ipl Pueblo Pottery Gallery

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By Larry Frank

The pottery of the Pueblo Indians of the Southwestern United States embodies the highest artistic achievement of a race of quiet, peaceful, and tenacious people who have even to the present day successfully kept their culture intact for over a thousand years. Pottery was to the Pueblo Indians what wood carving was to the Northwest Indians, and bead and quill work to Indians of the Plains. The excellence of Pueblo Indian craftsmanship, evidenced in the sculptural form and the decoration of their pottery, rivals that of any European or Oriental neolithic culture, Pueblo pottery of Historic period, made from about 1600, when the Spanish arrived in the Southwest, to about 1880, is especially beautiful. After 1880, convenient and safe transportation led to the tourist trade of the modern era, with its generally decadent influence on the serviceability of the pottery…

Historic Pueblo pottery is the least abundantly preserved of all Southwestern pottery and consequently the most difficult to study. Because of the extreme difficulty of importing ceramic wares to the rugged Southewestern frontier, the early Spaniards were forced to use Pueblo pottery to carry out their daily chores. They found it satifactory for domestic purposes but apparently saw little artistic or aesthetic merit in it, hence no collections were made. The collision of the Spaniards and the American Pueblo Indians resulted not only in significant restriction in the usage of pottery but also in the disappearance of most of the pottery in the two hundred years of the Historic period. Owing to the orthodoxy of Church authorities, Pueblo Indians were refused the right to bury pottery with their dead in accordance with ancient custom. Instead they were forced to have Christian burials in cemeteries. Consequently, there are almost no Historic vessels preserved in the relative security of old graves…The significance of the Spanish ban on burial of pottery with Indian dead cannot be over emphasized. It is likely that all Prehistoric pottery had some religious aspects, as its burial signifies. But when burial pottery was prohibited, the Pueblo Indians were forced to concentrate on making pottery exclusively for utilitarian purposes such as storage of grain and water, cooking, etc., while only a small number of vessels were created – in secrecy- for strictly ceremonial use…

It is regrettable that the few surviving example of early Historic pottery were so consistently ignored before collectors came on the scene. It was not until about 1880 that James Stevenson and Victor and Cosmos Mindeloff visited Zuni and neighboring pueblos and for the first time brought back the the Smithsonian Institution a typical collection of Historic pottery. No organized effort was made to preserve Historic pottery until the 1920s, when members of the Indian arts fund of Santa Fe, as well as a few other imaginative collectors and traders, found that they could still assemble collections. Many of the pieces collected by the Indian Arts Fund are pictured in the gallery.

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