Native American Pottery: A Piece of Culture and History in Your Hands

Native American Pottery: A Piece of Culture and History in Your Hands

potteryIndian pottery began as useful utensils and has evolved into beautiful Indian art. Indian pottery from an Indian pueblo of the Southwest can be rough with dark earth tones or highly polished pieces with hand painted designs.

The variety of Indian pottery is exciting for collectors because there seems to be no end to Indian pottery styles. Native American pottery has always been a part of Native life. In recent years the resurgence of collecting Indian pottery has been fueled by the revival of ancient traditional Indian Mata Ortiz pottery in the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua. 

The wide appeal of this Indian pottery has helped the Native American potter in other southwestern areas as well. Our personal experience has been with Indian pottery of the Tarahumara Indians in very primitive conditions. 

Tarahumara pottery is utilitarian in design. The Tarahumara make Indian pottery of rough earthen clay in white, orange and brown. Rather than being polished and smooth Indian pottery, Tarahumara Indian pottery is rustic and still made as it has been for generations. We have come upon antique Indian pottery pieces, pitchers, bowls and clay pots. It is a thrill to hold an old piece of Indian pottery and to imagine the lives and times it has experienced.

Among the Tarahumara Indians, Indian pottery makers make pottery with ancient pottery traditions that they in turn give to their children. Unlike the Mata Ortiz phenomenon, it is Indian women potters who make Tarahumara Indian pottery. Tarahumara Indian pottery pots or ollas are used for a variety of cooking purposes. An Indian pottery olla may be used to cook beans, boil corn with lime for making tortillas, roasting corn for pinole, and in the larger pots, for making the Tarahumara traditional corn beer, tesguino. 

Indian pottery is made in different sizes and shapes which define the use of a particular pot. Tarahumara Indian pottery is simple and functional. The first step in any Native American Indian pottery making is to gather clay. This may require a trip of several miles. Once the clay has been obtained, it is ground on a stone metate because Indian pottery requires a fine clay powder. Water is then added to this mixture and it is kneaded until the right consistency is achieved. When it is time to begin making pottery, the base is formed first and the sides are built up using coils of clay. 

The olla is a traditional basket or vase shape and pottery bowls are usually low rise with a simple rim. Native American Indian pottery including Tarahumara Indian pottery is formed by hand, by the coil and pinch method, with out the use of wheels. A piece of gourd, stone or wood may be used to smooth Tarahumara Indian pottery and scrape away roughness. After drying in the sun, a hot fire is made in a shallow pit and the pot is fired. 

When Tarahumara Indian pottery is decorated, the paint is obtained from red ochre, iron oxide or hematite and applied with the fingers or by means of a feather or cloth-wrapped stick. Indian pottery is definitely a rich tradition among all Native Americans and collectors are captivated by Indian pottery works. Watching Indian pottery being made and then holding it in our hands seems to span generations and connect us with Indian potters from years gone by. Indian pottery is a piece of culture and history. 

See our entire collection of Native American Pottery here.

Sep 30th 2016 Mission Del Rey

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