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Pueblo Pottery

Guide to Pueblo Pottery Styles


Pueblo pottery is typically made from coiled clay, rather than thrown on a potter's wheel. After shaping their work by hand, Native American potters often paint it with slip (a thick, paintlike material made of clay and water) and they may polish or sand it with a stone before painting traditional designs on the surface.

Traditionally, the pots were fired in an outdoor pit over a wood fire. However, many modern potters use an electric kiln, which reaches a higher temperature and yields a stronger piece.

A piece of pueblo pottery can make a fine souvenir, but quality comes at a price. For a fine piece of pueblo pottery from a well-known potter, expect to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Pueblo Pottery Styles

Acoma: Acoma Pueblo pottery is characterized by brilliant-white clay and thin walls. Polychrome designs include rainbows, parrots, geometrics, and other historic and prehistoric motifs.

Cochiti: Typically done in red and black on cream, with widespread designs leaving large open areas. Popular works of Cochiti Pueblo pottery include animal figurines, particularly known for their owls. Cochiti potters are also known for the ceramic storyteller figurines, originally created by Helen Cordero.

Hopi: Hopi Pueblo pottery is made in the First Mesa Villages, especially Hano. Typical designs created with dark paint on beige or tan clay include eagles, parrots, roadrunners, kiva designs, villages, corn, water, rain and lightning. Some potters also etch and paint kachina figures on their work.

Jemez: Unlike other pueblo pottery, the work from Jemez includes a wide variety of styles and decorations. They often excel in polished and incised sgraffitto.

Laguna: Similar to Acoma Pueblo pottery, but slightly thicker, with bolder geometric patterns. They clay is tempered with sand rather than old pottery shards.

San Ildefonso: Home of famous pueblo pottery artist Maria Martinez, who originated the black-on-black, polished-on-matte, thin-walled style. The black color is created from red clay by smothering the flame in an outdoor firing.

Santa Clara: Also known for black-on-black work. Santa Clara pueblo pottery is thicker than that made at San Ildefonso, with deeply carved designs. They also make polished red pots.

Santo Domingo: The characteristic Santo Domingo pottery forms are large, thick-walled jars and bowls, painted mostly in black geometric designs on cream background.

Taos: Taos Pueblo pottery (and that from the neighboring Tewa-speaking communities of Isleta and Picuris) is easily recognized by the sparkling bits of the mineral mica embedded in the clay.

Zia: Zia Pueblo pottery is one of the least-changed of any of the Pueblo pottery styles. Rather than being polished, it is usually done with a softly-sanded, buff background, decorated with designs such as rain bird, plant and animal forms. Use of hand-ground basalt stone to temper they clay makes it very strong.

Zuni: Hand-painted in brownish-black and red over a white or buff background, Zuni Pueblo pottery designs include the rain bird, plant and animal forms, crosshatching, and the deer with red heartline, painted on bowls and jars. Owl figurines are common, and Zuni potters often add clay relief figures such as the water serpent and duck to the outsides of their vessels.

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