“Native American Woman Selling Souvenir Pottery, 1910”
About the Photograph
This photograph is derived from a negative of the Bodin collection (1910). Sitting on the ground, this native American woman is crafting some pottery that she can sell as a beautiful souvenir. Wearing dark-colored clothes and a hat, she is intensely focused on her task and aims to produce her product with the utmost dedication. In front of her is a box with several souvenirs that she has already finished, which are on display for sale. She is probably sitting in a popular tourist destination, but there are no other people visible in the photograph. As she sits along the side of the road, her feet dangle along the ground below her. In the background, tall grass grows along gently-rolling hills.
I personally love this category of artistic work. It is so fascinating because thousands of years before the Americas were even “discovered”, Native Americans were creating these objects for every day use, not for art. Some of the earliest creations being arrowheads and baskets, and of course, pottery. Such items were necessary for the culture, since the people were hunters and gatherers; however, today they are collected for the fine craftsmanship and aesthetic.
History of the Native American Pottery
The most widely known Native American pottery is from civilizations of the American southwest, but the older Native American pottery comes from a small island near Augusta, Georgia. Researchers are unsure whether the pottery in the United States was brought there by other indigenous people, or if it developed there on its own.
Most Native American pottery is hand constructed through the coil and slab technique. This is where clay is gathered, debris removed, and temper and water is added. The temper is included to prevent the clay from shrinking and cracking as it dries. You can only wonder how many pots must have cracked until the people figured this out. After this step, the clay is wedged and smoothed to eliminate air bubbles. Once dry, the surface is sanded and then decorated and fired.
The decorations are why I love this art as much as I do. I used to think the simplistic coloring was quite bland; however, after analyzing it for a little, I realized that the earthy tones symbolized how resourceful the people were. Most cultures also had their own signature decorations or mark to distinguish tribes.
Check out the video link provided to learn a little bit more about these pottery techniques!