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Native American Clay

History of Native American ceramics for 6-8 art students

Lindsey Foushee

on 11 September 2017

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Transcript of Native American Clay

Native Americans started creating pottery more than 4,500 years ago. Prehistoric shards of pottery tell stories about the tribes as well as the lives the people led. While the pottery-making method depends on the tribe, the process includes finding clay and other materials to form the vessel. The potter then fashions the vessel out of the clay before firing and drying the piece into a usable container.
Native American Clay
In prehistoric times, Native Americans lived nomadic lives, following the seasons in their search for fresh food. They carried lightweight bags made of animal skins or woven from tree bark or reeds. Once people began to settle in more permanent villages, they began to create pottery. Pottery from thousands of years ago has shown up in places like Iowa and New Mexico, with the oldest pottery coming from Georgia. While many tribes stopped making pottery in the 1700s because of access to European-made containers, some tribes, especially in the southwest, still create pottery.
Various materials including sand, crushed rock, plant fibers and ground mussel shells were added to the clay to eliminate cracks during the firing and drying process. Early pottery found in Georgia and other locations included Spanish moss.
The creation of pottery during prehistoric times depended on several methods including coiling, paddling, pinching and shaping. Some of these methods get used today, too. The coiling method involves using a long coil to build up the wall of the container. The paddling method involved pounding a lump of clay with a large stone to create thin walls. The pottery dried for a few weeks before getting heated over a fire.
While Native Americans from prehistoric times used their fingers or simple tools to add designs to their pottery, in later years, they used more sophisticated techniques. Early Georgia tribes used stamps with different designs carved on wooden paddles that they used to press onto the soft pottery. Colors were also added to decorate the pottery. In the south, the Hohokam tribe potters decorated their pots with lively figures. The Anasazi potters of the Four Corners region used repeated geometric patterns.
Today, a variety of artistic potters, especially from the southwest, create beautiful pottery in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Potters from the Hopi villages in northwestern Arizona create pots featuring wildlife and other elements of nature. The Zuni potters located near the New Mexico and Arizona border also use traditional designs featuring dragonflies, flowers and wildlife. The Navajo potters started making horse hair pottery with an imprint of a horse hair burned into the pottery during the firing process.
Native Americans make clay pottery today using methods developed over centuries. These containers have long been used as practical everyday tools for cooking, carrying water, storing food and preserving seeds, and also sometimes vessels for religious purposes. Today, after centuries of refining and developing local designs and styles, creating different glazing and coloring techniques, the pottery has become decorative as well.
Since fired clay has, in many instances, remained the only evidence of the existence of early Native American, the shards of pottery found today at village excavation sites offer archaeologists their only view into the life of these prehistoric people.
The early pots had no real symmetry or artist design. Each pot shape depended on its use. The water-carrying jugs were molded to fit the shoulders that would be toting them, and the large storage vessels were molded to fit together to fill the intended storage space. As can be expected, the earliest containers did not have flat bottoms. Although some exteriors sported stippling, roping and pinching techniques, most were unadorned. Over time, Indian villages developed their own distinctive shapes, colors and decorative styles.

Early Native American constructed fragile thin-walled pots by hand, employing old coiling and pinching method. Some archeologists believe that originally, clay was used to line woven baskets so water could be toted and boiled, but when the basket was placed near fire to dry foodstuff such as corn, the basket burned away leaving the more durable fired-clay interior.
Pottery requires clay collected along streams and hillsides. Often, the clay came from secretly guarded deposits. The amount of pots made from a particular type of clay found at an archeological site indicates if the pots were made locally or imported.
Your assignment...
We will be building clay pots using the coiling method. You will learn to prepare clay, use different tools, and include coiled designs in your pot.
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