Making Native American Pottery

Overview

According to the website Native-Languages.org, American Indian pottery traditions varied from tribe to tribe across the Northern Hemisphere. Although the Native Americans of the Southwest still make pottery the way they always have, other Native Americans are making efforts to rediscover the traditions of pottery. To create your own Native American pottery, you will need to shape and fire your clay in the same way that these Native Americans do.

Characteristics

Two tools that are most commonly associated with pottery making, the potter's wheel and the kiln, are not used at all in making Native American pottery. Because of this, the techniques used in making and firing Native American pottery by hand are consistent among North American pot makers. Because you will not be using a potter's wheel or kiln, you must spend more time preparing your clay and shaping it so that there will be no air bubbles in the clay when you fire it.

Preparing Clay

To start your pot, you must first have clay. You can purchase this clay from a hobby store, or collect natural clay dug from the surrounding land. The best natural clay can be found near the seashore or around inland streams. It's consistency must be plastic enough that you can roll it into a coil or bend it without cracking. The clay should be mixed with tempering items such as crushed pot shards and seashells, grasses and sand to help bond the clay together and prevent it from cracking during the firing process. Then knead the clay just like you would a lump of bread dough. The clay may need to be kneaded for long hours to remove air bubbles.

Construction

When the clay has no more air bubbles, pinch off a little section of the clay lump to make the base. Shape this clay into a disk that is at least 1/4-inch thick. Place this disk in a large wooden mixing bowl to shape it. Use the interior curve of the bowl to help shape your clay pot. When your base is formed, roll lumps of clay into long noodles that are approximately 1/2-inch to 1-inch thick. Score the sides of these noodles along the edges. Keep a bowl of water nearby, and wet the clay if it seems to be drying out. Coil the noodles onto the top of the base, and stack them on top of one another to form the sides of the pot. As you build up the sides of the pot, smooth out the sides using an upward motion inside of the vessel, and a downward motion outside. Work the sides to eliminate any air bubbles that might form in between the coils. Once the vessel is complete, let the clay dry to a leather-like consistency.

Firing

Firing techniques of Native Americans involve no construction and are easy to reproduce. First dig a shallow pit that is large enough to hold all your pots if they are stacked upside down without touching. Line the pit with rocks and stack the pots inside this pit. Build a small preparation fire to warm the pots and rocks and prevent stress fractures that develop from getting hot too rapidly. Stack hardwood teepee style around the pottery, and stack fast-burning kindling underneath this. Set this on fire, and allow the fire to burn down. Then bank it with wet leaves so that it will cool slowly and prevent stress fractures from forming.

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About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."

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