Navajo (Diné) Pottery

Traditional Diné pottery is generally of a dark brown color with a distinct appearance that results from applying piñon pitch glaze follow firing. Except for this glaze, traditional Navajo pottery was largely undecorated until trading posts came into Navajo territory around the turn of the last century. In response to tourist preferences, Navajo potters gradually began decorating their pottery either with incised (carved) designs or with appliqué—sculptural motifs molded on the surface. Common appliqué designs included pine cones, oak leaves, ears of corn, yeibichai (spirit dancers), and animals. Along with bowls, jars and pitchers, a dual-spouted “wedding vase” was, and still is, a popularly traded vessel. Additionally for the tourist market, artists also began making fired clay animal sculptures, such as sheep, bears, cows, goats, horses, squirrels and horny toads.

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The traditional pottery-making process used by Diné women to make pottery continues today. The clay selected can be from one source or from several sources blended together. The clay is coiled, shaped, and placed in an outdoor pit directly upon fuels such as cedar wood, juniper wood or sheep dung. After firing, and before the pot has cooled, melted piñon pitch is applied as a glaze, both inside and out. This glazing not only gives the pot a distinctive appearance, but a distinct and pleasant aroma as well.

Navajo Pottery Pitched Jar          Navajo Pottery Tall Pitched Jar         Night Dance Navajo Pot

Beginning in the 1950s and ‘60s, a talented mother-daughter team, Rose Williams and Alice Cling, began to refine the technique and artistry of their work, and soon brought Diné pottery into the arena of highly collectible Native American art. Today Diné pottery is a growing art form, made both by men and women. In addition to incised designs and appliqué motifs, decorative techniques now include painting as well as the incorporation of materials such as turquoise, coral, and shell into the clay. Although adherence to tradition remains strong and many Diné potters still fire and glaze their wares using traditional methods, they have diversified their craft to include forms that satisfy both traditional strictures and contemporary tastes.

A recent trend is the production of unfired clay figurines, or "mud toys," that are reminiscent of the figurines of the pre-effigy period. Many mud-toy makers have elevated the making of these simple, unadorned clay forms to the status of folk art. Toy sheep wear fleeces of real wool; the hides of cows and horses are made of velvet of yarn, and cardboard wagons are drawn by brightly painted clay horses.