About Apache Pottery

Published on March 12, 2014 by Amy

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Apache Pottery
Apache Pottery

The Apache homeland in the American Southwest is the site of natural deposits of clay laced with mica, which give Apache pottery its beauty and durability. The craft of Apache pottery waned, in part, because the reservations where the Apache were forced to live did not contain the micaceous clay the potters relied on. The craft has made a comeback through the efforts of several skilled descendants who learned from elders.

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Apache pottery has been used in the rituals of daily life for hundreds of years. The Apache used their bowls and pots for cooking and food storage. Today the pottery also is considered an art form, but the native craftsmen who make the bowls and pots still use them in their kitchens, saying the food tastes better in them. Apache pottery is valued for heating evenly and for holding heat long after the cooking process stops, making them an ideal vessel for serving.


Apache pottery originally was created for utilitarian purposes. Medicine pots were used to brew herbal concoctions. Seed jars, with small mouths to prevent spillage, stored agricultural seeds. Bean pots cooked meals. There were also vessels to hold corn and carry water. Traditionally it was a woman’s craft, but after the pottery-making tradition began to disappear in the 1970s, men began to learn the tradition. One in particular, Felipe Ortega of New Mexico, has contributed to a revival, and his pottery has been featured at the Smithsonian.


The distinctive feature of Apache pottery is the micaceous clay from which it is crafted. The mica content gives the pottery its superior insulation, making it perfect for use directly over a fire or right on a stove. Apache pottery is a gold or bronze color, and some pieces may sport black marks, called fire clouds, from the firing process. Another feature is the coil-and-scrape technique used to make it, which produces a thin and smooth surface.


Of the six Apache bands that are related linguistically, the Jicarilla created the micaceous Apache pottery collectors know today. The Jicarilla band also is well known for its beadwork and baskets. They were hunter-gatherers who first encountered Spanish explorers in the mid-1500s. For three centuries, the Apaches faced displacement from their traditional lands and engaged in frequent warfare. They were forced onto a reservation in 1872 by a treaty between their chief, Cochise, and the U.S. government.


The Jicarilla Apache reservation is in northern New Mexico. Between 500 and 700 years ago, when the band came to the American Southwest from Canada, its territory encompassed about 50 million acres in what is today areas of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado. Geography divided the Apaches into two groups, the Llaneros and the Olleros. The former settled on the open plains. The latter lived in the mountains and foothills.

Source: ehow

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