New Mexican Indian Pottery History

Published on June 29, 2011 by Amy

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Native American Pottery
American Indian pottery captures
the beauty of the spirit of the tribes

New Mexican Indian pottery is made predominantly by the Navajo, Hopi (sometimes distinguished as being among the pueblo peoples), and the remaining Pueblo Indians. The Pueblo pieces show the largest variety because the pieces differ from family to family (or pueblo to pueblo).

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Ancient Days

Evidence suggests that humans arrived in some fashion and settled in North America as far back as 2500 B.C. It’s unclear where these people emigrated from or whether they sprang up from native stock. Much of the early evidence of man is found in the form of pottery because fired pottery is hardy enough to last for centuries. Pottery was developed out of need–the need for storage, the need for cooking vessels and the need for vessels transport water.

Prehistory of Pots

Pot shards indicate that most early pots were made for practical purposes and largely were unadorned or merely adorned with the coil, pinch and press marks of their making. Some early pots bear the textured look of baskets, which has led some experts to believe that early pots were sometimes built within baskets and when fired retained the textured patterns. Later pots were decorated with images of animals, plants, people and gods.

Pueblo Pottery

The Pueblo Indians are considered to be the descendants of the Anasazi, and their roots in pottery goes back to their Anasazi beginnings. Traditionally women were the makers of pottery. The Anasazi began to build pueblos and settle down in 700 A.D., when they developed black on white pottery. In 1880, with the arrival of trains, safe transportation for the handmade pottery enabled the Pueblo Indians to turn it into a trade. In the 1920s, individual pottery makers were encouraged to start signing their work. Today, the pueblos of the Zuni, Acoma, Zia, Jemez, St. Clara are all represented among the works. Each pueblo has its own styles, forms and decorative ideas.

Hopi Pottery

Hopi pottery shares much of its history with the other Pueblo Indian pottery. The Hopi peoples are situated primarily on three mesas. Around 1800, Hopi pottery enjoyed a revival because of a rise in interest from outsiders. The backgrounds on most Hopi pottery is of a golden or yellow cast. Common decorative themes are based on nature, for example weather, animals and plants.

Navajo Pottery

Navajo pottery differs from other Pueblo Indian pottery because it is unpainted. Hand-crafted coils of clay are made into pots, hand-polished with stones or gourds, fired in an open fire and then covered with two layers of pinion pitch to gain its shiny brown color. But it is traditionally left unadorned with other colors. Most Navajo pieces were made for practical reasons and therefore when metal utensils became available, the art of pottery declined among the Navajo. As with the other New Mexican Indian groups, the art revived in the 1800s with the interest of outsiders.

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Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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