Born of Fire: Contemporary Traditions in Native American Pottery
An Online Exhibition Presented By The Dancing Rabbit Gallery Navajo Flute Music Courtesy of Andrew Thomas
All Rights Reserved
in Native American Pottery
Garrett Maho, HopiElizabeth and Marcellus Medina
Zia Pueblo Erik Fender
Than Tsideh (Sunbird)
San Ildefonso Pueblo. The Born Of Fire Pottery Exhibition examines the evolution of traditional Native American pottery forms and designs into contemporary forms and designs.
This exhibition focuses on the innovative designs
found in lids, slips and glazes, fanciful figures,
and adornments on Southwest Native American
pottery. But first a little background into the art
of pottery making…Venus of Dolní Věstonice figurine. Discovered 1925 in Brno, Czech Republic
Dates from 29,000 BCE – 25,000 BCEAmerican Ceramic Society Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions.
It originated 30,000 to 40,000 years ago.
As early as 29,000 B.C. animal and human figurines were made from clay and fired in pits dug into the ground.
These figurines were primarily used for religious and ceremonial purposes.
Archaeology Today, March/April 2017 This jug dates from before the Bronze Age circa 18,000 B.C.
and was found in Israel. 1155 CE1125-1275 CE200 BCE - 200 CE1250-1400 CEAbout 10,000 B.C. people began using pottery for utilitarian and functional purposes.
Native American pottery has been made as far back as 300 B.C.
Ohkay Owingeh PuebloPottery is one of the major identifying characteristics of the Southwestern Native Americans.
Many people still utilize traditional Native American pottery for cooking and storage.
Clay is dug, often in dry lumps, out of traditional clay sources known to each village. Often times the locations of clay deposits are kept secret within the pueblo or family.
The clay is cleaned, then soaked and ground into a fine powder. Some times a tempering agent, such as ground lava or ancient pottery sherds, is added to make the clay hold together.
Making pottery is a very labor intensive process…
Most of the Pueblo Native Americans today use the same basic technology of pottery-making they have for centuries.
Laguna Pueblo Potter Chunks of clay must be ground into very small pieces.
Many Native Americans still use the mano y matete to do this.
The raw clay is mixed together by hand
until it is a pliable consistency. The clay has been
cleaned and soaked…
It is now ready for coiling. Pottery pieces often begin on a puki --
a shallow bowl to mold
the bottom of the pottery. Traditionally made pots are coil-built, with occasional use of slab-and-pinch techniques. The coiled surfaces are finely finished by scraping, wiping, and polishing usually with a stone or gourd.
Native American art designs are added in slips, natural paints, and manipulations of the clay itself. A well-chewed Yucca stem
becomes a paintbrush.
Some brushes have
only 1-3 bristles to
create super fine lines! Artists may choose to carve a design into their pottery. Polishing
The pot is scraped smooth using a piece of gourd or a tin can lid. A bit of water is used to complete the smoothing.
A small rock called a polishing stone
is kept wet and moved quickly over
the surface of the pot creating a
The slip of fine, watery clay is then applied with a rag and then polished again with the wet stone. The slip and polish is repeated over and over until the slip has come to the right depth.
The pot is then set aside to dry.
Many Native American pottery makers prefer the traditional method of manure or wood firing in outdoor mounds or pits constructed around the pots.
Others have begun using metal boxes and grates to better control placement of pottery and temperature. A blending of cultures, and sharing of knowledge, leads us into more contemporary and familiar pottery techniques.
Many contemporary artists are pushing the boundaries and adding innovative touches, designs, colors, or appliques to their pottery.
They are creating contemporary traditions.
Always Evolving The Difficult Art of Lids Jars and pots with lids are an elevated art form due to the difficulty of creating the perfect lid for a piece of pottery.
Because they are flat, lids tend to warp and shrink as they dry. It is only a very masterful potter who can achieve this level of degree of innovative difficulty.
Than Tsideh (Sunbird)
San Ildefonso Pueblo This three sectioned jar is capped with a perfectly seated lid which elevates this jar to a higher level of innovation. Lids are extremely difficult to achieve. It requires masterful carving to create a lid which not only enhances a piece of pottery, but one that fits securely on the piece. Russell Sanchez
San Ildefonso Pueblo The lid, topped with a scalloped shell, fits expertly on the outside of the top of the pot. The matte finish of the shell, as the knob, juxtaposes with the highly polished fitted portion of the lid.
This is an example of an innovative method of texture and color. Jason Ebelacker
Santa Clara Pueblo The lid on this tall cylinder has been so carefully crafted as to sit entirely inside the jar. This innovative technique is quite difficult to master, for the lid must fit precisely while being absolutely flat. Elizabeth and Marcellus Medina, Zia Pueblo
This lid is footed, so it fits snugly into the neck of the jar. The knob is a hunting bear on four tall feet, and is painted with the same designs as the jar.
Everything is highly decorated: the dark red clay slip of the lid itself, with black, cross-hatched corn, and birds and flower forms. Juanita Fragua
Jemez Pueblo Juanita Fragua’s pottery combines classic shapes with a highly polished surface allowing the form, color, and polish to all create simple, but elegant vessels. The lid is stepped reminiscent of a mountain – such as the beautiful Jemez Mountains by the pueblo. Erik Fender
Than Tsideh (Sunbird)
San Ildefonso Pueblo This jar is highly polished black ware with the flat black matte slip on the lower body consisting of designs of feathers and other geometric symbols.
The rim of the vessel is accented with hand placed turquoise cabochons set in straight sterling silver bezels. Each of the cabochons has a small sienna accent behind it. This sienna color is achieved by burning the finished area. Innovation is the word with this incredible jar. The sterling silver lid is quite unique, but it is only the beginning. This jar incorporates turquoise cabochons and sienna colored accents. Jeff Roller
Santa Clara Pueblo These figural lids require a precise hand in shaping and carving. The ram on this lid is of a soft matte finish, and like the lid, is not polished which adds to the contrast and emphasizes the innovation of the piece. Animal sculptures atop of pottery are quite unusual and give the pottery a unique art form.
Special Slips and Glazes Slips and glazes are applied to a piece of pottery during polishing to enhance the color, the shine and the designs.
Innovative potters are pushing the edge with new materials and new colors in unusual ways. Martha Appleleaf
San lIdefonso Pueblo The green clay slip was responsible for the unexpected green color of this piece of San Ildefonso pottery.
The green slip was to have fired buff; instead, it stayed green.
That unintended green color is where innovation can happen in traditional pottery. Alan E. Lasiloo
Zuni Pueblo The interesting result from some grease intruding into the firing process takes on a misty cloud like pattern of subtle warm, pale golds and soft greys as it combines with the white clay for a serene and sophisticated look that is truly unique. Dominique Toya
Jemez Pueblo All that glitters is not gold…
In this elegant seed jar languid vertical bands of glittering micaceous swirl gently over the bowl like the lazy Jemez River.
The red slip is stone-polished to perfection as a satiny gleam. The carved band shows the underlying beige clay,
painted with a
slip of glittering
for a beautiful
contrast Maxine and Dominique Toya
Jemez PuebloThe upper and lower body sections are covered with a beautiful micaceous slip giving a shimmery effect to the pottery.
The body expertly shaped and smoothed has a matte finish. The mid section has four panels of rainbows and birds with corn. A new and unusual combination of glittering micaceous slip and matte finish make this jar seem to glow when it catches the light. Unique Designs Collected by hand, ground and steeped, vegetal and mineral paints create the most interesting and unique patterns on Native American pottery. Sharon Stevens
Acoma Pueblo A very small group of artists, including Stacy Carr and Sharon Stevens, continue to create fine pieces in the traditional manner painted with very intricate geometric patterns requiring a very steady hand and a delicate touch. Stacey Carr
Laguna PuebloToday’s Acoma and Laguna pottery is more geometric in design. Although originally the pottery of these two pueblos was very similar with rainbow bands and birds, the designs are evolving.
CherokeeWhat is new and innovative is the type of sgraffito designs used by Karin Walkingstick. These techniques echo her Cherokee culture. One-of-a-kind sgraffito designs enhance modern pottery. The art of sgraffito (in Italian "to scratch") is a pottery decorating technique that has been used for generations. Glendora Fragua
Jemez PuebloInnovation comes with hand carving and metallic paints.
The shape is classic- narrow at the bottom and gradually widening to the top with a softly rolled lip. The finishing is new and different.
Copper, silver and gold metallic paints create a wonderful dimension. Chase Kahwinhut Earles
CaddoChase fires his pottery traditionally, exactly like his ancestors thousands of years ago in a simple bonfire. Typically if the pottery is smothered by wood and pine needles (the Caddo are a piney woods tribe at the edge of the plains), then the pottery will turn black. If the pottery is pulled out at exactly the right time, it will be a coveted chocolate brown. Caddo potter, Chase Kawinhut Earles designs are painstakingly engraved into the very hardened pottery after it is fired. It is a high-pressure hand engraving into the stone hard clay that exposes the lighter clay body underneath which gives it the contrast. Adornments and Appliques Innovative motifs include a variety of appliquéd and incised plant and animal designs, as well as turquoise and handmade gold beads—usually in high relief and occasionally in full round. Caroline Carpio
Isleta PuebloThe undulating insets of turquoise and handmade gold beads add a unique applique to the contrast of high polish and matte finish on this bowl. Dora Tse-Pé
San Ildefonso PuebloThis intricately carved Avanyu, a water serpent, has a beautiful inlaid cabochon of turquoise that serves as the serpent’s eye. Russell Sanchez
San Ildefonso Pueblo Two sienna spots offer a contrast to the black pottery. A turquoise cabochon and a thin line of shell heishi are reminiscent of a dance rattle.
Off to the side is an additional sienna spot which accents a beautiful turquoise cabochon. This jar combines texture, color and stone enhancements. The jar’s primary design is an arced series of figures carved onto a textured band coated with a mica slip which provides sparkle. The inset figures are highly polished as is the body of the jar.
Jemez PuebloThe addition of the stacked representational pueblo adds another 3D dimension to the sculpture.
This juxtaposition of a soft matte finish with a highly polished shine increases the dramatic effect.
At Jemez, the town crier offers prayers for abundance and good crops from the last frost in spring until the first frost of winter. Unique Figures –
Adding a New Perspective Instead of just painting visuals on a piece of pottery, the innovators of today are turning the pottery into the figure and adding additional visuals. These are a modern interpretation of ancient symbols. Betty Manygoats
NavajoThe additions of appliques animals, insects and other designs are a recent innovation to Navajo pottery. The pitcher features corn, while the bowl features horned toads. For most people, an owl is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
It may also be a symbol of a new beginning or the start a new chapter in your life. Kimo DeCora
Isleta PuebloNative Americans create effigies to represent human or animal forms. They are often linked to a spiritual meaning. The sgraffito flowers are inset with turquoise stones in the center of each flower rosette. Julie Gutierrez, Santa Clara Pueblo Seed jars were once an important place to store seeds through the winter and have been made by pueblo potters for centuries. This one offers a new perspective on a traditional seed bowl. Anderson Peynetsa
Zuni PuebloTraditional and contemporary Zuni designs of rain and lightning, along with the walking deer with the heartline symbol, take on an entirely new aspect when placed on the stylized figure of a duck. Maxine Toya
Jemez PuebloIn pueblo culture, owls are seen as protectors.
The six rows of feathers on the front are carved into the clay providing a two dimensional effect. While they are visually striking, it is the very intricately painted designs on the back and head which are exceptional. These intricate designs include symbols of rain, clouds, and feathers. Anderson Peynetsa
Zuni Pueblo The Zuni owl also takes on an entirely new perspective with the round body and open mouth. Priscilla Peynetsa
Zuni PuebloPeering-lizard pots in which the head of a lizard extends over the rim of the seed pot offer unique guardians of the contents. Innovation is the Path to the Future
Traditional methods are the steady heartbeat of Native American pottery.
Innovation is the creative soul of the potters, breaking free with new artistic expressions. Native American potters carefully balance the demands of tradition with the creative necessity of innovation.
The Native American artists shown in this Exhibition are among the vanguard leading the way down that path.
Innovation is the path to the future.
Please feel free to let your friends know about this exhibition, which will run as a Featured
Exhibition on The Dancing Rabbit Gallery website, www.thedancingrabbitgallery.com,
through the end of January, 2022.