ipl Pueblo Pottery Gallery

Pueblo Pottery banner
floral decal imageglossary bannerfloral decal image


The continual changes effected by environment and time, producing an appearance that differs from the initial look of a newly fired vessel. Typical examples are cracking, abrading or rubbing, and the accumulation of natural oil that produces a beautiful polish or patina during years of handling.
Angular Flexure
A sharp bend in the surface, sometimes occuring, for example, at the place where the erect rim of a bowl joins the underbody.
Arcs and Scallops
Decorative features coccurring in either the painted decoration of the sculpture of a vessel. A series of adjacent red-painted arcs, for example, is a common feature of Zia pottery in the early eighteenth century, whle wculptured scallops on the rims of bowls and jare are often seen on the black pottery from Santa Clara, Pojoaque and Nambe.
Ashiwi Pueblos
The Pueblo Indian villages in the vicinity of Zuni.
An area of decoration encircling a vessel, usually bounded above and below by encircling framing lines and sometimes divided into rectangular panels.
A technique of painted decoration in which dull mineral paint is applied to part of the polished red slip and the entire vessel turns black when fired in a smudging fire. The decoration thus shows as a textural contrast, not as a color contrast.
Vessels with an opening at approximately the greatest width.
Buckskin Color
The creamy tan color of a slip often seen on the early Historic pottery of Zia and Acoma; also occuring on hand-worn pottery from many of the other pueblos.
A small vessel with a relatively narrow neck and a pair of handles.
Carbon paint
A pigment derived from vegetation, usually the Rocky Mountain bee plant or the tansy mustard. The juice from leaves and stems is concentrated into a watery brown liquid that soaks into the vessel and chars to a permanent black during firing. The soaked-in appearance, which allows the polish on the slip to show, contrasts with mineral paint, which covers the surface. Carbon paint on Historic pottery is characteristic of the Tewa and Northeast Keres pueblos (see map ).
Ceremonial break
An interruption in any painted line encircling a vessel, or sometimes in a circular motif on a vessel. This commonly occurring feature is also called a "line break" or a "spirit path".
Ceremonial vessel
One that is used in the sacred rites of the Native American’s religion. These vessels are usually painted with symbols related to mythology and are sometimes sculptured with stair step terracing along the rim.
The basic mineral substance from which pottery is manufactured, in combination with a tempering material and water.
Cochiti slip
A mineral substance, said to be predominantly bentonite, used to coat the surface of vessels at Cochiti and Santo Domingo pueblos, and after 1907 at San Ildefonso and sometimes Tesuque. Cochiti slip is usually polished with a rag and looks quite diferent from the stone-stroked local slip of the Tewa pueblos.
A technique for forming pottery without a potter’s wheel. The walls of the vessel are built up from rope-like coils of clay.
A textural feature of pottery, especially from Picuris, characterized by random groups of shallow parallel grooves.
Buldging inward away from the viewer.
Buldging outward towards the viewer.
A synonym for crazing.
Covered with small meandering cracks.
"Dagger" motif
A decorative feature of Zuni pottery, sometimes copied at Acoma and elsewher, the appearance of which is that of a dagger or knife with a stylized handle. The actual meaning of the motif however, is probably unrelated to the name by which it is sometimes designated.
The overall pattern of decoration, usually composed of motifs, which in turn are formed of various elements.
The effect produced when a polishing stone skips over the surface of a vessel, leaving a pattern of high points and depressions. This is especially characteristic of Tesuque pottery.
A part of a motif, which if further subdivided would lose all distinctive meaning or appearance.
The heating process by which the vessel is hardened. Pueblo Indians traditionally use no kiln, instead piling the fuel over the vessels and setting the whole on fire.
Framing line
A horizontal line, often occurring in pairs, encircling a vessel. Usually its purpose is to delineate a specific area or band of decoration.
The material used in firing pottery, usually dried dung, bark, sticks, and sometimes coal (especially in the Hopi area).
A material painted on the surface of a vessel, composed of minerals that melt during firing and then re-solidify to make a more of less glassy surface. Pueblo Indians have never glazed the entire surface of their vessels to waterproof them. Glaze paint was used principally in the period 1250-1700 but only as a pleasing complement to the decoration.
Heartline motif
A motif, originating in the mid-nineteenth century, in which animal figures on pottery (especially deer) are depicted with a painted line from mouth to chest, terminating in an arrowhead at the position of the heart. Predominantly a Zuni decorative device, the heartline is also used at Acoma and the First-Mesa Hopi pueblos.
In the Pueblo Indian field, this term means dating after the arrival of the Europeans, effectively meaning after about 1600.
A technique of decoration in which patterns are scratched into the clay before the vessel is fired.
Vessels, usually taller than bowls, with a much narrower opening than their greatest width.
An oven in which pottery is fired. Traditionally, the Pueblo Indians do not use a kiln in the ordinary sense, but instead form one with the fuel itself.
A slightly outflaring sculpture at the rim of a vessel.
Matte paint
A vegetal or mineral paint that does not melt during the firing of the vessel. Matte mineral paint is accordingly usually not shiny, while matte vegetal paint shows the surface finish of the adjacent unpainted slip.
One of a number of components of a scheme of decoration, arranged in a pattern; a dominant structure in an overall design.
The latest stage of human cultural development in which stone tools still predominate. The Neolithic period differs from earlier Stone Age periods in the gathering of habitations into villages, division of labor, practice of controlled agriculture, and usually the discovery of pottery making. The Pueblo Indians are an excellent example of Neolithic people, at a stage comparable to that of the Near East seven thousand years earlier.
Oxidizing fire
A pottery hardening fire in which a sufficient draft of air is introduced to effect complete combustion. In Pueblo pottery the resulting colors are the warm shades of cream, tan , brown, red, orange or yellow (compare Reducing fire).
A vessel with a handle on one side only; it may have a spot on the other side. Rectangular pitchers are used for ceremonial purposes at the Northeast Keres pueblos of Cochiti, Santo Domingo, and San Felipe.
The process by which the surface of a vessel is smoothed before firing. Polishing may produce a gloss resembling a glaze, or it may remove only the stone polishing and rag polishing. Stone polishing usually leaves stroke marks, which can vary from deep grooves to almost invisible traces. Rag polishing imparts a characteristic uniformity to the surface, which is usually finely striated fro the structure of the fabric or leather rag and from the tiny grains of imperfection in the clay which may be dragged across the surface by the polishing cloth.
A decorative style utilizing more than two colors, for example, a white slip enhanced with black and red paints. Even if one of the additional colors is not part of the decorative field (for example, a red rim top on an other wise black-on-tan bowl) the vessel is still classed as polychrome.
Dating before the advent of a written history for the American Southwest, meaning prior to about 1600 for the Pueblo Indian world.
Artifacts of clay and other materials that have been hardened by firing.
The word "Pueblo" has three meanings. It is the Spanish word meaning a group of houses or a village. The word also refers to the villages of groups of Southwest U.S. Indians who live in Adobe structures. In the present context we refer to a village of the Pueblo Indians or, as a proper name, to this Indian people or their culture.
Reducing Fire
A pottery hardening fire in which fresh air is excluded from the region where the pottery is baking. In Pueblo pottery the resulting color is a shade of gray-white, gray or black (compare Oxidizing fire).
That part of the vessel immediately adjacent to the opening.
Usually refers to any departure of a vessel from the simplest utilitarian shape. But the term also refers to the relatively rarer formation of a ceramic artifact into a distinct representation of something other than a simple container.
The transmission of liquid through the walls of a vessel. No newly fired Pueblo vessel is absolutely watertight (as a glazed jar would be) until the pores are sealed with fat or (alas) varnish. Cool-fired pottery, such as some of the modern black wares, are especially porous, and readily damaged by water. The more traditional wares, however, are completely serviceable for years without appreciable damage.
A piece of broken pottery.
A dilute mixture of fine red or white clay and water, mopped onto the surface of a vessel and then compacted and polished with a rag or stone. There are several purposes for slip: to cover the coarser paste, to make possible a smoother polishing of the surface, to make a better surface for painting and decoration, and to decrease seepage.
Storage jar
A large pottery vessel, generally with a narrow opening, used especially for the storage of dry materials such as dried meat, grain, or vegetables. Storage jars are usually larger than about 30 centimeters in greatest dimension.
An inert material mixed with the basic clay and water to keep the substance from being too sticky and to reduce the likelihood of cracking during drying and firing. The kind of temper used traditionally at each village has been the same for centuries, and accordingly affords a means of identifying the place at which a vessel was manufactured. Examples of tempering materials are fine sand, powdered volcanic tuff, and crushed potsherds.
Vegetal paint
See Carbon paint.
Water jar
A medium-sized vessel, from 20-30 centimeters tall, with a a relatively narrow opening and often a concave base to facilitate carrying the vessel on the head.
Acknowledgement : The generosity of Mr. Larry Frank, the author of this glossary, is gratefully acknowledged. This glossary originally appeared in his excellent book, Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians, 1600-1880.
Pueblo Pottery HomeClassrooomGalleryGlossary

Feedback about this site may be sent to: James A. Ringold

This site is best viewed at 800 x 600 resolution using Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer