Explore the History of Pueblo Pottery

The Pueblo Indians originated in the southwestern United States. Despite a history of hardships, these Native Americans stubbornly clung to their unique culture, even when settlers encroached on their land and threatened to overtake it.

History of the Native Americans

The Native Americans from the southwest regions of the United States are known for their beautiful and intricate designs. These Indians were both experts in the sculpting of Pueblo pottery and skilled artisans in the areas of painting and decorating the pieces. Pueblo pottery from approximately 1600 to 1800 was notably more appealing than pieces made after this period.

Why the Pieces are Rare

Spanish settlers who arrived in this region of the United States used Pueblo pottery in their daily lives for everyday chores. The Spaniards apparently did not value these Native American pieces, so they made no efforts to preserve or collect them. This led to fewer items being preserved and collected.

Beliefs of the Pueblo Indians included making ceremonial pottery for burial purposes, in accordance with their ancient customs. Spaniards encroaching on the Native Americans' land exerted their influence over the native people and prevented them from carrying out their ceremonial customs of burial with pottery. Consequently, the Indians curtailed their ceremonial pottery making and began making just utilitarian pieces that were not sculpted or decorated with the same flair. While some Indians may have continued making traditional pieces, they were forced to carry out their creation in secrecy to avoid conflict.

The Process

Making Pueblo pottery involves several laborious steps. Collecting dry clay is the first step, and the clay must be spread out in the sun for several days to allow for complete drying. Once dry, it's necessary to soak it for several days. After soaking, the clay is rinsed and then pressed through a sieve to eliminate all impurities. Finally, the clay mixture must sit for several days before use.

A potter begins forming the base of the vessel and slowly forms the sides of the piece while shaping it gently. The potter allows the vessel to cure for two to three days and then refines the walls of the piece to finish them. After allowing the piece to dry for up to four days, the potter begins sanding it and then brushes on a thin layer of liquefied clay to give it a uniform texture and color. The potter then decorates the vessel with paint and carves it carefully with tools. Firing in a kiln is the last step in the process. This step gives the piece a finished appearance.

Using and Caring for Pueblo Pottery

The surfaces of these pieces scratch and mar easily. Avoid storing the items on a shelf where they will rub against the wall or against other items. Avoid significant temperature shifts, as this can cause cracking. When washing the items, warm water and a soft cloth will usually be sufficient. If necessary, use mild detergent for washing. Handle with the utmost care when touching, using, and washing these pieces.

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