5 Days of American Art: Early American Pottery & Baskets

5 Day Blog Hop

5 Day Blog Hop

Thank you for joining me for 5 Days of American Art! Each piece of art we’ll be learning about this week comes from a fantastic resource that I have used and loved for several years entitled Picturing America. Picturing America is a collection of art by Americans, gathered, arranged and published by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The art spans almost 900 years and the entire gallery (as well as an excellent online teacher’s manual) can be viewed here.

Each day this week, I’ll direct you to one piece of art in the Picturing America gallery. You can view my photo of the art print here or you may link to the gallery. Throughout this week I’ll be sharing some information about the art and its artists, the historical contexts of the art and some fun online links or projects to click thru to.

1a "Pottery and Baskets" from PICTURING AMERICA

1a “Pottery and Baskets” from PICTURING AMERICA

Today, we’ll be looking at the art of the Anasazi Indians of North America, and of Maria Montoya Martinez, potter extraordinaire. Open the “Picturing America” gallery here, and click to enter the gallery. Hover over the picture to the top left, “1a Pottery and Baskets” and click to enter. In this print you’ll see 6 examples of woven baskets and clay pottery, created by Americans over the course of 860 years. Today, we’ll examine two of these; the tall white cylindrical pots (made by the Anasazi) and the black jar at the top left (made by Maria Montoya Martinez and decorated by Julian Martinez).

First, help your children to examine and observe the art and artifacts.  Before you try to point anything out to them, have them look at the white pottery (click on 2) for a few moments in silence.  Then , ask them the following questions (adapted from “Visual Thinking Strategies” by Abigail Housen, a fantastic resource to help children look at and learn from art).  As they describe different parts of the pots, point to each item as you repeat their observations.  Be encouraging and affirming as they tell you what they see.

  • What do you see here?
  • How would you describe the white pots?
  • How do you think they made them so symmetrical?
  • What do you think they are made from?
  • What do you think they were used for?

Who were the Anasazi, the developers of the white cylindrical pots? They were early Native Americans, or Puebloans, who lived in what is today the Four Corners region of the United States (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah).  The first Anasazi were hunters and gatherers who eventually became farmers, basket-makers and potters, and interestingly, cliff-dwellers.  The Anasazi pots were made around 1100 AD at what is now Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.  This national park includes numerous “great houses” and planned communities that are laid out in patterns of beauty, order and orientation, for reasons important to the builders and designers.  The Chaco Canyon great houses have been studied by researchers for over one hundred years, yet the true purposes of these great houses still puzzle scientists.  Were they trading markets?  spiritual pilgrimage sites?  homes?  communities?  Or did they encompass all of the above?

One of the most important great houses at Chaco Canyon, Pueblo Bonito, has been studied by archaeologists for over one hundred years.  A broad range of artifacts (pots, cradles, beads, arrowheads) has been found at Pueblo Bonito and other Chaco Canyon sites, including the white pots pictured here.  These six pots were found along with a hundred others in one of the rooms at Pueblo Bonito (see Picturing America Teacher’s Manual).  These clay pots were made in a traditional manner that we copy today as we make coiled pots; first, potters formed a circular, flat base, then coiled rolled strips of clay around and around the base, forming pots of varying heights and widths.  To finish,  they smoothed the coils with some sort of scraper, then applied a slip (a mixture of water and clay) to form a sort of sealant.   Decorations were then painted over the slip, and the pots were baked in outdoor covered pits, to strengthen the clay and make it hard and durable.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the black pot (click on 4) and talk about what we can see from this photograph.

  • How would you describe the black pot?
  • How would you describe its shape?  its texture?
  • What stands out to you about this pot?
  • What do you think this pot might have been used for?  Do you think it was made for common, everyday use, for special occasions, or do you think it was just created as art?
  • What do you think the artists might have been trying to communicate to us, the viewers?

Maria Montoya Martinez was born in San Ildefonso pueblo in the late 1800’s.  San Ildefonso was one of about 24 pueblos whose people emerged from another early Pueblo community that’s known today as Mesa Verde National Park.  Scientists believe that as Chaco Canyon’s influence peaked and waned, its people migrated elsewhere to form and found other communities, including Mesa Verde’s.  Of course as they migrated they carried along the tools and skills that were passed down from generation to generation.  Maria was born to a family whose men farmed and whose women were homemakers and (many of them) potters.  She was born with the gifts and eye of an artist and, under the tutelage of her family, grew into a fine potter by the time she was a teenager, when she fell in love with Julian Martinez.  Julian wasn’t so well-respected as her parents would have hoped; he was an artist and painter, not the farmer they’d expected Maria to marry!  However, the couple fell in love and their artistic skills combined to enable them to achieve more together than they’d ever have been able to apart.

Maria would create the pots (which, by the way, were perfectly balanced and created without a form or mold, with only Maria’s eyes and hands to direct the process), and Julian would decorate and paint them.  Their first pots were not the black-on-black style seen here, but were in a variety of colors (white backgrounds, reds, with painted decorations).  The black-on-black style came along when a scientist discovered black-on-black pottery in an archaeological dig and asked the Martinez couple if they could recreate it.  Maria and Julian tried a variety of materials and effects and were finally able to recreate the black-on-black style, which became a hallmark of their design.

You can see more of Maria and Julian’s pottery in a variety of locations.  Try doing an online search for “Maria Martinez pottery.”  I even found some on eBay today, if you’re looking to add to your own personal collection!

Here are some extra activities to complete with your children:

  • Check out Park Fun at the National Parks Service’s Mesa Verde website.  Your children can do matching games, design their own clay pot decoration, and participate in other activities to learn more about early Native Americans.
  • Make your own coiled clay pot like Maria did!
  • Take your child to a National Park and let him or her become a Junior Ranger, or, if you can’t get there physically, a Web Ranger (the National Parks Service’s online Junior Ranger program).

Thanks for joining me today.  Come back tomorrow, and the rest of this week, for more American art!

***Parents, please always remember that websites can change at any time and always link to any sites I list WITH your children.  The Internet can be a wonderful resource but I can’t predict any changes that might be made by the owners of these websites.

Click here to check the next post on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog’s Blog Hop!

Enjoy!  —Wren

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