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“Zuni Pottery Designs”

by Ruth Bunzel

Sedentary people of the Southwest have been making pottery for at least two thousand years. Archaeologists have found more than 200 sites where people used to live in the Zuni Valley; each ruin holds broken pieces of pottery, or potsherds, that tell a story.

Potsherds tell something about the people who once inhabited a site. They illustrate how people made the pots in which they stored and cooked their foods. Potsherds also reveal migration routes along which people traveled from place to place. In their travels they shared pottery-making techniques and designs. Although the shapes and designs of Zuni pottery have changed over time, the pots embody certain design features unique to Zuni pottery.

Anthropologist Ruth Bunzel studied Pueblo pottery in New Mexico and Arizona in the summers of 1924 and 1925. The potters she spoke with told her about the design motifs they painted on their pots.

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The Deer's House (nawe awan k'yakwenne)“The Deer's House (nawe awan k'yakwenne),” Ruth Bunzel (Author)

The Deer’s House (nawe awan k”yakwenne)
Use: On the body of water jars or the interior of bowls.
“We paint the deer so that our husbands can have good luck hunting. Deerskins are so expensive we cannot buy them anymore, and so we like to have pictures of the deer in our houses like the white people have pictures of God.”

Crook (netsikanne)“Crook (netsikanne),” Ruth Bunzel (Author)

Crook (netsikanne)
Use: On the body of water jars.
This represents the drumstick used by fraternities (tatsikanne) in their ceremonies. It is made of willow turned back on itself and tied”.

Crook with Stripes (netsikawe tsipopa)“Crook with Stripes (netsikawe tsipopa),” Ruth Bunzel (Author)

Crook with Stripes (netsikawe tsipopa)
Use: On neck of jars.
“The crook is the ceremonial drumstick; the hatching represents falling rain; the broad stripe with the black dots represents the perfect ear of corn, painted that the crops may be plentiful.”

Zig-Zag (wetolianne)“Zig-Zag (wetolianne),” Ruth Bunzel (Author)

Zig-zag (wetolianne) or Waves (atialaye), or Watersnake (citola)
Use: Inside the rim of bowls.

Deer in House of Flowers“Deer in House of Flowers,” Ruth Bunzel (Author)

Deer in House of Flowers
Use: On the body of water jars.
“Because the ground is painted black, not red, it is a prayer for damp earth. The women want soft ground to plant their gardens.”

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The people of Zuni also traded pots and pottery-making techniques with their neighbors in Acoma and Laguna. This exchange brought pottery of a variety of shapes, glazes, and animal motif designs into the pueblo. Design elements from one pueblo sometimes appeared on a pot from another pueblo. Look at pots from Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna. Can you see similarities and differences?

From the 1600s on, the presence of the Spanish and their descendents also influenced Pueblo pottery designs. Other visitors came to the Southwest beginning in the mid-1800s. First the railroad and then Route 66 brought tourists from the eastern United States and Europe. They stopped at the pueblos and bought pottery as souvenirs. Traditionally, pottery served ceremonial and utilitarian purposes. Although pottery is still important in pueblo ceremonies, it is rarely used these days in everyday life to hold water and store food. Today, Pueblo potters sell their wares to tourists and treasured works of art to collectors. The sale of pottery provides a significant income for the Zunis.