Glossary of Terms

Bear paw imprint on a black jar
Black jar with bear paw imprint,
by LuAnn Tafoya, Santa Clara

12 1/2 in H by 12 3/4 in Dia

Acoma: A New Mexico pueblo that is famous for its white pottery, most of which is painted with fine geometric lines. Sky City at Acoma is one of the oldest continually inhabited "cities" in North America

Anasazi: Also known as Ancestral Puebloan. The Prehistoric Pueblo Indians of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico; sometimes referred to as the "Ancient Ones" (Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning Hated ancestors of my enemies), believed to be the ancestors of most Pueblo tribes

Anvil & Paddle Method: A technique for making pottery involving the use of a wooden paddle to shape a "pancake" of clay over a pre-existing form, such as a stone or a previously fired pot. After forming the base of the pot, wide strips or thick coils of clay are added to the upper portion, thinned and shaped by continued use of the paddle-and-anvil method.

Avanu: A popular design (the water serpent) often seen in Native American art of the Southwest, particularly in Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pottery, signifying the prayer for and representation of water, critical for life in the desert

Bear Paw: An often used design in pottery and silverwork, especially if the artist is a member of the Bear Clan. More generally the bear paw is a symbol of inner strength. The bear paw is also a hallmark of Santa Clara Pueblo

Geometric design on a black on black plate
Black on black plate with leaf design,
by Maria Martinez, San Ildefonso

1 in H by 6 in Dia

Black on black: A style of pottery developed around 1919 by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo. It is characterized by two shades of black: ­one highly polished, the other matte. Designs are made by painting in the negative with the matte black.

Burnishing: The process of producing a polished, shiny surface by rubbing a smooth stone over the surface of dried pots, plates or bowls

Cochiti: A New Mexico pueblo famous for its figurative clay work, pottery, jewelry and drums

Coil Method: A pottery term used when the potter rolls a long rope of clay and coils it around on top of itself to form the desired shape. In the coil-and-shape method, the walls of the pot are thinned, shaped, and smoothed by scraping inside and out with a smooth tool as the potter progresses in forming the vessel

Corn: A powerful symbol in many tribes, used as a design on jewelry, pottery and woven goods to show respect and as a prayer for fertility, prosperity and a good growing season. Also used if the artist is a member of the Corn Clan

Corrugated surface on a red jar
Red jar with corrugated surface,
by Garnet Pavatea, Hopi

4 3/4 in H by 4 3/4 in Dia

Corrugated: A texture on the surface of pottery that resembles corrugated cardboard

Fire cloud: An irregular marking on the exterior of pottery, usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Firing: The final step in the pottery-making process where the potter literally bakes the piece to harden it. Modern Pueblo pottery is generally fired for beauty rather than endurance. Water will mar the surface and, if allowed to stand in an unprotected vessel of this type, may actually crumble it. To use as a container for flowers, etc, insert a glass container to hold the water. The only Puebloan pottery that might have a seal good enough to hold water is micaceous. The Navajos usually seal a pot by brushing it with hot pine pitch but most Puebloan pottery has no sealer on it at all.

Hohokam: An ancient Native American people living in the Sonoran Desert - today's southern Arizona, northern Sonora and northwestern Chihuahua areas, along the Gila and Salt Rivers - during the period from 1-1450 C.E.

Hopi: A tribe in northeastern Arizona known for distinctive "overlay" silver jewelry, pottery and Kachina carvings. The Hopi village of Old Oraibi may be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America.

Incising: In pottery, the cutting of closely-spaced lines and designs into the surface of a pot for decoration before it is fired

Bear paw carving and fire clouds on a golden micaceous jar
Golden micaceous jar with bear paw
carving and fire clouds,
by Robert Vigil, Nambe

6 1/4 in H by 5 1/2 in Dia

Jemez: A New Mexico pueblo in the Jemez Mountains known for its pottery and other arts and crafts like basket-weaving and jewelry-making

Matte or semi-matte: A dull surface finish, far less glossy than the burnished surface of black or red ware. Most pottery from Taos, Laguna, Acoma, Zia, Zuni, Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque, Jemez, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Isleta and Picuris is matte or semi-matte.

Micaceous: Containing tiny flakes of mica. The clay of Taos and Picuris is micaceous, giving their pots a sparkling surface. Most pottery coming from Nambe and the Jicarilla Apache these days is also slipped in micaceous clay.

Mimbres: An ancient Native American people living in the high valleys of the rugged mountain range along the southern Arizona and New Mexico border during the period from 300 B.C.E. to 1300 C.E. A subset of the greater Mogollon culture that extended from what is now central New Mexico south to northern Chihuahua and southwest to the Copper Canyon area of Sinaloa. Many of the potshards found in the vicinity of Paquimé (an ancient Mogollon city in northern Chihuahua) are decorated in Mimbres styles.

Potshard: Also shard or sherd. Usually used to describe a fragment of ancient pottery found lying on the ground in the vicinity of an ancient pueblo

Moth, floral and geometric designs on a polychrome jar
Polychrome jar with floral, moth and
geometric designs, by Elizabeth Medina, Zia

10 1/4 in H by 10 in Dia

Polychrome: A painted or glazed surface of three or more colors

Pueblo: (town dwelling, Spanish) Now an alternate word for reservation or domicile reserved primarily for Native Americans. Used mostly in New Mexico: Pueblos are communities where the people's lives revolve around activities in the central plaza where ceremonial dances are often held. Pueblos are also sovereign nations with their own government, schools, courts and law enforcement agencies

Salado: An ancient Native American people living in the Tonto Basin along the Salt River and on the rugged slopes of the Superstition and Sierra Ancha Mountains in Arizona during the period from 1150-1450 C.E.

Santa Clara: One of the Eight Northern Pueblos in New Mexico, famous for its (often) carved red and black pottery

Santo Domingo: One of the Eight Northern Pueblos, best known for heishi bead necklaces formed from turquoise and shells; also known for unique, traditional pottery and silversmithing

San Ildefonso: One of the Eight Northern Pueblos, located south of Santa Clara Pueblo along the Rio Grande. Well known for red, black and polychrome pottery, especially the black on black technique

Sgraffito Mimbres scorpion design on a black seed pot
Black seed pot with sgraffito
Mimbres scorpion design,
by Dean Haungooah, Santa Clara

1 3/4 in H by 2 1/4 in Dia

Seed pot: In older times seeds were stored in pottery seed pots: seeds stuffed in through a small hole, then the hole plugged with cloth, clay, corn cob, stick, etc. When it came time to plant again, the seed pot was broken open and the seeds removed. These days the shape of the seed pot is very elastic and the decorations have become much more elaborate as seed pots survive much longer than just a couple seasons

Sgraffito: Design formed on pottery by scratching lines into and removing small parts of the surface of pottery, from the Italian sgraffito. A process that happens after the pottery has been fired.

Slip: A fine, liquid form of clay applied to the surface of a vessel prior to painting and firing. Slip fills in pores and gives uniform color.

Storyteller: The person acknowledged within the Native American community as the one who verbally passes on historical and cultural beliefs. Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo was the first to depict a storyteller surrounded by children in clay.

Temper: Sand, crushed rock, or ground-up potshards added to clay to reduce shrinkage and cracking during drying and firing

Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Keres, Hopi, Zuni: The native languages of the Pueblo people. Tiwa is further broken into southern and northern dialects while Keresan is broken into eastern and western dialects. In both cases, those of one dialect are almost unintelligible to those of the other dialect.

Butterfly, lady bug and geometric designs on a polychrome wedding vase with a twisted handle
Polychrome wedding vase with twisted handle
and lady bug, butterfly and geometric designs,
by Carolyn Concho, Acoma

5 in H by 3 3/4 in Dia

Turquoise: A semi-precious stone used in Native American jewelry, usually found in arid regions. Colors range from blue to greenish yellow, the color mix indicating the particular area the stone is from. It is used in several forms, including: natural - the stone as it is mined; stabilized (chemically hardened); treated (color altered); and reconstituted (turquoise dust chips and plastic resin boutons made into jewelry)

Wedding Vase: A traditional, double-necked vessel used as a ceremonial wedding object

Zia: A Native American pueblo known for its pottery and its symbols, particularly the Sun symbol which appears on the state flag of New Mexico. Zía is a "living" pueblo and has been continuously occupied since the 13th century.

Zuni: A Native American pueblo known for fetish carvings, delicate inlaid jewelry and multiple stone settings, often called "petit point" or "needlepoint". The Zunis have isolated themselves so long their language is considered an "isolate" and has no common connections with any of the surrounding languages. There are some similarities in the Hopi and Zuni cosmologies but the native languages are mutually unintelligible.