ASC Luther Bean Museum Native American pottery is March artifact of the month


Article by Esteban Salazar

The Adams State College Luther Bean Museum has an extensive collection of southwestern and prehistoric pottery. The museum, located on the second floor of Richardson Hall, boasts an array of pottery vessels and fired clay bowls. Kat Olance, curator of the museum, has been instrumental in facilitating the research and the preservation of many of the artifacts in the museum, through the museum's internship and work-study programs.

The Artifact-of-the-Month for March 2009 features two items, both from Native American Pueblos of the Southwest. Native American potters method of pottery making involves shaping coiled lengths of clay into the form of the pot or storage vessel. The exterior coils would then be smoothed by hand or with a tool. The traditional potter would color or paint the designs using "slip," which is a mixture of clay and water or dyes made from local plants and roots. The pottery would then be fire hardened over an open flame. Across New Mexico, each modern-day Pueblo has its own individual style, a testament to the ancestors who perfected the art and the oral tradition that passed the knowledge down.

The pottery shown in the photos are Anasazi (Circa: 1250 to 1350 C.E.) and contemporary Zia Pueblo, (Circa: 1915-1925). The Anasazi (Bandelier) bowl is nine inches in diameter and displays classic pre-pueblo black mineral paint on a grey exterior (slip). The four geometric triangles intersect in the center of the bowl and are bound by a black checkerboard and alternating lattice motif. The design is indicative of a generalized Four Corners or Colorado Plateau style. It could be classified as a Pindi black-on-white, the exterior indicates large-grained temper which suggests Pindi firing techniques.

The second item in the photograph, donated from the estate of Cleo Ritz, is from the Zia Pueblo, is a modern pueblo. The pot is eighteen inches in diameter and has a height of sixteen inches. The design elements are classic Zia with floral designs encompassing an animal that was revered. The temper of the pot indicates a basalt content which when fired at varying temperatures produces a pigment change. The artifact has a red slip (exterior) and a polished bottom. The painted exterior indicates mineral paints were used and not organic paints, which tend to blur upon firing.

For over two millennia, indigenous groups of the southwest have formed, fired and imparted their distinctive designs into their pottery. A particular family or clans' origin and migration can be traced by where the pots are found and the unique designs and patterns that have been passed from generation to generation. These designs are as unique as the potters themselves. Some pottery was made for the express purpose of ceremony but most were created for food storage or trade. A few well-known modern Pueblos who continue to produce traditional pottery include Nambe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Acoma and Santa Clara. These Pueblos' pottery is still sought after by collectors, travelers and museums.

Modern Pueblo people are the descendants of the Anasazi. The Anasazi have been studied extensively in the South Western United States, however despite the research and data collected at vast archaeological sites there are still numerous mysteries surrounding the Anasazi. One thing is certain, modern Pueblo people of the southwest have inherited the amazing and ancient tradition of making beautiful and intricate pottery from their ancestors.

Special thanks to Dr. A.J. Taylor, Rio Grande County Museum director, for her assistance with the research for this article, her professional opinion, and connecting the Luther Bean Museum with other professionals in the field, and Raechelle Phillips, former museum intern, for her diligent efforts in cataloging the museum's Zia pot.

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