Shapes and Forms

Sgraffito butterfly, flower and geometric designs on a carved black turtle with inlaid turquoise Carved black turtle with inlaid turquoise and sgraffito flower, butterfly and geometric designs
by Melony Gutierrez, Santa Clara

3 1/2 in H by 6 1/2 in Dia
Black and white geometric designs on a polychrome jar Polychrome jar decorated with black and white geometric designs
by Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Cochiti/Santo Domingo

9 3/4 in H by 9 1/2 in Dia
Sienna stripe and sgraffito heart line on a gunmetal black bear Gunmetal black bear with a sienna stripe and sgraffito heart line
by Tony Da, San Ildefonso

3 1/2 in H by 5 3/4 in Dia
Deer, heart line and geometric designs on an orange water pitcher Orange water pitcher decorated with deer, heart line and geometric designs
by Anderson Peynetsa, Zuni

7 3/4 in H by 8 1/4 in Dia

Pottery comes in many shapes and forms. Some is utilitarian and some ceremonial but most is art. In some areas, shapes are limited by the local religion. In other areas, anything goes. And there's room for a lot of innovation in between... that's how storytellers and nativities came about. It's how seedpots (a form once purely utilitarian and now purely art) have been stretched, blown up, flattened and turned into precise geometric shapes.

There is speculation that pottery evolved from baskets, from folks pressing wet clay into the bottom of their reed baskets and then burning the baskets to harden the clay. Archaeologists have found plenty of evidence to back up that idea. And many basketmakers still put clay in the bottom of their baskets. Now we see potters making hard pottery and weaving basket materials into it.

I've seen spoons, ladles, ashtrays, salt and pepper shakers, bookends and all kinds of fantastical creatures made of clay. What I haven't seen is ceremonial pottery and that's as it should be: the Clay Mother is sacred. Even among tribes where the making of traditional pottery has almost died out there are potters making ceremonial pottery. Ceremonial pottery isn't necessarily of a different shape as much as it's about the designs on the pieces. And ceremonial pottery is shattered at the end of the ceremony, new pottery has to be made for the next ceremony.

In order to keep up with innovations in the greater marketplace, pueblo potters have to know their clay. And many potters are actively experimenting with it to see what else can be done, what else can be made. It's always interesting to talk with the more innovative potters to see where they are now. It's almost like they get out of bed in the morning thinking, "What can I do with Clay Mother today?"

Who knew that micaceous clay would make a pot that was naturally sealed and could be used for cooking directly on the fire? Who knew that mixing various colors of clay together would make a finished product tht looks like a carving of wood? Who figured out that smothering the fire with manure at the right time would turn the pots black? And who figured out that reheating portions of a black piece would turn them red again?

There was a time 500 years ago when Tewa potters were producing lead glazed pottery. It was so popular that pieces of it have been found as far west as the Pacific shore and as far east as the Mississippi floodplain. Shapes and designs that seem to have been popular 1,000 years ago are still being made in some areas. Some shapes seem almost alien to me, but when I think about it, that fat tire around the middle of a Zuni pot is there to make it easy to hold onto without handles. That raised lip on a bowl is there so one could drink directly from the bowl and spill nothing. Those animal figure handles, those may be prayers for a good hunt. That animal or bird effigy is about honoring the creature it represents.

Basket weaving around the rim of a large bowl Red bowl with basket weaving
by Jacquie Stevens, Winnebago

8 3/4 in H by 14 1/2 in Dia
One child and a plate on a black storyteller Black female storyteller with one child and a plate
by Linda Askan, Santa Clara

4 in H by 4 1/2 in Dia
Red and black geometric designs on a white jar with geometric cutouts White jar with geometric (yin/yang) cutouts plus red and black geometric designs
by Diego Valles, Mata Ortiz

8 in H by 5 3/4 in Dia
Measurement includes stand
Mimbres bird and geometric designs on a lidded polychrome pyramid Lidded polychrome pyramid decorated with Mimbres bird and geometric designs
by Charmae Natseway, Acoma

6 in H by 5 1/2 in Dia