Native American Pottery Glossary Index



practice of affixing figures, such as animals and corn to pottery’s surface


is a horned and plumed serpent design on Pueblo pottery, also referred to as a water serpent



is an encircling area of design usually bounded by horizontal framing line.

Bear paw design

is found on some Santa Clara Pueblo traditional pottery represented as an imprint.

Black on black

is a type of blackware pottery finished both by black polish and dull or matte finish usually suggesting design.


is any type of black pottery, plain, carved, polished or decorated, made primarily at Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos. Red clay used to make blackware turns black from carbon released during low temperature and reduced oxygen atmosphere.



is a deep depression carved in pottery before firing, characteristic of some Santa Clara Pueblo pottery and less frequently on San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery.


is discontinuity or fire cracks in the slip possibly due to uneven shrinkage of the underlying clay.




pottery or other objects made from fired clay which is porous and permeable. Earthenware is fired at relatively low temperature, may be glazed or unglazed, and is usually but not always buff, red, or brown in color. Red earthenware is a clay given its color by the presence of iron oxide. A clay body based on ball clay is known as white earthenware. Faience, terra cotta, and majolica are examples of earthenware.


A colored slip used in decorating ceramics. They have several distinctive attributes, but are also excellent alternatives to glazes because they are less expensive and less time consuming. Engobes are typically made by mixing water with a claybody in use, then mixing in one or more colorants (e.g. oxides) — in a proportion of dry ingredients to water that is about 1:2 by volume.


Fire cloud

is a blemish on a pot caused by the pot coming into contact with a piece of fuel, thus being fired at a higher temperature.


is a heating process by which the pottery vessel is hardened. The traditional technique does not use a kiln, the fuel is simply being piled around the pots and set on fire. A reducing fire excludes fresh air from the center, resulting in pottery that may be black or a gray tone of white. An oxidizing fire allows for a draft of fresh air to permeate to the center, burning the fuel brightly and cleanly, resulting in a red surface or a creamy white, tan, yellow or orange color.



is a finely powdered mineral substance painted on the surface of a vessel, which melts during firing and forms a more or less glassy coating. The Pueblo Native Americans used this material only for painting the design lines, not for overall waterproofing until as late as 1700. Thereafter, the use of glaze paint was abandoned in favor of carbon or matte mineral paints.

Gun metal finish

appears as a silvery black surface quality yielding a metallic look to the surface coloration.


Historic pottery

is pottery produced after the arrival and influence of Europeans to North America and continuing to the late 19th century.


Incised design

is applied on a pot, before or after firing, by a pointed tool which removed the slip and exposes the underlying clay.




Line break

is a small interruption in the band design. It may be present only in the framing lines of the band or the entire band design may be broken by a short gap. Also referred to as a ceremonial gap.


is a tiny flare at the opening of a vessel to reduce dribble during the pouring of a liquid


Mata Ortiz

is a small village in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, less than 100 miles (160 km) from the US-Mexico border. The community, population 2,000, is one of the designated localities in the municipality of Casas Grandes, one of several such pueblos in a wide, fertile valley long inhabited by indigenous people. The ancient ruins of Casas Grandes are located nearby. Mata Ortiz has recently seen a revival of an ancient Mesoamerican pottery tradition. Inspired by pottery from the ancient city of Paquimé, which traded as far north as New Mexico and Arizona and throughout northern Mexico, modern potters are producing work for national and international sale. This new artistic movement is due to the efforts of Juan Quezada, the self-taught originator of modern Mata Ortiz pottery, his extended family and neighbors. Mata Ortiz pots are hand built without the use of a potter’s wheel. Shaping, polishing and painting the clay is entirely done by hand, often with brushes made from children’s hair. All materials and tools originate from supplies that are readily available locally. The preferred fuel for the low temperature firing is grass-fed cow manure or split wood. Each of these characteristics derive from the ancient pottery traditions of the region, however Mata Ortiz ware incorporates elements of contemporary design and decoration and each potter or pottery family produces distinctive individualized ware.

Micaceous clay

is clay containing mica, characteristically used by potters at San Juan, Taos and Picuris.

Mineral paint

is a substance used for decorating pottery formed of a finely powdered mineral substance such as iron oxide, mixed with water and perhaps even including some carbonaceous material (as a binder).


is a recognizable part of an overall design, composed of one or several elements.



is the part of a jar near the opening which is relatively constricted and cylindrical in comparison with the main body of the vessel. Some jars have no neck.



large pot used as a water container.



is a problem observed occasionally on Pueblo pottery resulting from expansion and contraction of improperly prepared clay or impure clay.


is the smooth surface finish achieved by means of stone stroking or rubbing with fabric or leather when the surface is still damp before firing.


is pottery with three or more colors or tones, making up the color scheme.


is a hard, fine grained, nonporous, usually translucent, white ceramic ware consisting of kaolin, quartz and feldspar. It is fired at high temperatures.


is pottery produced prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America.




is the region of the vessel adjacent to the opening.



decorating by finely cutting away parts of a surface layer to expose a different color ground.


is the widest part of a jar, if it occurs rather high on the vessel.


is a coating of a watered down clay applied to the surface of a pot before firing. The slip may be polished or left as a matte finish.

Slip cast pottery

Pottery formed using clay molds, often bought at hobby shops, taken home painted with commercial paint and then kiln fired.


is a strong opaque ceramic-ware that is high-fired, well vitrified and non-porous. It is usually wheel thrown.


is a vitreous or semi-vitreous ceramic ware of fine texture made primarily from non-refractory fire clay. Fine stoneware is made from more carefully selected, prepared and blended raw materials. It is used to produce tableware and art ware.



is a group of pottery vessels that are alike in every important characteristic except (possibly) shape.


Utilitarian ware

is pottery used for everyday needs such as cooking, eating and storage.




is a group of pottery vessels that are alike in every important characteristics, but may differ in others.