WOMEN made the pots, just as they did the baskets, and every woman made her own. This was the case everywhere, in early days, both in the old world and the new, for pots and baskets were women's tools, and the usual rule was that the person who was going to use a tool should make it. However, some six thousand years ago, the old world took the first step toward making pottery by machinery. This was the invention of the potter's wheel, a hand-twirled disc which shaped pots more quickly and evenly than they could be built up by hand. After this, pottery making became a trade, which could be carried on by one person for a whole village. Men took it up, and the housewive's, instead of making their own kitchenware, traded for it with the potter. There are villages in Spain, today, which have gone no further in pottery manufacture than this hand-turned wheel.
The new world, however, never invented the wheel for wagons, machines, or even pottery. Each woman built up her jars slowly by hand, polished them, and finally baked them, turning the soft clay into hard earthenware. The women became skilled craftsmen and also artists, for they decorated their pottery wherever it was possible. In fact, most of our knowledge of the art of the ancient pueblos comes from designs painted by women on jars and bowls. These may be broken but they never crumble into earth and one of the chief tasks of the diggers is selecting the broken pieces of a pot- perhaps fifty or a hundred-glueing them together and working out the design.
Some pueblo women are still making pots. In almost every village there are a few who make plain kitchenware for their own use. With the Hopi this is quite a common thing. More often the potters make beautiful decorated ware, each in the style of her own village and sell it for ornaments. The following pictures show two famous potters, Maria Martinez of San llde-fonso, and Nampeyo of Hano on Hopi First Mesa, going through the process of grinding clay, then coiling, shaping, and baking the pot.
Pueblo women have no materials ready to hand. They have to dig the clay in one place, find sand to mix with it in another, get paint in another. Each village usually has its own clay pit, or more than one, and experts can recognize pots of different pueblos by whether the clay is fine or coarse; mixed with sand or mica. In former days, each woman dug her clay with a stick and carried it home in a basket or hide. While digging, she spoke to the earth, asking permission, and perhaps leaving an offering, for pueblo people feel that clay and rocks, like animals and plants, have their own feelings,, and that man must live on kindly terms with them. Today, women dig with a metal pick and carry the clay home in gunny sacks. Often they have a man with a wagon or car to drive them, but many still speak to the earth as they used to do.
Plate IV-1. Maria Martinez of San lldefonso grinding clay for pottery.
After the clay has been brought home, the potter has days of work ahead of her. She must pound the hard lumps fine and take out the pebbles. Then she may grind the clay on a stone, just as she grinds cornmeal, until it is soft and fine. The picture shows Maria ready to grind. She has water in the pot beside her, for moistening the lumps, so that grinding will be easier. If she does not mean to use the clay right away, the potter wraps it in a damp cloth to keep it from hardening again. Sometimes she buries it in the ground, where it will not dry out so easily.
The next step is to mix the fine clay with some gritty material which will coarsen the texture and allow air bubbles to escape so that they do not burst or blister the pot while baking. This added grit is called temper. Maria and the other Tewa women use volcanic sand which they find nearby and so do their Keresan neighbors in the Rio Grande Valley, at Domingo and Cochiti.
Plate IV-2. Nampeyo of Hano, building the jar.
The potter knows from experience about how much temper she will need- a fistful to a basket of clay or some such measure.
In the picture above, you see a potter building her jar and plate IV-3, steps 1, 2, and 3 give a picture of the steps. In front of her she has an old bowl which you see clearly in the picture and at B in diagram 1. It will serve as a mold and support for the new jar she is starting. First she moistens her hands, so they will slip easily over the clay. The potter in this case has her water in a pail which you can barely see behind her and the clay on a cloth before her. She puts a lump of moist clay into the supporting jar and flattens it with her fist until it is molded to the curve of the other vessel. This will form the base of the new jar. In the picture, the supporting jar is rather deep so that the base of the new one will be molded for several inches. In the diagram, it is a mere plate and the clay is a pancake with the edges turned, (figure 2) This differs in different pueblos.