on a celebrated legacy of pottery-making.  Explore More From Zia Pueblo >

Zuni Pottery

Making pottery is a centuries-old art in Zuni. In the 19th century Zuni pottery-making thrived, and works from this classic period can be identified by their designs: the “deer-in-house” or heart line deer, which is a deer with a spirit line running through it, as well as rosettes and rain birds. Pots from this period often featured brown slip on the base, rim and interior. After the 1920s, traditional pottery-making declined as Zuni artists focused more on jewelry, which was far more popularity with tourists. Jewelry became a staple of the Zuni economy as the distinctive Zuni style of petit point cluster jewelry and channel inlay grew in popularity. Traditional pottery-making was revived in the 1970s by Hopi potter Daisy Hooee Nampeyo, granddaughter of famed potter Nampeyo, and Acoma pottery Jennie Laate. Today, more and more Zuni artists are making exceptional pottery from handmade natural clay, some with the traditional deer, rain bird and rosette designs. Many create pottery in more contemporary styles, incorporating stylized lizards, frogs, dragonflies, feathers and hatched lines that represent rain. Black-on-red and black or brown on a white background are popular colors, though contemporary Zuni potters are creating fine art pottery in a range of beautiful colors.  Explore More From Zuni Pueblo >