Object: Cooking Pot


Navajo Tribe: Cooking Pot
Southwest US
19th Century
Materials: Ceramic

This cooking pot is an example of Navajo pottery from the early 1800s. Navajo pottery has been in production for hundreds of years and is unique from the pottery of many other American Indian tribes in that it does not exhibit the artistic designs traditionally associated with Indian pottery (compare to the example of Hopi pottery below). Painted designs were prohibited due to a belief that they would bring misfortune to the tribe. Navajo pottery was produced primarily by women, though in recent years this has changed with the work of male artists such as Jimmy Wilson. The process of making Navajo pottery is unique. Unlike other tribes, the Navajo do not grind old shards of pottery for reuse in new pieces. This comes from the belief that old pottery shards belong to Anasazi ancestors. Also unique to the Navajo tradition is the practice of covering pottery pieces with melted piñon pitch after firing. The coating gives Navajo pottery a dark appearance and distinct smell.


Navajo pottery was not recognized for its artistic value until the 1950s when artists such as Rose Williams attracted the attention of museum markets and pottery fairs. Today, however, there are many collectors of Navajo pottery and interest in its production has been revived. Museums now display Navajo pottery and schools offer lessons on Navajo pottery techniques. Many Navajo artists fire their pieces one at a time, outside in a traditional fire pit. The process involves the whole family, as individual members are responsible for digging the clay, coiling/pinching the vessel, gathering the pitch, and tending the fire.

The following is a video excerpt of Michelle Williams, granddaughter of Rose Williams, explaining how she makes contemporary Navajo pottery. Check it out and enjoy learning the Story Behind the Object! [Lauren  Simons]

[Lauren Simons]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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