Exploring Ways of Knowing

Ways of Knowing Part 2 - Ancestors

Pueblo people have been making pottery in the Southwest United States for hundreds of years. We can learn a lot from the traditions and knowledge that have been passed down from generation to generation.

This first video clip features Dolly Naranjo from the Santa Clara Pueblo. She describes how to prepare and make clay the way her ancestors did.

“When I look at a piece of pottery, I am amazed that it comes from nothing more than earth, ash, rock. It has nothing in it but the things you find around you.” —Dolly Naranjo Neikrug

Potters usually collect clays from sources their families or pueblos have long used.

They add temper—often rock, crushed pottery or sand—to the clay so their vessels don’t collapse or crack when they’re dried or fired. Dolly uses volcanic ash as temper.

Dolly starts a vessel by making a base. Then she rolls, coils and builds the vessel up until it’s the desired size and shape. She often uses a puki, a base to support the vessel while she works.

In the video below, watch Dolly and she describes how to start a pot the way her ancestors did.

"Pottery allows me to feel that I am a part of the world that we live in. And it allows me to be creative and allows me to express myself." -Dolly Naranjo Neikrug

After the vessel dries, she sands it and coats it with a thin layer of clay and water to create a smooth surface. This slip makes the vessel red. Before the slip dries, Dolly smoothes the surface with polishing stones—treasured tools often passed down from mother to child over generations.

Potters fire their vessels outdoors using wood or manure. The way they’re fired determines whether vessels end up black or red. Firing makes them permanent and brings them to life.

"The [polishing stones] that I have are ones that were given to me by my mother when I first started making pottery" - Dolly Naranjo Neikrug Use an Art History Lens: How does its design fit into its function?

The images below show different tools used in the pottery making process. Do you recognize any of these tools from the videos above?

This polishing stone was used to burnish pottery before firing. Burnishing created a polished surface finish after firing.
This is the pigment used to decorate pottery. Water or other liquid is added to create a paint/glaze. This pigment is black, manganite.

Below are two examples of finished pottery pieces from Ancestral Puebloan people.

Use an Art History Lens lens to explore: How do you think the design of these pieces might fit into their function?

Do you notice similarities between the pieces of pottery below and the ones Dolly makes in the videos above?