By Beck, Barbara
School Arts , Vol. 95, No. 4
The tradition of pottery making lives on today in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Pueblos, and their ancestors, the Anasazi, were, and still are, accomplished potters. This project grew out of my desire to help my students understand that making coil pottery connects them with ancient cultures.
As an introduction, we viewed slides of Mesa Verde, Colorado, and discussed Pueblo culture. We considered the different uses for pottery in both farming and hunting/gathering cultures and familiarized ourselves with the different forms of pottery, including the prayer bowl and the wedding vase. Next, we viewed the video Maria, which shows potter Maria Martinez making a coil pot and going through all the steps from digging the clay to building an open-air kiln. I told the students we would make a coil pot by adapting the steps Maria used to fit our classroom situation.
Forming the Pinch Pot
The students began by forming a pinch pot from white clay and placing it in a small bowl lined with newspaper. Plastic disposable salad bowls were perfect for this purpose. The Pueblo often used the rounded shell of a gourd or a pot shard, called a puki. Using a puki was a big help in giving the pot a graceful lift off the base and in maintaining a round symmetrical shape.
The pinch pot had to extend above the rim of the puki by at least 1/2" (I cm) to allow for the successful meshing of coils. The newspaper liner kept the pot from sticking to the puki and had to be changed as it became wet from the moisture of the clay.
Rolling the Coils
Rolling good, even coils is difficult and takes practice. Everyone had to roll three perfect coils before they could begin adding them to the rim of the pot. The coils were meshed and smoothed in the traditional way using a flexible scraper while turning the puki base.
The students applied two coats of black slip to the outside of their pots. We allowed the black slip covered pots to dry partially and then covered them again with plastic to await burnishing, or polishing. (For best results, allow thirty or more minutes between coats.
Burnishing the Pot
Burnishing was the trickiest step in making the pot. …