Stories in Clay

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Among the most alluring features of Pueblo pottery are the incredibly unique and beautiful designs applied on both the surface and interiors of pottery. Each design tells a story or refers to a place, time, vision, or prayer. In some cases, the designs are very abstract, appearing unintentional or simply decorative. Whether crude or refined, the designs are critical to the pot itself as what is depicted is representative of the maker's story, song, or prayer.

Ancestral Pueblo pottery presents an array of symbols and designs depicting elements of the natural environment and prayers for moisture. Rain, clouds, lightning, wind, water creatures, and celestial beings are predominant on pottery of this period. Many of these designs are used today by Pueblo potters. Many of these core design styles evolved as a result of migration and observation of the changing natural environment and expansion of traditional knowledge systems.

Once settled in their present-day Pueblos during the 11th century, the pottery-making tradition continued and became refined in form and design. Not all Pueblos painted designs on their pots; some, including Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos, maintained a tradition of creating undecorated water and storage jars with a shiny black or red finish, depending on the firing process. Older forms of pottery also continued to be produced, with some cooking pots featuring exposed coils, stamped cooking wares, and undesigned white and red pottery.

Both historic and contemporary Pueblo pottery honors original design patterns, enhancing symbols, and motifs, including the variety of stylized birds, deer, plants, and other natural elements. A range of colors also appear on historic polychrome pottery, oftentimes used in depicting animals and plants. Contemporary potters have also expanded mineral paints as well as designs signaling the ever-evolving creative spirit in pottery-making.

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