Ollas, or water jars probably require the least explanation for experienced collectors of historic pueblo pottery. They are arguably the most commonly collected of the pueblo pottery forms. Batkin in, “Pottery of the Pueblos of New Mexico,” defines an olla as “…a relatively large vessel used for collecting, carrying and storing water”. And that’s where the similarity ends. Sometimes ollas have a concave base for balancing the jar on the head, but sometimes not. Some ollas are very rounded, almost lush in form such as the Zia four color olla with deep purple in this inventory section. Others can be high shouldered and wide such as the 1880’s Zuni olla also found here; while the beautiful Acoma 4 color olla with orange bird has a very low mid-body. An olla form most commonly identified with the Aguillar sisters who were active in the first quarter of the 20th century at Santo Domingo (Kewa) pueblo is simply elegant, tall and narrow. Watch for examples of this wonderful olla form here under New Additions in the weeks to come. Finally there are forms particular to certain pueblos; again the wide Zuni olla is a good example of a form identified closely with 19th century Zuni pottery; or the wide bodied early 20th century polychromes from San Ildefonso (see Batkin again, p. 83).
What I look for in an olla is warmth in form, design, color and patina. Signs of use help with this especially in patina and moderate wear at the rim or base. However, ollas created for the art market early in the 20th century can exhibit much of this. They can have unusual colors, such as the purple in the early Zia ollas mentioned above or design (the man into bird Kewa transformation jar also on this site). Or sometimes, ollas are simply joyous; with birds that look like they’re having fun or plant forms that appear plentiful as when the rains are good. When these rather vague attributes come together and the price is reasonable, I’ll have a new olla to offer in my gallery and on this site.