Micaceous pots are the last utilitarian type of pottery made in Southwest pueblos. This pottery is unpainted and traditionally used as cooking vessels.
The mica in the clay makes a strong, durable pot that heats evenly and stays warm longer, making food preparation easier.
Some even say that food made in micaceous pots tastes better!
Since micaceous clay has traditionally been used to make cooking pots, vessels made from this clay were not seen as art until recently.
In the pueblos of northern New Mexico, neither potters, traders, nor tourists saw micaceous pottery as collectible objects, leaving the pottery forms and usage mostly unchanged.
Each potter has his or her own method to process raw clay. Typically, the clay is first soaked in water to form a liquid slip. Rocks or other impurities are strained out. The clean clay is left to dry, then ground to a fine powder. Water is added again, and this process is repeated until the clay fits the potter’s needs.
“Temper” does not need to be added to micaceous clay because of the mica in the clay. Temper is ground rock, sand, or potsherds that are added to clay to prevent shrinking and cracking, and to provide strength when forming a pot.
Pots are formed using the “coil and scrape” method. Long, narrow coils of wet clay are spiraled upward to form the shape of the vessel.
The coiled clay is then scraped and smoothed when still wet. This smooths the surface and helps blend and weld the coils. Decoration and handles are added while the clay is still wet.
Potters in the Taos and Picuris Pueblos, both centers for micaceous pottery, did not feel the same pressure as those in pueblos closer to Santa Fe.
In the face of outside influence from Euroamerican traders and collectors, micaceous pottery remained unchanged and traditional pottery forms continued to be made.
In the 1980s and 1990s, potters began exploring traditional pottery forms in new, creative ways.
Experimenting with new shapes and decoration micaceous pottery was beginning to attract interest from the art world.
A large micaceous jar won “Best of Show” at the 1992 Santa Fe Indian Market, a first for micaceous pottery.
Even traditional cooking vessels can sell for hundreds of dollars!
Micaceous Pottery of Northern New Mexico was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program, November 2017.
Tracy Murphy, Museum Curator.
Anderson, Duane. All That Glitters: The Emergence of Native American Micaceous Art Pottery in Northern New Mexico. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1999.
Batkin, Jonathan. "Tourism Is Overrated: Pueblo Pottery and the Early Curio Trade, 1880–1910." In Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, edited by Phillips Ruth B. and Steiner Christopher B., 282-98. University of California Press. 1999.
Brostek, Emily, and Hannah Toombs. Ethno-Tourism, the U.S. Railway, and the Creation of the New Markets for Pueblo Indian Pottery. Pennsylvania State University. No date. history.psu.edu/undergraduate/resources/Ethno-Tourism.pdf. Accessed 11/2/2017.
Dittert Jr., Alfred E. and Fred Plog. Generations in Clay: Pueblo Pottery of the American Southwest. Northland Publishing. 1980.
Trimble, Stephen. Talking With The Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1987.