An Overview of Native American Pottery

What makes Native American pottery unique? It is handmade, colorful, durable, and crafted by women. And it is a part of the history of American culture. In this article, we will learn about the history of this pottery and the women who crafted it. But why buy Native American pottery? Here are some reasons:



An overview of native American pottery includes ceramic objects made by the different tribes of the Southwest and Great Plains. While nomads in these regions were not known for using pottery, some Navajo groups still produce beautiful vases. Their pottery is made with a unique pitch covering technique that makes them highly durable which is also available in Pueblo native American pottery. Various tribes have developed their pottery traditions, and most still maintain some of their traditional methods. 

Native Americans made their pottery out of necessity. They needed containers to hold water, food, and grains. They also used the vessels to serve as instruments and ceremonial items. For example, they used mud to cover cooking baskets, then placed wood coals inside. This allowed the clay to harden, and the head transported the basket. This method was later discovered by archaeologists who uncovered ancient clay pots that had basket indentions in them.



When shopping for colorful native American pottery, the best thing to do is be aware of the risks involved:

  1. Ensure you buy from a trusted source. Polychrome paints can quickly fade or be stained by oils from your hands.
  2. Handle-shaped pieces should always be handled with care, as they were intended to be functional and should not be grasped with your hands. Rather, you should use both hands to support the pottery.
  3. The bottom of the piece should be sturdy, and you may need to place a plastic bag full of sand in it to add stability.

Pueblo pots are handmade by women of the tribe. Their construction involves coiled “sausages” of clay. Then, the pot is smoothed inside and out. Finally, the pots are coated with slip and decorated with designs. Depending on the pottery’s style, these pots can be multicolored or monochromatic, or even black on black. Navajo pottery was traditionally made with unpainted clay.



Native American pottery is often found in thrift stores, but chances are, you won’t find anything of value. In addition, these pieces are typically tourist-type items that a Native American Artist does not make. Still, they may be a bargain if you have an eye for good character and charm. However, buying these pieces from a thrift store doesn’t benefit the artist directly. Instead, buy from a dealer or gallery, and you’ll help support the artist’s livelihood.

Navajo potters often mix several clays to create different materials with varying physical and chemical properties. These potsherds and pulverized rocks are used to temper the clay and prevent it from shrinking during firing. Native American pottery from the Santa Clara and Hopi regions are traditionally thick-walled, while Zuni potters use thin-walled clay. The thinner walls make the potsherds easier to work with, but the larger the wall, the more likely it will explode.


Women’s work

Throughout the twentieth century, Native American women have continued to cultivate the art form, and this book explores their contributions to the field. The women were interviewed to share their artistic visions and working techniques and describe the satisfaction they get from their work. The book is illustrated with specially commissioned color photographs and archival images of Native American potters. This unique look at the art form can benefit all collectors of American Indian pottery.

Women were the primary ceramicists in many native American societies during the past centuries. These women harvested clay, formed pottery, and fired it. In addition, they used ceramics for food storage and eating, and it’s important to note that their work was visible. A recent study by John Kantner revealed that some ancient potters could be identified by the fingerprints they left behind. He studied broken pieces of pottery from the 10th and eleventh centuries CE to understand how women made them.



Historically, the Native Americans of North America settled in a wide range of regions, including the Arctic, subtropical, and temperate climates. Today, the continent is divided into five physiographic areas: the Great Plains of the Midwest, the Mississippi River lands, the arid Southwest, the coastal regions of the West Coast, and the cold Northeast. The Natives eventually grouped themselves into groups that each possessed unique pottery styles.

The Mimbres, part of the Mogollon group, settled in southwestern New Mexico during the 11th and mid-13th centuries. They centered around the Mimbres River, named by early Spanish settlers for its abundance of willows. The first research to classify Mimbres pottery designs was conducted by Walter Fewkes, who categorized them as geometric, conventionalized, and realistic.



There are several ways to create unique ceramic pieces, and the techniques of native American pottery are no different. The materials for these pots may vary widely, from natural clay to commercial clay. Other types of natural clay create different textures and hues. For example, micaceous clay contains specks of mica embedded in the clay. Depending on the type of clay, the surface will be red, green, brown, or black.

Before contact with Europeans, pottery was traditionally open-air or pit-fired. Kilns were widely used by pre-contact Indigenous peoples of Mexico and other North American regions, and many Native American pottery artists employ this method today. Pit-firing involves placing the pot in a pit dug into the earth, covering it with brush, wood, and dung, and then lighting a fire to harden the clay. Many pots are then polished by hand with smooth stones.