Seed Jar

Indian Market: New Directions in Southwestern Native American Pottery

On view November 16, 2001 to March 17, 2002

Located in the: Special Exhibition Galleries

The tradition of pottery making by Native Americans in the Southwest traces its origins back many centuries. Early generations of Pueblos, Hopis, and other Native peoples dug the fine clay of their villages, sifted and washed it carefully, then formed and fired pots that were used for ceremonial purposes, to carry water, store household goods, and cook food.

With the advent of train travel and the influx of collectors to the Southwest in the late nineteenth century, Native American pottery became a much sought-after art form. Pottery making changed significantly in response to the arrival of these tourist collectors. Pottery production became less and less driven by functional and community requirements, and more and more driven by the art market.

But one thing remained the same: Native American potters creating works of great beauty and imagination. “The exhibition highlights some of the most innovative manifestations in the field,” exhibition curator John Grimes says.

Native American pottery is one of the most sought-after contemporary art forms in the world today. Whereas artists once sold work from blankets spread out along Route 66, now chic galleries stock high-priced Native ceramics in upscale neighborhoods in Santa Fe and Taos. Indian Market, the annual two-day show held in Santa Fe each August, earns esteem and exposure for artists simply by their inclusion. Visitors to Indian Market will often camp out overnight before the show opens to ensure the purchase of a particular artist’s work.

Native American pottery simultaneously looks back to ancient traditions, while vigorously pursuing new forms and expressions. Some artists, like Tammy Garcia of Santa Clara Pueblo and Hopi potter Les Namingha, trace their artistic roots back through many generations. Others, like Lonnie Vigil of Nambé Pueblo, have revived a tradition that had been lost. Whatever their past, contemporary Native American artists are updating their traditions, pushing the limits of artistic expression in startling ways.

The nature of training and educating pottery artists has also undergone change. While some potters continue to learn from their elders, most have had some exposure to formal art education as well. All the artists in Indian Market continue to use the coil method—forming clay into long rope-like strands, and building their work up from bottom to top—rather than throwing pots on a wheel. Visitors to Indian Market will enjoy the variety and artistry of these contemporary potters.

Native American art at the Peabody Essex Museum

The Native American art collection at the Peabody Essex Museum is the oldest such collection in the New World and is recognized for its scores of masterworks from throughout the hemisphere. It totals some 20,000 historic works made between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and some 50,000 archeological objects stretching back ten millennia. In recent years the Peabody Essex has actively collected contemporary works of Native American artists. An exhibition entitled Uncommon Legacies, showcasing outstanding artworks from the museum’s collection of Native American art, will tour the United States in 2002-2003 in a special exhibition developed in conjunction with the American Federation of Arts.