Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Ancient American pottery—put to ritual, funerary, and domestic use—developed distinctive, sophisticated shapes and decorative styles, wholly unrelated to those of the Old World and executed on a high artistic level. Pots were built by coiling, hand modeling, and molding; the potter's wheel was unknown. Painted decoration was in clay slips colored with vegetable and mineral pigments. See Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture.

South America

Moche Stirrup-Spout Portrait Bottle Portrait bottles such as this were unique to the Moche culture of Peru. Produced during the 5th and 6th centuries, they were generally hand built and used a two-colored slip for the glaze. The images represented either warriors or priests. The stirrup-spout was also used on other types of jars and bottles.

Moche Pottery Vessel Three fanged deities emerge from a bundle of corn cobs in this Moche vessel from the 5th or 6th century. Made of terra-cotta, this bottle was undoubtedly used for ceremonial purposes, as was most of the pottery produced by this Andean culture.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Pottery from about 3200 bc has been found at Ecuadorian sites, but the foremost styles appeared in Peru. There, the Chavín style (which reached its height from about 800 bc to about 400 bc), with its jaguar motifs, was succeeded in the Classic period (1st millennium ad) by one of the finest pre-Columbian potteries, that of the Mochica culture of the north coast. Molded buff-colored vases were painted in red with vivid narrative scenes; portraitlike jars were modeled in relief with great subtlety. Both had the characteristic Peruvian stirrup spout, a hollow handle with a central vertical spout. To the south the Nazca culture produced double-spouted polychrome jars with complex stylized animal motifs. The later Tiahuanacu and Inca polychrome styles were well crafted but were less dazzling.

Middle America
Maya Ceramic Figure The Maya of pre-Columbian America depended on maize for their subsistence. This ceramic figure made about ad 600-800 is a representation of a maize god with jewelry made of kernels and an elaborate headdress. The piece was originally brightly colored. The stylized form of the figure is characteristic of Maya ceramic work.

The earliest domestic Mexican ceramics date from the Formative period (1500-1000 bc) in the Valley of Mexico. On the Gulf coast the Olmec culture produced hollow, naturalistic figurines. During the Classic period (ad 300? to 900?), pottery figurines from the east showed lively freedom of expression; those from the west were often grouped in impressionistic scenes of daily life. At Teotihuacán in the central plateau, polychrome three-footed vessels were produced in molds. In the Post-Classic era the Toltecs occupied the central plateau, producing typical ceramics painted red on cream or orange on buff. Later, the Aztecs first assimilated earlier abstract decoration, then turned to red and orange bowls ornamented with birds and other life forms (see Aztec Empire:Tools and Crafts). Farther south, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs resisted Aztec influence. Besides modeled animals, humans, and gods, they made a highly burnished polychrome ware that influenced later Mexican pottery.

Moche Artists Create Pottery Sculptures

Maya ware attained a variety and quality unique in Mesoamerican ceramics. Maya ware of the Classic period included delicate figurines, polychrome cylindrical vases with scenes and glyphs resembling those in Mayan manuscripts, and plaques containing whistles, with molded and modeled scenes of everyday life.

North America

Zuñi Storage Jar Pottery making is an old and respected tradition among the Zuñi people of North America. This storage jar from the early 1900s was made using the “coil” method, in which long, thin coils of clay are formed around a flat, circular base and built up to create the shape of the jar, then smoothed and glazed. The white background with black and brown geometric designs is characteristic of Zuñi pottery.

Anasazi Pottery Bowl The Anasazi culture of North America flourished in the 1st millennium ad. This bowl, with its dark-on-light geometric designs, is typical of Anasazi pottery, which is highly valued.Buddy Mays

In the Mississippi Valley the Mound Builders of the 1st millennium bc produced painted, modeled, and incised ware. In the Southwest, fine pottery was made by the ancestors of the Pueblo peoples—notably the red-on-buff ware (ad600?-900?) of the Hohokam and the polychrome ware (1300 and later) of the Anasazi, both adorned with human and animal figures; and the delightful, distinctive Mimbres pottery (1000-1200) of the Mogollon culture, with black-on-white geometric designs, birds, bats, frogs, and ceremonial scenes. The ancient tradition has been carried on into modern Pueblo pottery, notably in the work of Maria Martinez, who is widely known for her burnished black ware.

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