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History Of Native American Pottery

The history of Native American pottery includes the pottery created by many different tribes over several generations. Their work has been found throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and has been valuable in understanding how these peoples lived and worked hundreds of years ago. Their designs also have influenced artwork today.

Ancestral Pueblo Native American Pottery

Also called the Anasazi, these ancestors of the modern Pueblo tribes lived between 1000 BCE and 1300 CE in what is now considered Southwestern America. Unlike many other tribes, the Ancestral Pueblo were agrarians who built pueblos and other homes and grew crops. They are credited with utilizing irrigation to raise cotton. As a result, the first pottery made by the Ancestral Pueblo was to store grain and water.

Their pottery, though at first simple and unpainted, later was decorated with black designs on light gray or white backgrounds. The black and white colors were made with mineral based paint. These decorations were created with fine hatching. Later pottery in the southern region, such as northern New Mexico, featured heavier black lines. Called the Rio Grande white wares, this style continued well past 1300, until 1750. Famed Native American pottery Marie Zieu Chino as well as Lucy M. Lewis and Jessie Garcia, have been recognized for reviving this style of Native American pottery between 1970 and Chino’s death in 1982.

Roosevelt Red Ware and Salado Polychrome

Made between 1280 and 1450, this pottery is thought to have centered around the Roosevelt Lake area but was made throughout New Mexico and Arizona. Roosevelt Red Ware is divided into a number of subcategories, however all of the Roosevelt Red Ware share some common characteristics. These include pottery that was covered with slip, which could be red, white, or both, covering the inside and outside of the pottery.

When decorating Roosevelt Red Ware, black paint would also be used. Research has been conducted finding that the black paint was made with both organic materials as well as minerals. Designs made varied depending on when during the 270 year time period the pottery was made. Early designs used bold motifs while later designs used more sophisticated graphic decorations. Cliff Polychrome, made between 1300 and 1450 is known for its elaborately decorated bands on pottery bowls’ walls.

Cherokee Native American Pottery

Cherokee pottery is renowned for being the product of one of the longest continual traditions of pottery in America, having been made for nearly 2,000 years. The style of Cherokee pottery has evolved over the years. The earliest pieces were hand built and then elaborately decorated with cross hatching, spirals, and other designs. Other designs used by the Cherokee in their pottery included making pots that looked like people or animals, like fish or birds. These containers were used for storing water or seed, or for making hominy.

The Cherokee tradition of stamping pottery has been reinvented and imitated by both later generations of Cherokee potters as well as others. Clay artisans use wooden paddles to texturize the clay with modern or ancient designs. The Cherokee also made use of the shells they found to both stamp their clay pottery and to decorate it. Sticks also were used to create new designs, similar to the way that modern artisans use a variety of hand tools to impress designs into their pottery.

The Cherokee Native Americans also were among the first to experiment with the different chemical reactions that they could cause through different firing times, temperature, and smoke. Today we refer to the latter two elements as varying oxygen and carbon levels, however the results were the same. The Cherokee were able to give their pottery different colors as a result of their experiments in Native American pottery process.

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