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Pottery can be both a useful tool and a beautiful expression of art. Clay can be used to make pots for cooking and storage, but it can also be painted in magnificent designs and modeled into intricate figurines. Many different types of clay can be used in the manufacture of pottery. There are also a number of techniques that can be used to form ceramic pottery. One is modeling, where the potter takes pieces of clay and works it until the proper shape is formed. Pinched pots are another common technique, in which clay is pinched between the thumb and forefinger forming a bowl shape. The most common technique is coiling, in which long coils are rolled out of clay and stacked on top of each other to form the pot. The sides are then scraped or paddled to smooth them. Today, pots are often made either by throwing (creating a pot on a spinning table) or as a slip coat, which uses a plaster cast.
The three common types of ceramics are earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Earthenware pottery, which is at least 9,000 years old, is fired at a lower temperature and is much more coarse and porous than stoneware or porcelain. Stoneware is a nonporous pottery fired at a very high temperature. Stoneware pottery is extremely hard and usually opaque. Porcelain is a translucent, white, very fine-grained ceramic.
There are many different techniques used to decorate pottery — appliqué, incising, carving, engraving, piercing, impressed, slipping, scraffito, and painting. Appliqué is attaching patterns and designs in relief. Incising, carving, and engraving are ways to scratch and scrape designs into the clay. Slipping a pot is a very common way to decorate; this means that a mixture of clay and water is applied to the pot for a smooth, even surface. Scraffito uses the slip technique, but also includes etching designs through the layer of slip to reveal the color of the clay. Glazes are used on many pots during firing. A glaze will give a pot a shiny, smooth finish.
In this online exhibit, you will see examples of pottery from the American Southwest from the Museumís ethnographic collections. Southwestern pottery is well known among archaeologists and art collectors, with its Mimbres bowls, double-spouted wedding vases, and intricately painted geometric designs. Southwestern pottery varies greatly across the different Pueblo Native American cultures. Jars and bowls are the most common form of pottery made, and often are decorated with animal and geometric designs using orange, brown, and black.
Harlow, Francis, Duane Anderson, and Dwight Lanmon. The Pottery
Sentance, Bryan. Ceramics A World Guide to Traditional Techniques.
Photos and text by Audrey Gayou
Museum of Anthropology, 100 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-1440
Hours: Monday - Friday: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm