Notebook, 1993-

CERAMICS -- The Mimbres Art and Archaeology [Fewkes] -- Mimbres Painted Pottery [Brody]

Generations in Clay -- Pueblo Pottery: The Prehistoric Period -- Pueblo Pottery: The Protohistoric and Historic Periods

[Notes From: Generations In Clay, Pueblo Pottery of the American Southwest, by Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., and Fred Plog, Northland Publishing in Cooperation with the American Federation of Arts, 7th Printing, 1989.]

Generations in Clay


Economics, trade, the importance of social identity, and pride of heritage have sustained this artistic tradition--nearly two thousand years of pottery-making by Pueblo people in the American Southwest. [Background Introduction , pp. 1-3]


The Following are discussed in the text: Prehistoric - Protohistoric - Historic - Modern - Color - Technology of pottery-making -- Anonymous art -- Everyone knew the other's work [within the community] -- Functional / purpose -- Anthropomorphize their art - variation in form and embellishment in meaning and attribution

Study of Pueblo Pottery -- The technology of pottery -- "wares" -- "types" are distinguished on the basis of design styles.

Materials -- Obtaining clay -- Construction Process -- Finishing -- Painting -- Firing - Hopi are known to have used coal -- Smudging

Ceramic design - different perspectives -- Creative aspect -- Functional interpretations of design -- Art object belongs to a tradition -- Household craft - popular taste

Design can be viewed simultaneously at a number of different levels -- Elements -- Patterning -- Motifs -- Concept of symmetry -- "Style" -- "horizon" styles -- "ceramic" and "basketry" styles

Conditions - ritual observances -- Misc. Examples

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Archaeologists who have studied their pottery have divided and labeled it by four descriptive terms that mark chronological units of time:

Prehistoric [Prior to the arrival of Spanish colonists in 1540 . . . . .no written record of events in the Southwest... dependent on native oral traditions and on the knowledge gained by the scientific excavations of archaeologists for our understanding of Pueblo culture during this period of time]

Protohistoric [Beginning about 1300, the American Southwest saw dramatic changes in its demography. City-states such as those at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde were abandoned, and large populations moved to the Rio Grande and other consolidating areas on the Colorado Plateau. These and other changes occurred both before and after the arrival of Spanish colonists from the south in 1540 . . . . from 1300 until 1700 has been increasingly used to refine our understanding of Pueblo history . . . . Missionaries, government officials, soldiers, and merchant-traders . . . . Pueblo pottery during this protohistoric period was influenced by the Spanish in both form and design]

Historic (1700-1875--era of Spanish rule succeeded by that of Mexico and finally the United States. Railroad penetrated New Mexico in 1890--new tourist market for their wares--allowed easier access to scholars from other parts of this country and Europe.)

Modern [Since 1875--transition of pottery-making for native use to pottery-making for sale] . . . . temporal categories that probably have little meaning to most Puebloans, and yet they have been defined by events that have ultimately altered the course of Pueblo Indian culture, history, and art . . . .

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For all of the Pueblo Indians, color is the gift of supernatural beings. It has meaning with regard to direction, order of importance, sexual reference, and associations with various animate and inanimate beings as well as sacred deities. Hence, to appreciate the richness of the meaning of color and its use in Pueblo art, one must begin with the culture itself.

The technology of pottery-making is generally passed from older to younger women. For some Pueblo people, notably the northern Tewa, a woman's role is restricted to forming and firing pottery, while men take an active role in painting or otherwise decorating a vessel.

Perhaps because it was a woman's art, perhaps because it was an Indian art, or perhaps for other reasons, Pueblo pottery was largely an anonymous art. Except for the last fifty years or so of Pueblo history, we have little or no information regarding the makers of most of the vessels.

What to us is an anonymous art, was to Puebloans very much a known art. Within a given village, everyone knew the other's work--they had to, if only to be able to retrieve their own vessel from a group of food or beverage containers at a communal gathering . . . .

Functional . . . . Yet we know from the ethnographic literature that even utility pieces were more than that.... Many Pueblo pottersanthropomorphize their art: they believe that they do not just manufacture "pots"; they create living things. The Zuñi artist quoted in The Pueblo Potter is not painting just the rim or the walls of her vessel; she is embodying a person: "First I paint the stomach and then I paint the lips. I always use different designs on the lips and the stomach. You do not have to use the same number of designs on the lips as you use on the body."

[From the Introduction by Patrick T. Houlihan]

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The technology of pottery [pgs. 16-17]--how it was made--and its art style proved to be of equal but sometimes different value. Whatever the interpretive goal of a particular study, the investigator's basic task is sorting sherds and vessels into groups. When those groups are defined according to technological criteria, they are referred to as "wares." The term is flexible, and wares can be separated at different levels. In very simple terms, a distinction between plain and painted wares may suffice. Yet another researcher may separate plainwares into redwares, brownwares, and graywares, while separating painted wares into black-on-white wares, black-on-red wares, and polychromes (many-colored). Thus, ware names are usually a reference to surface color or a combination of surface and paint colors.

Within the category of wares, "types" are distinguished on the basis of design styles. Type names typically include a place or site name and a brief characterization of the design: Socorro Black-on-white, St. Johns Black-on-red, or Four Mile Polychrome, for example . . . .

Both Types and wares are defined on the basis of characteristics or attributes of vessels and sherds.

The transformation of clay into a vessel involves the alteration of materials into a new form. Thus, in the initial instances, production of ceramics was a true invention. Where it occurred, when, under what conditions, and whether or not it happened independently in the New World are questions . . . .

A sequence of decisions is involved in the selection of raw materials and in pottery production itself . . . . The reader should not suppose that each potter proceeded independently or individually . . . . Instead, evidence indicates that the potters acquired a set of ideas about ceramic technology and art from education and experience received as a member of the society in which they lived. Because the training of the potter may have been either very restrictive or may have permitted considerable latitude, there were many differences in ceramic production. Additional variability derived from individuals' perceptions of the "ideal vessel" and their technical skill in executing all aspects of the manufacturing process.

Materials [pg. 17] The basic material of a pot is clay, and selecting clay is the initial step in pottery-making. Although clay is a very common material, it is difficult to define precisely because of its varied composition. In a general sense, clay is a fine-grained material composed primarily of crystalline fragments of minerals rich in aluminum and silica. This material becomes plastic when water is added. Clay is found in beds that are formed from the physical and chemical alteration of minerals usually found in igneous rocks such as granite. When the beds are still forming on the parent rock, they are referred to as residual or primary clays. Such deposits are quite different from one another, because of the distinctive chemical components of the parent rock. When such residual deposits are eroded and the sediments are transported elsewhere (usually by water), they are redeposited in a number of locations such as stream margins, outwash fans, lakes, estuaries, or the ocean depths. Such beds are classed as sedimentary or secondary clays. As movement of the materials takes place, there is a process of sorting and/or mixing with other minerals. Usually, the finer and best sorted clays are those deposited in the ocean at a distance from land. Some of the most extensive clay sources in the Southwest are uplifted beds that were once marine deposits. A major part of the Colorado Plateau is covered by such clay deposits. More than one kind of clay is available in almost every part of the Southwest, and only experience in the selection of materials yields a desired product . . . . the color of the raw clay itself does not enable the potter to predict that of the fired body. White ceramics, for example, are obtainable from white, neutral gray, or black clays, while buff ceramics can be made from cream, yellow, neutral, gray, black, gray-brown (rare), or brown (rare) clays. Techniques of firing and the chemical composition are also important to the final color. In spite of the many possible outcomes, sufficient consistency has been developed so that distinctive colors of a vessel can be associated in a general way with the various parts of the Southwest.

Buff and brown ceramics tend to be found in the deserts.

Red-brown and brown colors predominate in the mountains.

Gray to white or yellow colors are most common on the Colorado Plateau.

The color of the fired vessel is much more varied in the portion of the Pueblo area along the Rio Grande of northern New Mexico, where districts might be characterized by gray, white, buff, yellow, olive, or copper colors . . . .

Obtaining clay. [pgs. 17-19] Some individuals continue to work with materials from known beds, using past experience to predict the results . . . . Others, using a scientific approach, experiment with clays from widespread sources to determine shrinkage, weight loss, color changes, hardness, and other conditions.... In the past, most clays were probably obtained near the settlement, but potters sometimes went far afield for special clays . . . . The movement of households would mandate that the potter discovered new sources of clay. The Navajo shifted their area of activity more frequently than did the Pueblo Indians. If clay was gathered from unknown sources, it was moistened and kneaded to test for cohesiveness. Even if this test was satisfactory, the final product may have cracked, but through such experimentation suitable clays were eventually found. One other factor that may have played a role in decisions about clay was the seasonal movement of peoples between the main pueblo and farming sites. Most ceramic manufacture, however, tended to be seasonal and might not have occurred at the farming sites, since the tools and other supplies would have been required . . . . a few temporary replacements were made when the need arose. It is not unlikely that potters developed familiarity with clays over the area they normally traveled.

Once obtained, the clay must be reduced to a state in which it can be moistened throughout. First it is usually ground and sorted to remove foreign materials. Winnowing and regrinding of larger particles assures reduction to a small size. At this point, the clay can be mixed with water, or it may be set aside to dry for future use. The better the water penetrates throughout the particles, the more plastic and workable the material. A number of potters today who use particularly hard clay from some shale formations, soak the tabular pieces in water until a plastic body is created. A curing stage usually follows, in which the clay is kept wet for a period of weeks, or is allowed to dry out and then be ground again at a later date.

Most clays, but not all, require a mixture of non-plastic material, called temper, to reduce shrinkage during the drying and firing processes. Without it, stress develops, because the exterior dries faster than the interior, and cracking can result. Temper may be any substance that does not become plastic when water is added. Vegetable material, sands, crushed rocks, or crushed fragments of pottery are examples of temper used in the Pueblo area; in other parts of the world, crushed coral, crushed shell, bone, and feathers are used. In some instances, vessels used for different purposes at the same site will include different temper. Temper is also a very good indicator of the locality, and, in many cases, the time period in which a vessel was made. Temper, therefore, has become an analytical tool for the study of trade, localized ceramic production centers, and extent of local variation.

Construction Process. [pg. 19] The mixture of temper and clay is referred to as paste. After adding temper, the clay must be developed into a given shape. While elsewhere, vessel walls were formed using a paddle and anvil, the Pueblo uniformly shape and thin the walls of a vessel by the coil-and-scrape technique. Although minor variations exist, the technique involves the production of a flat disc of clay, which is then pressed onto a puki, or support device. This device may be a basket, the bottom of a broken vessel, or an inverted jar from which the bottom had been removed and the interior filled with a mixture of clay and ash, leaving a concave surface for the placement of a clay disc. The wall is then built up by pressing ropes of clay, called fillets, in a coiling manner upon the edge of the disc, and then onto the previous coil. As the wall extends upward, it is thinned by scraping with a shaped potsherd or a piece of gourd, wood, or stone. Today, tin can lids are often used Expansion or contraction of the diameter of the body can be controlled by the size of the coil; the diameter of the fillet remains uniform.

Using this construction process, the potter can develop a wide range of forms, beginning with a slightly concave plate, and continuing through shallow bowls, bowls with upright walls, bowls with incurved walls, and jar forms with or without necks. The majority of the shapes produced by Pueblo potters throughout time have been symmetrical, and it has been suggested that the earlier shapes copied basket forms or gourds that people had used before the advent of ceramics . . . . Most of the early asymmetrical shapes found are the result of modeled additions to a basic symmetrical form . . . . Within the Pueblo area, there are only a few shape distinctions with regard to region until the period after A.D. 1300.

Finishing. [pg. 19] As the vessel wall is being finished, a series of decisions are necessary concerning the vessel surface. First, the fillets may be obliterated by scraping, and a few or all may be left to form a decorative band, or a corrugated surface. All of these surface treatments are found on Pueblo vessels. The surface may be further modified by the addition of a layer of different clay, a slip. The slip may vary in thickness from that of a razor blade to as much as one millimeter. Clay used in the slip is typically higher quality than that from which the vessel wall was formed and may also be different in color. Slipping reaches a height of sophistication just before A.D. 1300. After that date, it was not unusual for potters to apply more than one color of slip to a vessel.

Slipped or not, a vessel surface may also be polished. Polishing aligns the clay particles in a single plane, producing a lustrous, mirror-like surface. Among the Pueblo this has generally been done using a small, oval-shaped pebble of a hard, fine-grained stone. Polishing was in use by at least A.D. 700 and is still used today.

Painting. [pgs. 19-23] After the vessel is finished by some combination of the smoothing-slipping-polishing techniques, the surface is ready to be painted. Black is derived from either mineral or vegetable sources. Mineral paints are iron oxides, manganese, or iron-manganese, which, when powdered and mixed with a carrier, produce a pigment that turns black when fired in a reducing atmosphere. Carbon paint is obtained by boiling a plant until it is reduced to a black cake--Rocky Mountain bee plant is the one for which there is most evidence of use. Mixed with water, the pigment will produce a black paint if fired in a reducing atmosphere.

Red colors result from iron oxides that are fired in an oxidizing atmosphere or by the use of iron-rich clays.

White can be obtained by painting with Kaolin clay.

Glazes used in the Pueblo area after A.D. 1200, are shiny transparent layers covering part or all of the painted surface, and at that time they served purely decorative purposes. They never served as waterproofing, for which they were commonly used in the Old World. Eastern Pueblo glazes have as their base a lead oxide flux with the addition of other minerals that produce different colors; other minerals, especially copper, were more common among Pueblo potters farther west.

Application: Today, paint is applied by the Pueblo Indians to the surface of a vessel using a length of yucca leaf, the end of which has been chewed to loosen the fibers and from which all but enough fibers are removed to form the desired brush width. As in the past, the potter first lays out the design in a drafting technique that outlines the figures. Spaces are then filled in, either with the same pigment or with a different color. Once painted, the vessel is ready to be fired in 625-950 degree range . . . .


[Generations In Clay, Pueblo Pottery of the American Southwest, by Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., and Fred Plog, Northland Publishing in Cooperation with the American Federation of Arts, 7th Printing, 1989.]>/font color=cococo>



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