Earth, Water & Fire: American Indian Pottery

A Hopi polychrome bowl by Nampeyo, first quarter 20th century, Sikyatki-style bird in centerIf you’re looking for a beautiful, graphic collection, you can’t do better than American Indian pottery.  It’s hard to make generalizations about these pots, because pottery developed among different tribes in different ways.  Archaeology teaches us though that almost all farming cultures turned to potting at some point, a fact that holds true among American Indian tribes, but as many Native American tribes were pushed westward, farming ceased to be a viable lifestyle for them and their pottery-making often decreased dramatically or ceased completely as they turned to nomadic lifestyles.

It makes sense, then, that pottery traditions among the farming cultures of the Southwest have come closest to surviving intact, and the pottery industry blossomed with the tourist boom that started in the early 1900s.  Thousands of pots have been made and carried home by visitors, many from well-known pottery families like the Nampeyo and Martinez families, so there are plenty out there to choose from!  You can find modest pots with broad decoration for less than $100 (even signed pieces like this one), modern pots with dramatic decoration (like this one, also signed) for less than $300, and beautiful pieces from the early days of the tourist trade by prestigious families, like the $10,000 bowl pictured above from the Nampeyo family.  Personally, though, I find it hard to pass up Zuni pots with applied pottery frogs!