In my third and final post about the Native American Pottery in my art collection, I’m simply sharing some images of pots, along with what I’ve learned about them, in hopes of helping you know more about this great craft, and the artists who do it. — Especially if you plan to buy some pots for yourself. In Part 1, I featured the finest examples from my collection. In Part 2, I focused primarily on micaceous (naturally sparkly) pottery. In Part 3, I’ll feature the remaining pieces in my collection; plus I’ll show a plaque I was fortunate enough to find, along with four pots, which while made by members of Native American tribes, do not come from pueblos.
Collectors of pueblo pottery such as yours truly try to find the best possible pieces, at the best prices. But since we love to collect, we may add pots to our collection which are not the very best examples out there. But we have to have them anyway. Perhaps the price is right; or maybe they were created by a resident of a pueblo we particularly like. I found most of these pots at antique stores, antique mall booths, garage sales, flea markets and thrift shops. — In Seattle, WA, where I live. Only one piece came from an actual Native American art store. And it’s my least favorite piece! Let’s dive in.
This is an example of a finely-made contemporary piece of pottery from the Jemez pueblo of New Mexico. While the pot is not glazed in the most traditional way, the design is beautiful, and the glaze is pretty much flawless. I believe the shine comes from a polyurethane glaze which was applied on top of the decoration. I prefer more traditionally-made pottery; older pottery. However, living in Seattle makes it difficult to find exactly what I want. Pacific Northwest Native American art is strikingly different, stylistically from that of the pueblos, and our region’s style naturally predominates here. I bought this pot in a thrift store twenty years ago, to celebrate my starting a new job. I was in the mood to add something pretty to my collection. I’m sure it was nearly new when I bought it. It’s no more than thirty years old. It’s simply decorative. It’s moved house with me five times, so I guess I am a little attached….
I acquired this recently; otherwise, it would definitely have gone into Part 1 of my pottery stories. The wonderful piece of Zuni pottery from New Mexico is the only item I’ve purchased on E-Bay. I like getting things in person. — I had to retire a few years early, due to contracting glaucoma. That pretty much brought my practice of collecting new objects to a stop. However, I had some mad money a couple of years ago, and just for fun, I did an E-Bay search. I had no examples of Zuni Pueblo pottery, so when I saw this, and realized what a low price it was probably going to go for, I placed a bid, and I got it. It depicts a wild turkey. Zuni pottery is known for depicting birds. However, I’d never seen a piece featuring a wild turkey. I just love this little item. It’s signed; but the signature has faded, and is unreadable. The piece is decorated in the traditional manner; that is to say the decoration was done prior to the piece being fired. However, someone has since added a little terra cotta-colored paint to the bird’s wings! I would prefer they had not done that.
I keep saying: it’s not easy to shop in Seattle for pueblo pots. That’s especially true of Hopi pots. Therefore, even though this little Hopi vase from Arizona has a repaired chip on its inner rim, I’m happy to have it in my collection. I have only three pieces of Hopi pottery. So, chip and all, I’m keeping it. Some may not like the imperfection in the traditional finish (the glaze is lighter around the design); but I think it adds character. The vase is probably from the 1950’s. I’m not spot on at nailing down the date a pot was made. If an old pot is properly taken care of, it can appear newer than one made in, say the 1980’s, which wasn’t treated as well.
I have unanswered questions about this little pot from the pueblo located north of Albuquerque, NM, which is lovingly referred to as Sky City. I can’t say how old it is. The style reminds me of something that would have been crafted in the 1970’s or 80’s. But its decoration is so very faded. That makes me wonder if it is older. Or did the maker use an inferior paint/glaze/ink to make the design, and it has faded sooner than it normally would have? Did constant exposure to the sun’s rays damage it? I’ve had the pot for a good twenty years. It was faded when I acquired it. The walls of the pot are a little thick. That makes me think it may have been made by someone who was still becoming an expert potter. I do like the “pie crust” decoration around the rim of the pot.
Based upon the Santa Clara redware pottery I’ve seen, and based upon a pottery bird I’ve seen on-line which Santa Clara potter Margaret Tafoya made, I am saying this bird is from the Santa Clara pueblo in New Mexico. I would say it was made in the 1950’s-1960’s. It has little bone eyes inlaid in its head. It’s a very appealing, almost whimsical little bird. If it was black (Santa Clara is also known for its beautiful black-finished pottery), I’d say it was a magpie.
This startling figure is a Tesuque rain god. At one time, these figures were abundant. They were created by the thousands. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they are not abundant. I’ve only seen three in my lifetime; I have two of the three. I was willing to pay $90, sixteen years ago, to acquire this one, even though it had been damaged and repaired. The Fremont Sunday Market dealer had another one in much better condition; but he wanted more for it than I could afford. I’m not sure when this one was made. It definitely doesn’t date to when they were first being made in the early 20th century. I say this because it was decorated with poster paint. That is not the old way. But then Tesuque potters don’t really do things in the old way. Because their culture was nearly wiped out by the invading Europeans. The Tesuque people of New Mexico are said to have forgotten how their traditional pottery was made! The story is told how a white trading post proprietor sketched a picture of a “rain god” and encouraged some Tesuque pueblo people to make them. He offered to sell them at his trading post. They were made in droves. I’ve compared this to many photos on the interweb. Even when they are decorated with the relatively modern poster paint design, the description nearly always reads, “early 20th century”. I think the dealers are putting more age on the pieces than they really have. But then, wouldn’t they know?
This little rain god cost a quarter! Not a quarter of what the larger one cost; but a quarter. Twenty-five cents. I found it at a senior citizens community rummage sale. This goes to show that you never know how much you may have to pay to acquire a piece of pueblo pottery. Because often, the people selling it have no idea what it is or what it’s worth. This one is also decorated with poster paint. I date it to the 70’s.
I’m embarrassed to show these. These poster paint-decorated kitchen items are not exactly the epitome of pueblo craftsmanship. But I show them to demonstrate how pueblo potters make many different items. And actually, what’s wrong with making something functional, such as salt and pepper shakers? I date these to the 70’s or 80’s. Two women at the Fremont Sunday Market needed to sell something to help them pay for gas, for their trip back across the Cascade Mountains, to their home. I gave them a twenty.
I just had to have a storyteller figure, aka singing mother. But instead of saving up to buy a truly authentic one, I paid sixty bucks at a Seattle Native American art store known as Orca Bay, for this not-so-authentic one. It was fired and then painted. A good one would be decorated with glaze, and then fired. Joanne Trujillo made this about 15 years ago. I advise spending more money if you really want one. A few hundred bucks will buy a much better one which you can treasure. I’ve put this one on sale a couple of times. As you can see, nobody stepped up to take it off my hands.
This was a gift from my ex-brother-in-law. He collects vintage pueblo pottery, as do I. However, he decided to get me a piece of contemporary pottery in Ruidoso, NM. The pretty little vase came with a tag identifying it as Apache pottery. The Apaches do not have a pueblo culture; however, some of their pottery looks similar to pueblo pottery. But I looked at the bottom of this pot, which shows a Kokopelli (flute player) incised into the clay before it was fired. I looked at the incised decoration on its surface, which represents bird feathers. The incised design and Kokopelli figure tell me that this is contemporary Navaho pottery. I used to have many pieces, when I had room for a bigger collection. When new in 1998, this probably brought about twenty dollars. I decided to include it here, since my stated intent is to show you the remainder of my pottery collection. — If you like the way it looks, buy one….
[First, a quick note about the vintage beacon blanket the pot is sitting upon: In 1952, when I was four years old, my older brother Al III and I took a train trip with Mom to Chattanooga, TN. A young woman on the train gave us the blanket. It was a beautiful new blanket when she gave it to us. I’ve had it all these years. I could never part with it.]
And now, here’s something different. Sitting upon the beacon blanket is a piece of Sioux pottery. I’m pretty sure this type of pot is made in large amounts, by placing clay into a mold to produce “greenware”, which is then painted with a glaze and fired. (Lots of tribes throughout the United States make similar pottery. I usually avoid collecting it. It’s not “made from scratch”, and seems rather generic.) I’ve compared this piece with the few pieces I could find on the internet. Based upon what I read, I will say it was made in the 1960’s. When my late wife, Sally Jo Davis, and I traveled to Rapid City, South Dakota while on vacation in the early 1990’s, I didn’t find any of this pottery there. I found this (probably in a thrift store or antique mall) in Seattle.
Here is another example of Sioux pottery. Pretty much everything I said about the above piece could be said about this one. It looks almost art deco. Something about it makes me hang onto it.
There are wonderfully talented potters living in Mexico. They’ve lived there for centuries. I acquired this pot about 15-20 years ago. I’ve always assumed it came from the Mexican pueblo of Casas Grandes, a Chihuahua pueblo which lies not far from the US/Mexico boarder. Casas Grandes, or Mata Ortiz potters, have been working for many years to produce beautiful pots. Normally, they create highly-decorated, rather fragile works. However, the above sinew-wrapped pot features a simple design; and it’s not that fragile in its construction. This started me to wondering if it was truly a Casas Grandes pot. I decided to do more research on the www. I recently learned that it is a vintage Tarahumara pot, made in Copper Canyon, which is also located in the state of Chihuahua. I found a photo of a dead ringer for this one. It was described as originating in the 1920’s-1930’s. I’d like to think mine is that old. That would make it one of my oldest pots. It’s a little hard to say, because older and newer examples of Tarahumara pots share the same, simple design, and the sinew (aka rawhide) wrapping. Mine could be somewhat newer. It has a rounded bottom, which requires it to be set on a little ring in order to be displayed. I have a renewed love for this pot, having learned that it is rarer than a Casas Grandes pot. It comes from the same culture as the famed Tarahumar endurance runners.
[If you do come across Casas Grandes pottery, you will probably find that it commands a rather low price and is very pretty. It would look great in any collection. Contemporary Casas Grandes potters are fine craftspersons. Just go to Google to see examples. When I downsized my collection, I sold mine.]
Have you read my Part 1 and Part 2? Please see them, if you’d like to view some of my finer pottery. You can read a lot more about how it was made.
There are many sites on the internet where you can read about/see pueblo pottery, and I encourage you to visit them. However, many of them will try to sell you things. They may guild the lily a bit, so to speak. I see the word “vintage” used for pots which were probably made in the 21st century. — I’m not trying to sell you a thing. I just enjoy sharing. Please leave a comment or question. And if you have a pot you don’t want, you can give it to me!
Have you seen one of these (see below)? Do you know what it is? It’s decorated like a pot; but it’s carved from cottonwood like a Kachina. I’ll be publishing a short story about it soon; but I am seeking info/input from you first. Please leave a comment here, or track me down on Facebook, if you have any information. Made by Benson “Ben” Seeni, Hopi Kachina carver, it is a very unique piece which has confounded experts. Expect to see a post about it by May 1, 2016. I’m extremely fortunate to have found it.