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Native American Arts Terminology

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Acoma potteryAcoma
A New Mexican Pueblo, famous for white pottery, most of which is painted with fine geometric lines: one of the oldest continually inhabited “ cities” in North America

Anasazi
The Prehistoric Pueblo Indians of Northern Arizona and New Mexico, sometimes referred to as the “Ancient Ones” believed to be the ancestors of man of the Pueblos Indians

Avanu
A popular design (the water serpent) often seen in the Native American art of the Southwest, particularly pottery signifying the prayer for and representation of water, critical for life in the desert

Bear
A popular symbol in the Southwest art, often seen as a fetish, in weavings, on pottery, and in silverwork, sometimes with a “heartline” extending from the mouth of the center of the body

Bear Paw
An often used design in potter and silverwork: often if the artist is of the bear clan, or, more generally, as a symbol of the inner strength

Black on Black PotteryBlack on Black
A style of pottery developed about 1919 by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo. It is characterized by two shades of black- one highly polished, the other matte or dull

Burnishing
A process of producing a polished, shiny surface by rubbing a smooth stone over the surface of pots or bowls after application of the slip

Cochiti
CochitiA New Mexico Pueblo, famous for figurative clay work

Coil method
A pottery term: the potter rolls a long rope of clay, which is coiled around on the top of itself, forming the desired shape. In the coil-and-shape method, the walls of the pot are thinned, shaped and smoothed by scraping with a smooth tool

Concha
The Spanish term for shell: may be oval or round, may appear in rings, pendants, bolos, buckles and belts. Now most often a Navajo design for a belt

Corn
A powerful symbol in many tribes, used as a design on jewelry, pottery and weavings as respect and a prayer for fertility and a good growing season: also used if the artist is a member of the corn clan

Engraved
Ruts or lines scratched into a metal surface

Etched
Design formed in pottery by removing the surface of pottery sometimes call sgraffito

Fetish
Used and made by all Southwestern Indian tribes, fetishes are objects which represent the spirits of animals or the forces of nature. Original fetishes were simple stones (or shells, turquoise or bone) which seemed to resemble people or animals, sometimes made more realistic by a carver, The Zuni people have the reputation of being the most skilled at fetish carving. Zuni tradition has six directions, each with its guardian animal fetish, the mountain lion, north: the bear, west: the badger, south: the eagle, the sky or up: the mole, underground or down”: and the wolf, east

Fire Cloud
An irregular marking on the exterior of the pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Firing
The step at the end of the pottery-making process, literally baking the piece to harden.
(Modern Pueblo pottery is generally fired for beauty rather than endurance: water will mar the surface and if allowed to stand in an unprotected vessel of this type, may actually crumble it. To use as a container for flowers, etc, insert a glass container to hold the water

Heishi
A Pueblo tern meaning shell: discs or tubes with a hole in the center, usually of turquoise, coral or shell strung together to form a flexible strand. The Santo Domingo Pueblo people are known for the fine heishi

Hopi potteryHopi
A tribe in Northern Arizona, known for distinctive “overlay” silver jewelry, pottery and Kachina dolls

Incising
In pottery, the cutting of closely spaced lines and designs into the surface of the pot before it’s fired

Jacklas (Jackclaws)
String loop of turquoise beads hanging from turquoise necklace, originally used as earrings

Katsina dolls (Also Kachina)
A form of religious folk art attributed mostly to the Hopi.  The dolls are wooden images which represent the men who dance in costume, mask and paint as kachina spirits in the Hopi villages from 21st December (winter solstice) through the third week in July.  Katsinas represent supernaturals, the spirit or essence of animate and inanimate objects in a nature who benefit the Hopi by bringing rain for a successful planting, fertility for animals and man, cures for illnesses, justice for lawbreakers and humor for appropriate circumstances. Authentic dolls are carved from the root of the cottonwood tree only after it has broken away.

Liquid Silver
A type of necklace or bracelet constructed of very thin, fine, small silver cylinders originally strung on catgut, now strung on fine wire

Matte or semi-matte
A dull surface finish far less glossy than the burnished black or red ware. Most pottery from Hopi, Acoma, Zia and Picuris is matte

Micaceous
Containing tiny flakes of mica. The clay of Taos and Picuris is micaeous giving their pots a  sparkling surface

Naja
The centerpiece of squash blossom necklace: crescent shaped pendant, has Moorish derivation.

Navajo weaving styles:

Burnham
Contemporary style: intricate, geometric design

Burntwater
Contemporary style: very small geometric pattern within a band, or border, region was known for natural, vegetal dyes in soft colors

Chief's blanketChief’s
Earliest established weaving style known to the Navajo, Three phases: first phase, simple horizontal stripes of blue, white, black and brown: second phase, weavers added short red bars to the design: third phase, most popular, more elaborate, with stepped triangles in addition to the stripes of the original

Crystal
Borderless, sometimes vegetal, banded horizontal design, initiated at Crystal Trading Post

Ganado
A design which includes red as well as black, white and grey: at the time of it’s inception, a major departure for Navajo weavers, attributed to Lorenzo Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona

PictorialPictorial
Considered by many to be a true expression of Navajo folk art, not limited to any sector of the reservation: literally, a picture is in the design

Raised Outline
Contemporary style: double twill, which results in a three dimensional appearance: started in the 1950’s, described as the Teec Nos Pos patterns but with burntwater colors

Storm Pattern
Central motif is the Hogan, or domicile, with the four directions or four sacred mountains in each corner: “ lightning “ is usually identifiable as well

Teec Nos Pos
Named for the trading post from which it is believed to have originated, near the Four Corners area. Most intricate and difficult pattern to weave, heavy Persian influence

Two Grey HillsTwo Grey Hills
Typified by black, brown, beige and white colors usually all natural, undyed sheep’s wool woven in a complex geometric pattern

Wide Ruins
Named after the originated trading post: usually soft colors in a simple, horizontal pattern

Pawn
Jewelry that was used as cash, and “pawned” to a trader for other goods. Old Pawn refers to pawn jewelry not retrieved after the agreed date, often several years

Picuris
One of the Eight Northern Pueblos, known for micaceous pottery

Potshard
Also shard or sherd. A fragment of pottery

Polychrome
A painted/glazed surface of 3 or more colors

Pueblo
(“town dwelling”) An alternate description for reservation, or exclusive domicile for Native Americans, used mostly as a descriptive in New Mexico: pueblos are communities, and life revolves around the plaza, where ceremonial dances are often held: pueblos also have their own government and law enforcement agencies

Santa Clara
One of the eight Northern Pueblos, famous for its red and black pottery, mostly carved

Santo Domingo
One of the eight Northern Pueblos, best known for heishi bead necklaces formed from turquoise and shells: also unique, traditional pottery and some silversmithing

San Ildefonso
One of the eight Northern Pueblos, located south of Santa Clara, well know for red and black pottery, especially for black on black technique

Slip
A fine, liquid form of clay applied to the surface of a vessel prior to firing, Slip fills pores & gives uniform color

Squashblossom
A necklace design, composed of silver beads, incorporating “ squashblossoms” ( a design based on the form of a pomegranate) includes a large center called a naja

Storyteller
The person acknowledged within the Native American community as the one who verbally passes on the historical and cultural beliefs. Helen Cordero, Conchiti Pueblo, was the first to depict a storyteller, surrounded by children in clay. Cordero’s “ Storyteller” is on display at the Museum of International folk Art in Santa Fe

Turquoise
A semi-precious stone used in Indian jewelry, found in arid regions. Colors range from blue to green yellow: natural: the stone as it is mined: stabilized: chemically hardened: treated: color altered: reconstituted: dust chips and plastic made into jewelry

Wedding Vase
A traditional, double- necked vessel used as a ceremonial wedding vessel

YeiYei
A Navajo deity or spirit, often seen in weaving designs from Shiprock area of New Mexico

Zapotec
A style of weaving by native Mexican Zapotec Indians from the State of Oaxaca

Zuni
A Native American tribe, known for fetish carvings, delicate inlaid jewelry and multiple stone settings, often called “petit point” or “needlepoint”

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