Hopi Pottery

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade September 2001

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For over one thousand years, the Pueblo Indian tribes have held a certain expertise in the art of making pottery. After learning the craft from the Indians of Mexico, the Pueblos honed their skills and have become well-known for their ability to create such beautiful clayware. One such tribe, the Hopis, incorporates their art into their daily lives.

¡§The Hopi world revolves around art¡¨ (Hopi Art). The Hopis believe that all objects in nature, such as rocks, clouds and trees, possessed a certain spirit, or life. Therefore, it was essential to them to preserve harmony in the world around them. It is even believed in their culture ¡§that if, when the time comes to [fire the pottery], someone utters more than a whisper, the spirit that inhabits the vase will break it¡¨ (Hopi).

¡§The ancient [Hopi] potters passed their skills on to succeeding generations, many of whom are Hopi potters today¡¨ (Hopi Pottery).

Clay is dug out of the earth by hand, and hand processed. Their pottery is created without the aid of a pottery wheel or molds, but is handmade using a method called ¡¥coil and scrape¡¦. Potters hand-painted the designs with yucca leaf brushes, and used natural materials from the environment to make the paint. For example, black paint, called ¡¥guaco¡¦, was made by boiling Beeweed until it became dark and thick. This substance was then dried into small cakes, and wrapped for later use.

The pottery was fired in open firing areas ¡§on the mesa using [coal] and cedar as a heat source,¡¨ which could reach over 1,300"žaF in temperature (Hopi Pottery)! Many modern Hopi potters prefer to use sheep dung as a heat source, because of its rapid and even heat.

The earliest Hopi pottery pieces, traced back to 500 BCE, were gray in color with crude, black decoration. However, as time passed, the Hopi tribe, along with its pottery, was influenced by many different events. ¡§The Great Drought,¡¨ 1276 through 1299, brought with it significant changes in the making of Hopi pottery. ¡§Orange and yellow pottery came into existence as wood used for the firing technique was abandoned for the coal fuel found in abundance on [Hopi] mesas¡¨ (Ugarte). Later, in 1628, another event occurred which altered their pottery making process. As Spanish priests began establishing missions around Hopi villages, domestic sheep were introduced to the Hopis, and the coal used in the firing process was replaced by sheep dung. What is called the ¡¥Modern Era of Hopi Pottery¡¦ began in the mid 1800s with the arrival of the Europeans. ¡§Their introduction of severe smallpox outbreaks to the Hopi Indian villages, in 1853 and 1854, forced a large number of Hopi families to migrate to Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico.¡¨ The Hopis remained there for several years, adopting new techniques, shapes, and designs from the Zuni Indians, including ¡§the grayish-white crackled surface for their pottery¡¨ (Ugarte).

Hopi potters of today create pottery using the same techniques as their ancestors that have been passed down through the generations. They ¡§use clay they gather themselves, usually from sacred tribal land.¡¨ Then, after the clay is sifted, cleaned, and soaked, potters use it to create their pieces using a traditional, hand-coiled method. ¡§After the pot is shaped, a slip (a fine sand or clay mixture) is applied¡¨ (Pueblo Pottery). After the works are polished, painted, and fired, they are sold to consumers so that the beautiful Hopi art can be displayed and enjoyed in homes around the world.

Works Cited Hopi. 11 Mar. 2001. .

Hopi Art. 11 Mar. 2001. .

Hopi Pottery. 11 Mar. 2001. .

Pueblo Pottery. 11 Mar. 2001. .

Ugarte, Alicia. History of Hopi Indian Potters. 11 Mar. 2001. .

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