The Unique Styles of Pueblo Pottery (Part 1)

Basic techniques set traditional Pueblo Pottery apart from other pottery forms. However, within the form, the use of local materials for the clay and colorants, as well as tribal customs set each Pueblo's style of pottery apart from the others.
The Tewa-speaking Pueblos can be broken into two different groups with similar styling and three pueblos with distinct and unique styles. One group, consisting of Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara and Tesuque Pueblos create the highly polished black and red pottery in the form of jars, vases, and bowls.
The Nambe Pueblo was the cultural center for the Pueblo people during the 1300's but was nearly destroyed by the Spanish invaders. The pottery was distinguished by painted polychrome patterns was called Nambe Polychrome, production ceased around 1830. Later Nambe pottery was black with fluted rims, micaceous-slip jars and roughly finished plain vessels.
The Pojoaque Pueblo was nearly wiped out from war and disease. Although no specific pottery characteristics are attributed to the Pojoaque, this Pueblo is currently working to preserve the traditional arts of the Tewa-speaking pueblos.
San Ildefonso has many different traditional types of pottery including black on cream, polychrome, undecorated polished black ware, red ware, matte red on red, and black on red. It is the home of Maria Martinez who with her husband, perfected the highly popular thin walled polished black on matte black, style of pottery.
The pottery of the San Juan Pueblo is a plain polished red or polished black. Unique to this group is the practice of applying the polished slip to the upper part of the jar, and to a band just below the rim of bowls. This creates a definite line with a pleasing pattern of color as the rest of the surface is polished paste. The paste shows orange-tan when the slip is red and gray when the slip is black.
Santa Clara potters are known for their highly polished red and polished black ware and polychrome on red. This pueblo is the home of Margaret Tafoya who is widely known for her large molded jars and regarded at the best Southwest potter ever. She also perfected the impressed bear claw that is now almost a trademark of Santa Clara pottery.
The Tesuque Pueblos traditionally created black on cream and black on red similar to the neighboring groups. Due to the pueblo's proximity to Santa Fe, when the railroads came through in the early 1900's the women started to create the seated clay figurines known as rain gods or "rain catchers" to cater to the tourist trade.
The second group within the Tewa-speaking pueblos consists of the Isleta, Picuris and Taos Pueblos. The styles here are so similar that they need not be looked at separately. These three groups work with micaceous wares characterized by sparkling mica bits embedded in the clay. Designs consist of relief bands, pottery with white slip, painted orange and brown designs, and occasionally pastels. Large jars and pots are common as well as vessels with handles and lids.

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