Bryn Mawr College Art & Archaeology Collections

At Home and On Display

Pueblo Pottery in the Bryn Mawr College Collection

November 24, 1998 through January 15, 1999

The perception of Native American art is often embodied within nostalgic ideals of handmade labor and authenticity. Authentic works of art have been defined by their association to one continuous tradition of purpose, method, and style over a period of many years, even centuries. Pueblo pottery has been perceived in this light, as being related to one authentic tradition of art. However, Pueblo pottery has always been in the midst of stylistic and functional transformations. Forms and decorative patterns of the ceramic wares were affected by the changing domestic needs of the Pueblo communities and those of other cultures with which they came into contact. The westward expansion of the railroad and the tourist art market also affected changes in Pueblo pottery.

How did the domestic needs of the Pueblo ancestors impact the forms and the decoration of the pots?
The ancestors of today's Pueblo people, the Anasazi (AD500-AD1300), lived in the Four Corners area of the southwest United States. The Anasazi made their painted ceramic wares for utilitarian and ritual purposes. Most likely women were the predominant figures in the production and decoration of pottery, much like they are today. They shaped their pots according to the various functions: globular jars for gathering water made with indented bases so that they could be transported on top of heads, cooking pots made with round bottoms to sit well in cook fires.

Anasazi pots were painted with geometric designs, inspired by the weaving patterns of their baskets, in black on a white background. (Exhibit Fig. I) Distinctive regional styles probably expressed social and geographical affiliations of the potters.

How did Spanish consumerism/trade influence changes in pots?
In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Pueblo potters were not only making pottery for their own domestic use, but also trading/selling them inter-tribally and to non-Indian households, particularly the Spanish and later Anglo tourists. Pottery was traded for items, such as horses, iron knives, jewelry, blankets, guns, meat, and hides, not readily available within Pueblo communities. The needs of the Spanish households encouraged Pueblo potters to develop new ceramic forms such as candlesticks, chalices, stew bowls,ring-based saucers, and cups. They also created
new Spanish inspired designs for the wares such as rosettes, (Exhibit Fig. II) curvilinear floral motifs, and the eight-pointed star.

How did tourism influence the function, form and style changes of Pueblo pottery?
At the end of the 19th century, tourist agents such as Fred Harvey promoted railway leisure getaways to New Mexico. The tourists of the Victorian era wanted souvenirs of their trips to the West, hand-crafted items to display in their homes, and momentos of a perceived pure and endangered culture.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800's popularized a new morality related to hand-crafted items, as opposed to the industrial, mass-produced products of the period. The virtues professed by the Arts and Crafts Movement were simplicity and naturalness. Because Pueblo pottery was handmade by Native Americans it was perceived by late 19th c. tourists as simple and natural. American Indian arts suited the Arts and Crafts aesthetic and often became part of Victorian home décor. Sought after for these qualities as well as its beauty, Pueblo pottery along with basketry and Navajo weavings, became art on display in the tourist's home.

The burgeoning tourist market influenced Pueblo potters to create new forms such as vases, ashtrays, teapots, tiles, dinnerware, and sugar bowls, but also a whole new form of miniature clayware (Exhibit Fig. III) that could be easily transported home on the trains.

Potters were also inspired by tourists/consumers to use more decorative styles such as incised relief designs, (Exhibit Fig. IV) and the highly polished blackware with painted black matte designs made famous by Maria and Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso). (Exhibit Fig. V) They developed this pottery as requested by Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, a professor of archaeology and Director of the Museum of New Mexico, to copy two thousand year old black sherds he had excavated in 1908 at the site of Puye, near San Ildefonso. This type of black pottery was not being made by the San Ildefonso potters at that time. It's popularity among museum professionals, in addition to tourists, persuaded Maria and Julian to make the production of blackware pieces a very lucrative and lifelong career. They were also among the first Pueblo potters to begin the practice of signing their pieces, in response to new consumers who valued the notoriety of individual potters' skills. (Exhibit Fig. VI)

Relative to the dynamic nature of culture and art, Pueblo pottery reveals a reinterpreted tradition which continues to be changed by each successive Pueblo generation that picks up a chunk of clay and molds it. The pottery's authenticity is found in the incorporation of elements of the past along with the ever-changing present needs and desires of the individual and community.

The transformation of Pueblo pottery over five centuries exemplifies one of the many innovative ways Puebloans reconstructed their cultural traditions to meet the challenges of change. Pueblo pottery, once a decorative, utilitarian object found in the domestic sphere of the home, has evolved into a marketable art for popular consumption that is found on display in homes and museums.


About one third of the collection displayed is on loan to Bryn Mawr College from Katherine B. Twyeffort Greene and Susan Twyeffort Spoor. The Twyeffort sisters are grand daughters of Katherine Middendorf Blackwell, class of 1899. The Twyeffort sisters inherited this collection from their great aunt, Amelia Beard Hollenback. Ms. Hollenback, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, collected her Pueblo pottery in the early 1900's.

Another third of the display is comprised of pots collected and donated by Professor Milton Nahm.
Mr. Nahm was Professor of Philosophy at Bryn Mawr College from 1930-1972. His wife, Elinor Amram Nahm was Class of 1928. Exhibit No. VII was Professor Nahm's pipe ashtray.

The remainder of the pottery on display was collected and donated by: Professor Emeritus Frederica de Laguna, Class of 1927 and Professor of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr 1938-1975; Jane M. Oppenheimer, Class of 1932 and Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr 1938-1980; and Isabelle Seltzer Fleck, Class of 1938. The two pot rings were donated to the College by Helen N. Tuttle, Class of 1928.

Unless otherwise indicated, images are from Beauty from the Earth, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.

This exhibit and its accompanying text was prepared by guest curator, Laura E. Smith for Bryn Mawr College's Collections.


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