We continue to explore overlooked, but rich areas of collecting historic pueblo pottery. Old pitchers and cups qualify. It is a neglected and under appreciated area. “Sophisticated” collectors lump these forms under the tourist category; ok for tourists (themselves under-appreciated for the value they’ve brought to this art form), but not for “serious” collections. As collectors willing to expand our view of what is historic and beautiful, such attitudes are to our great advantage.
Perhaps it may be helpful to understand when and how this art form began to proliferate. With the completion of the railroad to New Mexico by 1880, the tourist trade to northern New Mexico was in full swing. In Pottery of the Pueblos of New Mexico 1700-1940 Batkin says: There was “…the rapid deterioration of the (pottery) tradition after 1880 when the railroad to Albuquerque was completed. Trains filled with tourists now went near the pueblos of Santo Domingo, Isleta, Laguna, Acoma, and Zuni. Travellers, less likely to carry large vessels, indirectly discouraged their manufacture, and little pitchers, bowl and figurines became standard products of Pueblo potters.”
So there was a proliferation of these forms; (Pueblo potters, of course, knew how to make them; many ceremonial ceramics were small forms and unusually shaped.). Their attraction then is similar to their attraction today. They are plentiful (although very fine examples are not), relatively inexpensive, easily transported, and easier to display at home (compared to, say, a 20″ Kewa dough bowl). So another source of prejudice arises from these very factors: large traditional forms are prestigious while small non-traditional forms are not. Those of us who can see past this view can take advantage of a delightful collecting specialty.
Of course, like in the other forms (dough bowls, storage jars, ollas, storytellers and figures), there are certainly poorer and less attractive examples; these are abundant. Part of the fun and challenge is to sift through these and discover lovely, well made, beautifully formed and painted examples by long forgotten masters of, well, tourist ware. The fact is that all of the forms, even the large dough bowls, ultimately became tourist ware, created for an expanding (to this day) art market. Among the pleasures of this category is trying to discern which were intended as tourist pieces and which intended for use in pueblo homes. Many of these objects have wonderful patina; were cups unsold to tourists brought home to use; is the patina simply from 100 years of handling by admiring collector/owners? Robert Tenorio, the great Kewa Pueblo potter, once told me: “If you want to see patina on old pots, see bowls that I made for food to be served at feast days; after 2 years of use, they appear to be 100 years old”. We can’t be sure and often our guess is just as valid as the experts’.
In this category, you can judge how well I have chosen examples to offer. I admit to accepting more leeway in my judgement (and make no mistake, these are personal judgements) of excellence here. Of course, I look for well made and decorated examples; fine and subtle. But in this category we can allow our love of fun in collecting to run a little wild. So somewhat funky, more primitive examples are among my favorites. For such an example, see the turn-of-the century pottery basket from Santo Domingo with the parade of cascading funky bird heads that is in the group photo rotating on the Home Page. It is also fun to surmise if a common feature may be indicative of a particular artist’s or families’ work. I have great love for early 20th century tea/coffee cups from Isleta Pueblo. More than once, I have found cups where the cup handle is placed high on the cup and at an identical angle, clearly (at least to my unskillful eye) the signature of a proud artist.
I mentioned ceremonial forms above. If I find an object that appears to have been made for ceremonial purposes, I admire it and do not buy it or offer it in my gallery.
I will regularly release a few of these for sale on this website on an ongoing basis so watch the New Additions regularly and check this category often. If you have excellent examples to sell or small treasures that you’d simply like to share, send me an e-mail photo or call me.
And, of course, please enjoy.