Glossary of Indian Arts Terms

Short definitions to help collectors of Native American arts and crafts

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Acoma A New Mexican Pueblo, famous for white pottery, most of which is painted with fine geometric lines; one of the oldest continually inhabited 'cities' in North America

Anasazi The Prehistoric Pueblo Indians of northern Arizona and New Mexico; sometimes referred to as the 'Ancient Ones', believed to be the ancestors of many of the Pueblo Indians

Avanu A popular design (the water serpent) often seen in Native American art of the Southwest, particularly pottery, signifying the prayer for and representation of water, critical for life in the desert

Beads: Silver Barrel - a design for silver beads which describes the barrel shape, often with stampwork; one of the more contemporary designs; a challenging made-by-hand process. Disc - a design for silver beads crafted by two separate discs, usually identical, then the silver is soldered. (See also: Heishi)

Bear A popular symbol in Southwest art, often seen as a fetish, in weavings, on pottery, and in silverwork, sometimes with a 'heartline', extending from the mouth to the center of the body

Bear Paw An often used design in potter and silverwork; often if the artist is of the bear clan, or, more generally, as a symbol of inner strength

Bezel That part of a ring which holds the stone; vertical wall holding gemstone

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 application of the slip

Chasing A metalsmithing term; the process of moving metal to achieve line or form; a silversmith may have as many as 100 chasing tools, each to achieve a particular effect; unlike stamping, the tool moves laterally

Cochiti A NM Pueblo, famous for figurative clay work

Coil method A pottery term; the potter rolls a long rope of clay, which is coiled around on top of itself, forming the desired shape. In the coil-and-shape method, the walls of the pot are thinned, shaped, and smoothed by scraping with a smooth tool

Concha The Spanish term for shell; may be oval or round, frequently with scalloped edges, with or without stones; may appear in rings, pendants, bolos, buckles and belts. Now most often a Navajo design for a belt

Corn A powerful symbol in many tribes, used as a design on jewelry, pottery and weavings as respect and a prayer for fertility and a good growing season; also used if the artist is a member of the corn clan

Embossing Process used in silverwork where the piece is decorated or shaped by a raised design

Engraved Ruts or lines scratched into a metal surface

Etched Design formed in pottery by removing surface of pottery, sometimes called sgraffito

Faceted Polished surface on a gemstone

Fetish Used and made by all Southwestern Indian tribes, fetishes are objects which represent the spirits of animals or the forces of nature. Original fetishes were simple stones (or shells, turquoise or bone) which seemed to resemble people or animals, sometimes made more realistic by a carver. The Zuni people have the reputation of being the most skilled at fetish carving. Zuni tradition has six directions, each with its guardian animal fetish: the mountain lion, north; the bear, west; the badger, south; the eagle, the sky, or up; the mole, underground, or down; and the wolf, east

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

Firing The step at the end of the pottery-making process, literally baking the piece to harden. (Modern Pueblo pottery is generally fired for beauty rather than endurance; water will mar the surface and, if allowed to stand in an unprotected vessel of this type, may actually crumble it. To use as a container for flowers, etc, insert a glass container to hold the water.)

Fossilized ivory Petrified animal bones or teeth used as a substitute for elephant tusk, the demand for which made the elephant almost extinct

Heishi A Pueblo term literally meaning shell; discs or tubes with a hole in the center, usually of turquoise, coral, shell, or other materials, strung together to form a flexible strand, often of graduated size. The Santo Domingo Pueblo people are known for fine heishi

Hogan A traditional, one-room Navajo home of earth and wood

Hopi A tribe in Northern Arizona, known for distinctive "overlay" silver jewelry, pottery and Kachina dolls

Hubbell A well-known trading post, best known for the Ganado design of Navajo weavings

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

Jacklas (Jackclaws) string loop of turquoise beads hanging from turquoise necklace, originally used as earrings

Jemez A New Mexico Pueblo, in the Jemez mountains, known for pottery

Kachina dolls A form of religious folk art attributed mostly to the Hopi. The dolls are wooden images which represent the men who dance in costume, mask and paint as kachina spirits in Hopi villages from 21st December (winter solstice) through the third week in July. Kachinas represent supernaturals, the spirit or essence of animate and inanimate objects in nature who benefit the Hopi by bringing rain for a successful planting, fertility for animals and man, cures for illnesses, justice for lawbreakers, and humor for appropriate circumstances. Authentic dolls are carved from the root of the cottonwood tree only after it has broken away

Keresan A pueblo language

Liquid Silver A type of necklace or bracelet constructed of very thin, fine, small silver cylinders originally strung on catgut, now strung on fine wire

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

Naja The centerpiece of a squashblossom necklace; crescent-shaped pendant, has Moorish derivation

Navajo weaving styles:

Burnham Contemporary style; intricate, geometric design, rare

Burntwater Contemporary style; very small geometric pattern within a band, or border; region was known for using natural, vegetal dyes in soft colors

Chief's Earliest established weaving style known to the Navajo. Three phases: first phase, simple horizontal stripes of blue, white, black and brown; second phase, weavers added short red bars to the design; third phase, most popular, more elaborate, with stepped triangles in addition to the stripes of the original

Crystal Borderless, sometimes vegetal, banded design goes across horizontally, initiated by JB Moore at Crystal Trading Post

Ganado A design which includes red as well as black, white and grey; at the time of its inception, a major departure for Navajo weavers, attributed to Lorenzo Hubbell of the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona

Pictorial Considered by many to be a true expression of Navajo folk art; not limited to any sector of the reservation: literally, a picture is in the design

Raised outline Contemporary style; double twill, which results in a three dimensional appearance; started in 1950s, described as Teec Nos Pos patterns but with Burntwater colors

Storm Pattern Central motif is the hogan, or domicile, with the four directions or four sacred mountains in each corner; 'lightning' is usually identifiable as well

Teec Nos Pos Named for the trading post from which it is believed to have originated, near the Four Corners area. Most intricate and difficult pattern to weave, heavy Persian influence

Two Grey Hills Typified by black, brown, beige and white colors usually all natural, undyed sheepùs wool, woven in a complex geometric pattern

Wide Ruins Named after the trading post from which it originated; usually soft colors in a simple, horizontal pattern

Pawn Jewelry that was used as cash, and 'pawned' to a trader for other goods; often, when the owner could, he would buy or trade to retrieve it. Old Pawn refers to pawn jewelry from the early 20s to the late 30s. Dead Pawn refers to jewelry not collected after the agreed date, often several years

Picuris One of the Eight Northern Pueblos, known for micaceous pottery

Potshard Also shard or sherd. A fragment of pottery

Polychrome A painted or glazed surface of three or more colors

Pueblo ('town dwelling') An alternate description for reservation, or exclusive domicile for Native Americans, used mostly as a descriptive in New Mexico; pueblos are communities, and life revolves around the plaza, where ceremonial dances are often held; pueblos also have their own government and law enforcement agencies

Sandcast A type of jewelry-making whereby metal is cast in stone molds for form

Santa Clara One of the eight Northern Pueblos, famous for its red and black pottery, mostly carved

Santo Domingo One of the eight Northern Pueblos, best known for heishi bead necklaces formed from turquoise and shells; also unique, traditional pottery and some silversmithing

San Ildefonso One of the eight Northern Pueblos, located south of Santa Clara, well known for red and black pottery, especially black on black technique

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

Squashblossom A necklace design, composed of silver beads, incorporating 'squashblossoms' (a design based on the form of a pomegranate); includes a large center pendant called a Naja

Stamping or stampwork A term used in silversmithing to describe a process whereby a design is 'stamped' onto a piece of silver; in this process, the tool is stationary, unlike chasing, where the tool moves through the process

Storyteller The person acknowledged within the Native American community as the one who verbally passes on historical and cultural beliefs. Helen Cordero, Cochiti Pueblo, was the first to depict a storyteller, surrounded by children, in clay. Cordero's 'Storyteller' is on display at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe

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

Tewa and Tiwa Two languages of pueblo people

Turquoise A semi-precious stone used in Indian jewelry, found in arid regions. Colors range from blue to green yellow; natural: the stone as it is mined; stabilized: chemically hardened; treated: color altered; reconstituted: dust chips and plastic made into jewelry

Warp The foundation in Navajo weaving; those threads which are vertical on a vertical loom

Wedding Vase A traditional, double-necked vessel used as a ceremonial wedding vessel

Weft The crosswise exposed threads (those forming the design) on a Navajo weaving

Yei A Navajo deity or spirit, often seen in weaving designs from the Shiprock area of New Mexico

Zapotec A style of weaving by native Mexican Zapotec Indians from Oaxaca

Zuni A Native American tribe, known for fetish carvings, delicate inlaid jewelry and multiple stone settings, often called 'petit point' or 'needlepoint'

Thanks to Richard and Carolyn Canon of Packards on the Plaza opposite La Fonda in Santa Fe.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 11

Related Pages

Petroglyph National Monument article
Acoma — Sky City article
American Indian Signs and Symbols article
Events at the Indian Pueblos article
Collecting Indian Pottery article
Glossary of Pueblo Pottery Terms article

How Pueblo Pottery Is Made article
Indian Fetishes article
Indian Trade Blankets article
What Does This Indian Symbol Mean? article
Who are the Pueblo Indians? A Primer article
A Sacred Place: Meditations on Corn article

Collector’s Resources


Cowboys & Indians Antiques | 505-255-4054
House of the Shalako rem By Appointment in Peralta | 505-242-4579
The Navajo Rug, LLC 535 Los Ranchos Road NW | 505-897-5005
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
Pena Studio Gallery 235 Don Gaspar Ave | 505-820-2286
The Rainbow Man | 505-982-8706
Warrior Maiden Art pic 227 Don Gaspar | 988-4674


Bryans Gallery 121 Kit Carson Road | 575-758-9407


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