Pottery Times

The period names in classifying pottery have very little to do with the pottery itself. Instead the names refer to cultural changes based on migration and developments in agricultural techniques and architecture.

  • Basketmaker II          50 B.C.-A.D. 450
  • Baskemaker III           A.D. 450-700
  • Pueblo I                      700-900
  • Pueblo II                     900-1100
  • Pueblo III                    1100-1300
  • Pueblo IV                    1300-1600
  • Historic                       1600-1880
  • Modern                       1880-1950
  • Contemporary            1950-Present

The museum has vessels from Pueblo III, Pueblo IV, Historic, and Modern eras. Our oldest artifact on exhibit is the Western Mesa Verde bowl, the estimated date is c. 1250 to 1350.

After 1600 pottery became less important to the native economy so smaller quantities were made. Pottery from the Historic period are the rarest of all. The museum has five vessels during this date range of 1600-1880. Stop in for a visit and see if you can find these five pots that are on display in the Mezzanine Level.


Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

Who Signed It?

The signature by potters on their vessels is almost universal today. Before 1940 many potters did not speak English, and very few wrote it. If a potter’s name was written on the bottom of an old pot it was more than likely written by the trader who sold it or by the buyer. Pots that were made from the 1930s to the 1950s had crude signature’s that dealers often call “graffito” (An ancient drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface.) Acoma potters once believed that signing their work was an inappropriate expression of ego. Potter Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso began signing her pottery in the mid-1920s. Santa Clara, Acoma, and Laguna followed soon after.

Bottom collectors buy pots for the signature on the vessel rather than for the pot itself. Golden Bottoms are pots that have been signed by the following famous potters:  Maria & Julian Martinez, Fannie Nampeyo, Lucy Lewis, Lela Gutierrez, Rose Gonzales, and Marie Chino (Hayes & Blom, 1996). The Luther Bean Museum has two Golden Bottoms! These pots are by potters Maria & Julian Martinez and Lela Gutierrez. I invite you to stop by this Spring Break and see the wonderful collection of artifacts on display. Enjoy.


Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

Stone Kiva

Katyete or Ko-Chits (Cochiti) Pueblo “The Stone Kiva” are located in north-central New Mexico; 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe. The pueblo’s of the Cochiti and Santo Dominog are the most northern of the Keresan language. Some experts believe that the Cochiti originally came from Tyuonyi, an Anasazi village located in the Jemez Mountains. Later migrating to their present location (Hayes & Blom, 1996).

Cochiti and Santo Domingo developed their pottery on a parallel course around the 1830s. It was around 1850 that the Cochiti were known for their own distinctive style. Cochiti Polychrome pottery contain images of sacred symbols such as clouds, rain , lightening, serpents, mammals, and even humans (Harlow, 1977). The Cochiti also produce ceramic animal figures such as owls, coyotes, bears, and turtles. One of the most popular figurines originating form the Cochiti is the storyteller, which was made famous by the late Helen Cordero. Today the potters from the Cochiti pueblo make an enormous variety of people and animals as storytellers. (Gibson 2001).


Gibson, Daniel. Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitors Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 2001.

Harlow, Francis H. Modern Pueblo Pottery, 1880-1960. Northland Press. 1977

Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

The Peaceful People

Hopi. Cylinder. Black and red on yellow clay. 45.5×17.3 cm. (dia.) 1976.10.1

The Hopituh (Hopi) means “the Peaceful People”. The Hopi reservation is located in a remote area northeast of Flagstaff, AZ.They have lived in this area for over a thousand years. The reservation consist of three mesas, which protected the Hopi from invaders. Today there are twelve Hopi villages that are located at the base of the three mesas known as First, Second, and Third Mesa (The Hopi Tribe, 2005).

The villages of the First Mesa have dominated Hopi pottery making since the late 1800s. The Hopi assimilated European pottery forms in their own designs; they imitated the ring based shallow bowls and the flare-rimmed bowls (Allen, 1984).


Allen, Laura Graves. Contemporary Hopi Pottery. Museum of Northern Arizona. 1984.

The Hopi Tribe. History of the Hopi Tribe. 2005. Web accessed March 2017.

Spring Break Visits

This Spring Break I will be taking a road trip to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. My visits will be to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/ Laboratory of Anthropology and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. At both locations I will be visiting with the curators and taking a private tour of the center. I am looking forward to my trip and sharing my stories with you.

The Gutierrez Family

The Gutierrez Family are potters from San Clara. The museum collection has a pot by Lela and Van Gutierrez. Tonight has I was doing some research I found that Van’s birth name was Evangelio, but he went by Van. The couple had seven children: Cleto, Louis, Juan B., Margaret, Juan, Avelio, and Luther. Their daughter Margaret shared this about her parents and her brother, “They are the first who did the colors. I don’t know how they came up with it–I never asked them. I guess by trail and error they came out with these colors–picking, clays and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Mom and dad worked together, then Luther painted for her [during and after Van’s death], and after she passed away I took over. After Luther passed away, I signed the pottery by myself. My dad and Luther overlapped with painting.” Maria travels to places like the Grand Canyon, Denver, La Bajada, and Los Alamos to get clay for her pots (Dillingham, 1994).

When I started my journey as an intern “Lela/Van” were just names noted on a piece of paper in the accession folder for a particular vessel. Then I confirmed that they were potters from Santa Clara whose names were Lela and Van Gutierrez. These two potters came to life for me when I actually got to see the pot they had made up close and then I saw their signature on the bottom of the pot…I felt like this pot had a story to share! When I read what Margaret said about her parents and I found Van’s birth name, the Gutierrez family story was started to blossom before me.

Click on the Santa Clara tab to see a picture of the pot that Lela and Van made and signed. I have a photograph posted of Lela and Van on my blog entry titled, “Potters”.


Dillingham, Rick. Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery. The University of New Mexico Press. 1994.

Update on my search for two potters

Last semester, I wrote in one of my blog post that I was searching for two potters whose names are Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. I would like to update you on where I am at in my journey in search of these two potters.

A quick recap…Some of the vessels in the museum have names inscribed on the bottom of the post. My responsibility as an intern is to verify the names on the pots to confirm that indeed they are potters. I was able to verify Tomasita Montoya, Reyecita A. Trujillo, Lela Gutierrez, and Van Gutierrez to be potters. There were two names that I have not been able to verify Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. 

Petra Tafoya. Santa Clara. Ceremonial Wedding Vase. Early 1940s. White, blue, red, and beige on red clay, burnished, on red clay. 23.5×16.3 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor

Dora Cata. San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. Seed Jar. c. early 1940s. Tan, white, and red, partially burnished, on red clay, incised. 9.3×8.1 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor.

Besides the usual searching the web and looking through many books I have also contacted several people to see if they know these two potters. Something terrific that is taking place is, the people that I have contacted are contacting other people. The librarian at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis, which I met on my museum trip had someone search the Heard Museum’s  Native American Artist Database which has over 35,000+ records. Unfortunately nothing turned up 🙁 !! A gentleman who is the Curator of Ethnology at Santa Clara is also part of the people out there searching for any information on Petra and Doris.

There was considerable intermarriage between Santa Clara and San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. It is possible that Petra Tafoya is related to the Santa Clara Tafoya’s. There might be a chance that Dora might be related to a Sam Cata.

My journey in search of Dora and Petra continues…I hope that I will be able to one day blog that I found Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. That will be a GREAT blog!!

Making Pueblo Pottery

My time in the museum this week was spent working on the photographs I took of the vessels in Photoshop, finalizing the inventory sheets, making labels for the vessels in the Mezzanine, and attending a planning meeting for a fundraiser for the museum. It was a very productive week :)!

This week I would like to share with you the process of pottery making…

The process is quite similar for all the Pueblo Indians. Clay is the basic ingredient; the raw material is finely pulverized and cleaned of all stones. It is tempered with finely powdered material, such as sand, volcanic ash or potsherds that have been crushed. Temper varies among the pueblos, but the purpose of the temper is always the same. Temper keeps the wet clay from being too sticky and from cracking while the pottery dries. Each village is very conservative in sticking to its tradition, it is possible to attribute a pot to a certain village by the appearance of the temper alone.

A pot is formed by rolling the clay into small sections of “rope” and these are coiled to build up the walls of the pot. The shaping and thinning is accomplished with a piece of gourd for a scraper. If the pot is to be decorated with carving or scratching into the surface it takes place at this point.

The surface of the pot is quite rough, it cannot be highly polished and does not make a good base for painted designs. It is for this reason that most decorated Pueblo pottery is covered with slip. This is an especially fine white or red clay that is mopped on in a water suspension, while it is still damp, and is polished with a smooth stone or rag.

The underbody of the vessel is not slipped; the surface of the clay is smothered as well as possible by a process called “floating.” While the clay is still wet, the finest particles are puddled to the surface of the vessel with a smooth stone, thus producing a fine clay coating that can be polished almost like slip.

The vessels are laid out on a framework of rocks or sheet metal for firing. They are covered with slabs of dried cow dung or other slow burning fuel. If the desired color is jet black the fire is smothered; otherwise the fire produces shades of tan, cream, red, orange, and yellow.


Frank, Larry and Francis H. Harlow. Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians 1600-1880. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1990.

Form of Pottery

Last semester I was working on individual inventory sheets for the pottery in the museum. These sheets have as much documented information about the vessel as possible. Some of the information is the description of the vessel:   a descriptive title, object type, medium description, dimensions, and condition. I would like to share some of the different descriptive titles and use of the vessel you will come across when you visit the museum or when you view the different pueblo tabs on the webpage.

San Ildefonso. Olla. c. 1900-20. Red and black on white on red clay. 26.5×31 cm. (dia.) Gift of Mrs. Charles H. Woodard. 1965.1.27


The olla is a relatively large vessel used for collecting, carrying, and storing water. Since the beginning of the 18th century they were almost always made with a depression on the bottom so that it may be carried on the head. The ollas served as a natural refrigerator, the porosity of the paste allowed the contents to cool by evaporation, making it a valuable commodity in the arid southwest.


Bowls are vessels with an opening at approximately the greatest width, where as Jars have a narrow opening and are usually taller.

Large storage jars have a narrow mouth to facilitate coverage. Storage jars that held grain have come down from the generations among the most plentifully preserved of all the pottery forms of the middle Historic period. This is because they remained relatively undisturbed in corners of back rooms.

Water jars are smaller and lighter than storage jars. They were used to scoop up water form a stream or river. They usually have a concave base so it could be carried on top of the head, often without using the hands.

Mojave. Effigy Jar. Dark red, black, white, and orange on red clay. 18.7×11.6 cm. (dia.) Gift of Mrs. Bessie T. Barnes. 1965.2.3

Ceremonial vessel and Effigy figures in animal and human shapes are rare. They vary considerably in form and use. They are used to hold the sacred corn pollen. Ceremonial ware was the least handled and usually remained carefully stored away. Ceremonial bowls generally are more exotic in their decoration, covered with sacred symbols of the Indians religious traditions; these include human and animal figures, emblems of natural phenomena—lightening, rain, clouds, and depictions of mythological beings such as the sky serpents.



Dough Bowls are the largest bowls, often capable of holding a week’s supply of bread dough for a family.

Preservation of vessels has come from the Indians reverence of their pottery.


Frank, Larry and Francis H. Harlow. Historic Pottery of the Pueblo Indians 1600-1880. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1990.

Spring Semester

I am excited and privileged that my journey as an intern will continue this spring semester. This semester I will be writing in my blog about different topics I am researching; as well as keeping you up to date on things that I am doing in the museum. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey as an intern this last semester. It has been a pleasure having you join me in this journey. May you experience joy and peace in your own journey. God Bless.