After the slip, comes painting. The colors, of which we will say more later, are usually red and black. The potter pounds them to powder in a mortar, mixes them with water and keeps them in little pots, sometimes four pots made all in one piece. Her brushes are sections of stiff yucca leaf, with the ends chewed into a fringe, some fine, some coarse. She places her left hand inside the pot and puts on the design with her right, perhaps measuring a little with the eye and fingers to see how she is coming out. Skilled artists come out evenly, poor ones have to crowd the design but none of them sketch it in beforehand. Each potter has her characteristic patterns which, perhaps have come down from her mother and her mother's mother.

Zuni potter painting

Plate IV-5. Zuni potter painting her design on the white slip before firing the jar.

In fact, each village has its typical designs and its rules of style, and all that the individual potter does, in many cases, is to combine the traditional lines and curves in her own special way. (Plate IV-5)

Below is a list of the materials used in pottery, which differ among the many different pueblos according to the clay they can get and the colors they prefer.


Clay must be sedimentary clay, not adobe which falls apart and does not smooth easily. The deposits of sedimentary clay are usually a coarse red (used by Cochiti, Tesuque, Domingo, Zia, Santa Ana, Jemez, San lldefonso). Acoma clay is finer and bakes hard. Zuni clay is a blackish gray. Hopi has a coarse, porous clay which needs no temper. Taos and Picuris have clay containing particles of mica, which also needs no temper.


The Rio Grande pueblos, San Juan, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti use volcanic sand, which they can dig in the neighboring hills. Santa Ana and Zia, on Santa Ana Creek, get volcanic rock which they pound up. Acoma and Zuni pound up old pottery scraps. Taos, Picuris, and Hopi have clays with sufficient grit in them so that no temper is needed. Hopi, however, uses temper for its plain cooking pots though not for the decorative pots which are sold.


The white slip is kaolin, of varying degrees of purity. Some pueblos have beds of a finer, more cream colored clay called bentonite. The red is ochre, which usually looks rust colored or brownish. Acoma, however, has recently found beds of this material which burn to a brighter red or even orange.

Black paint is made in several ways. The most usual is to boil down the green stems of the Rock Mountain beeplanf. The syrup forms a gluey mass and finally hardens into a cake which can be kept for years. When used, it is ground up and mixed with water like clay. Domingo uses a fine cream slip on which this paint shows black without any mixture. Zuni, Acoma, and Zia mix it with a black mineral containing iron and manganese. Hopi boils down the stems of tansy mustard and mixes them with an iron compound found in the neighborhood.

The most beautiful and shiny black is not made with paint but by smudging the whole pot with smoke. This is done at San lldefonso, Santa Clara, and San Juan.