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Early Indian potters used clays they found.
If they were fortunate, they could find clay without a lot of organic matter in it but that did have some sand or fine gravel to give the clay extra strength. In most clay, impurities needed to be removed by hand before being mixed with water and made ready to be used. Pounding and throwing the wet clay to force air pockets out of it was another necessary step to prevent the clay from exploding when heated.
Making pots by rolling clay into rope-
Not all clays were the same color.
Contrasting color clay could be made into slip, a variation of clay mixed to creamy consistency, that could be painted onto a pot or bowl while it was still damp and cool. The “brushes” used to paint the slips were mostly made of yucca, pounded out to expose the inner fibers of the leaves. Judging by the detail and fine lines of early Southwest pottery, the yucca leaf brushes worked very well. Another slip technique was to paint the entire bowl with slip and lightly carve or scrape the part of the slip away to make the contrasting clay of the bowl show up as the design.
Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio and received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com
Geometric designs were the most common, with geometricized animals also prevalent. Abstract decoration based on realism tended to reflect the plants, animals, and insects of the locality inhabited by the tribal culture. Often, the decoration depicted animals or figures that had religious significance. Today, decoration is one way of identifying the tribe that made an object if it is not found in the context of an archeological site.
After complete drying, the pots were placed in a pit and covered with a mound of branches, wood, or dried animal dung and set afire. The heat, about 1400 degrees, was enough to fuse the clay into a semi vitreous state that would hold water and withstand the heat of cooking. None of the early pottery was glazed. Surfaces that are glossy were achieved by burnishing the clay before firing it.
As time progressed, from about 800 A.D. through 1500 A.D., some cultures seemed to disappear. They may have moved because of prolonged drought or assimilated with other tribal groups. Pottery has been found with decoration that suggests an amalgamation of religious practices, indicating the joining of tribes.
Early Pottery in the Southwest
By Victoria Chick, Artist and 19th / 20th Century Print Collector
Pottery shards can be found strewn throughout the Southwest United States and Mexico. Shards (from the word potsherds ) are fragments from the lives of indigenous cultures that lived in an area that now includes Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, Southern Colorado, Southern Utah, and Northern Mexico.
Most of the cultures were composed of more than one band or tribe identified by their pottery style. Some cultures were semi – nomadic, while others would establish themselves for centuries in an area where conditions allowed farming that formed a necessary link in their ability to thrive.
Besides shards, archaeologists have found pottery in a few locations in near perfect condition, and in other locations, utilitarian clay pottery had a second use as funeral ware. In burial use, the bottom of the pot has had a hole knocked out of it and the pot placed over the deceased person’s face. The probable concept behind the funeral ware was to release the “spirit” through the hole.