Glossary of Pueblo Pottery Terms

15 words describing the processes used and the finished pot

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Maria Plate
Maria and Santana
San Ildefonso
black-on-black plate
12" Diameter
Courtesy of
Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery remote

Black-on-black A style of pottery developed about 1919 by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo. It is characterized by two shades of black--one highly polished, the other matte or dull.

Burnishing A process of producing a polished, shiny surface by rubbing a smooth stone over the surface of pots or bowls after the application of a clay slip.

Coiling A process of building up the walls of a pot by adding successive rope-like coils of clay. In the coil-and-scrape method, used by Pueblo potters, the walls of the pot are thinned, shaped, and smoothed by scraping with a smooth tool.

Curing Period following the grinding and mixing of raw clay with water.

Fire cloud An irregular discoloration on the exterior of the pottery; usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing.

Firing The process of baking and hardening pottery. Traditional Indian pottery is fired outdoors (rather than in a kiln) using various fuels including dried animal dung.

Incising In pottery, the cutting of closely-spaced lines and designs into the surface of the pot before it is fired.

Kiln-fired Pottery that has been mechanically baked in a commercial kiln.

Matte or semi-matte A dull surface finish far less glossy than the burnished black or red ware. Most pottery from Hopi, Acoma, Zia and Picuris is matte.

Micaceous Containing tiny flakes of mica. The clay of Taos and Picuris is micaceous, giving their pots a sparkling surface.

Potshard Also shard or sherd. A fragment of pottery.

Polychrome A painted or glazed surface of three or more colors.

Sgraffito A method of decorating pottery after firing wherein the surface is scratched to form intricate patterns.

Slip A fine, liquid form of clay applied to the surface of a vessel prior to firing. Slip fills in pores and gives a uniform color.

Temper Sand, crushed rock, or ground-up potshards added to clay to reduce shrinkage and cracking during drying and firing.

By Pamela Michaelis, founder of The Collector's Guide and former host of “Gallery News” radio show on KHFM 95.5 remote, classical radio in Albuquerque.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 6

Related Pages

Collecting Indian Pottery article
The First Storyteller article
The History of an Ancient Human Symbol article
How Pueblo Pottery is Made article
Pottery: Enduring Styles of The Pueblos article
Watchdog for Authenticity — IACA article

A good resource for conservation and restoration of Pueblo pottery:
Material Insight: Pueblo Pottery Restoration remote

Collector’s Resources


Cowboys & Indians Antiques | 505-255-4054
House of the Shalako rem By Appointment in Peralta | 505-242-4579
Wright's Indian Art | 505-266-0120

Santa Fe

Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery | 505.986.1234
Chimayo Trading & Mercantile | 505-351-4566
Steve Elmore Indian Art | 505-995-9677
Keshi - The Zuni Connection | 505-989-8728
Morning Star Gallery | 505.982.8187
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture | 505-476-1250
The Rainbow Man | 505-982-8706
Sherwoods Spirit of America | 505-988-1776
Wadle Galleries Ltd pic 128 West Palace Ave | 505-983-9219


Bryans Gallery 121 Kit Carson Road | 575-758-9407
Millicent Rogers Museum | 575-758-2462


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