Located about 25 miles southeast of Taos in a high mountain pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Picuris was once larger than Taos. Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate referred to the village as the "Grande Pueblo de Picuris." Reports from other Spaniards who visited the area in 1598 claim the original pueblo structure was nine stories tall.
Because of the central role Picuris Pueblo played in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when the Spanish returned in 1692 they retook Picuris, leveled the pueblo and scattered the residents. Eventually the people returned and rebuilt but Picuris has never returned to its former glory.
In the center of today's pueblo is the San Lorenzo Mission church, built in the 1770's. The church was discovered to be in danger of collapsing in the 1980's due to water damage. The building couldn't be saved and was shortly torn down. Tribal members then spent eight years using traditional methods to rebuild the church on the existing foundation. The original Picuris pueblo site was excavated in the 1960's and is now an archaeological site.
Taos and Picuris Pueblos traditionally use a clay for their pottery that is high in mica content. This micaceous clay creates a distinctive metallic luster that sets their pottery apart from all other pueblo pottery. In addition, these micaceous clay pots and bowls are the only pueblo pottery that can be put directly on a fire or stove for cooking.
The Tewa Pueblos to the south sometimes copied the Taos/Picuris style but they used different clays and temper and achieved different results. Taos and Picuris pottery is very similar to each other. The main difference between Taos and Picuris pottery is that the unpainted functional Picuris pots tend to be thinner than those of Taos potters.
On some of their pots they coat the pot with a slip of mica before it is fired. Often the clouding from the firing process (now known as "fire clouds") will be the pot's only decoration. Sometimes Picuris potters added raised rope or inlaid beads or molded clay animals to their pots. Some of their pottery is striated, too, the striations achieved by various methods.
In the old days, the surrounding Hispanic villages often purchased Picuris functional pottery for household use. While the unpainted functional pottery has been in production since about 1600, it really dominated the Picuris pottery market after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Picuris potters produced a fair amount of their traditional pottery styles until the mid 1900's when their primary source of micaceous clay was almost destroyed by an industrial mica-mining project. Loss of the clay source nearly ended the Picuris pottery tradition.
More recently Anthony Durand took on the job of reviving the Picuris pottery tradition after his grandmother showed him a new source for micaceous clay. These days, many non-Picuris artists are also using micaceous clay to create beautifully shaped pots, figures and sculptures. Recently there has been a movement among the pueblo potters to create more aesthetic and artistic styles of pottery using their micaceous clay. They hope this effort will create a market for their pottery as works of art rather than just functional utility ware.