Native American Pottery

American Indian pottery is one of the oldest art forms created by the American Indians of Asiatic origin who migrated in the continental United States between 25,000 to 8,000 B.C. These American Indian people crossed the Berring Straight, entered through Canada and settled in a wide territory in North America comprising of five physiographic areas namely The Great plains of mid west and the Mississippi river lands, the arid south west, the west coast seaside, the colder Northeast and the warmer Southwest.

The American Indian people were nomads and hence there is no reason to believe that they brought the art of pottery making along with them. Instead, it is logical to conclude that with the beginning of agriculture in North America, the nomadic Indian people settled down and soon the art of pottery emerged as a means of creating utilitarian items like storing pots, water jars, cooking vessels, etc. At the initial stage pottery was strictly utilitarian and had no connection with artistry.

Coiling and molding were the techniques mainly used because potters’ wheel came much later with the advent of the Europeans. However, with the passage of time the different Indian villages all over the United States developed their distinct pot shapes and decorative styles. This art form carried on mainly by women, used several symbols apart from the embellishments – such symbols which had deep connection with Indian rituals, ceremonies and traditions.

Pottery became an integral part of all the North and South American Indians’ceremonial use during burials and other rituals. The pottery traditions developed in the southwestern part of Indian America was vital and is highly demanded till date.

The Native American pottery of southwest dates back a few thousand years and they have preserved their traditions timelessly. At the onset of the Christian era several cultures like Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon, Pueblos and Mimbres flourished, of which only the Pueblo and the Navajo cultures survive today.

The Pueblo culture climaxed in regions like Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Traditionally, these people collected clays from their secret ancestral sources, smoothed the pots to create burnished backgrounds for designs and then painted the pottery with pigments from boiled plants or metallic rock dusts.

In the last two millenniums, the art of Pueblo pottery has changed very little and that is why even a contemporary piece of art contains the knowledge of 100 generations. Today, the Pueblo pottery happens to be the representative of Native American pottery and is highly venerated by art connoisseurs all over the world.

The Navajos in Arizona who are unparallel in ceramic art in the entire world also carry the tradition of Southwestern pottery forward. The Navajo pottery has earned recognition only after the crossing of railroads in America and stands apart from other southwestern pottery arts owing to its distinct style and appearance.

The Navajos mixed several clays together and after bon firing the articles, they applied a coating of hot pitch from the Pinon trees, both internally and externally. Apart from pottery, Navajos have also earned a name for themselves in weaving, silversmithing, jewellery making, basketry and painting.

Till date, the finest of American-Indian potteries are handmade. The main sources of contemporary pottery are works from Acoma, Hopi, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Jemez, and Zia tribal groups. The Acoma pottery is famous for thin walls and intricate paintings, Hopi pottery for sublime form, symbolic designs and earth-toned slips whereas the Santa Clara and San Ildefonso potteries are known for the use of black and red colors and high polish.

Native American pottery, particularly Pueblo pottery is ardently collected by people all across the globe. You can buy these artworks from shops, art galleries or from websites. Some of the Native American artists whose works are globally recognized are Maria Martinez, Lucy Lewis, Margaret Tafoya, Joy Navasie, and Helen Naha.

So collect your choice of American Indian pottery now and have the ecstasy of possessing the "real traditional thing".

Joseph Paige 2006

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