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Ohkay Owingeh Large Black Storage Jar [SOLD]


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The arrival of the Spaniards in the late 1500s had very little effect on pottery production at the pueblos in either shape or design, but by the 1700s, there were noticeable changes.  Still later, with the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 and the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1880, change became inevitable at pueblos located close to the non-Indian populations.


San Juan Pueblo is located only 6 miles from Espanola, New Mexico, and was the area chosen by the Spaniards as the first capitol of their northern territory.  They eventually relocated their headquarters to Santa Fe.  Even though San Juan was near a population center, there was very little, if any, effect on its pottery styles.  The only effect was its almost complete cessation in the late 1800s, however, what little was produced stayed the same until the 1930s when change eventually appeared for commercial purposes.


This black storage jar is typical of pottery made for hundreds of years at San Juan Pueblo.  For some unexplained reason, potters at San Juan chose to put a slip only on the top half of jars, leaving the lower half in its natural state.  When applied, the upper half was covered in a beautiful dark red slip and then the entire jar was stone polished.  The lower half was the natural tan colored clay of the construction. 


A logical explanation for applying slip on the upper half perhaps was to provide a hardened surface over which spillage would fall.  A polished slip over the natural clay from the construction would be an extra layer of protection.


When fired in an open firing, the vessel would be a beautiful red over tan in coloration.  When fired in a reduction firing, it became black over gray.  This jar is of the latter style.  The interior of such jars is always stone polished, as well, for the purpose of sealing the surface.


San Juan Pueblo was probably the last hold-out for changing its style of pottery.  The potters made plain undecorated jars and bowls for centuries and kept doing so to some extent until around 1935, when they chose a pre-historic design to fashion a new style that would be more saleable to tourists and collectors.  The old traditional plain pottery from San Juan has never been particularly popular with collectors but it should have been as it is the one style that has remained unchanged since before the arrival of outsiders.


San Juan plain wares are amazingly beautiful for their simplicity.  The shape of the vessel and the burnishing of the finish provide the visual appeal rather than a painted design seen at other pueblos.  It is difficult not to be impressed with the simplicity of San Juan pottery.


Condition: very good condition

Provenance: from a private collection

Recommended Reading: Pottery of the Pueblos of New Mexico 1700-1940 by Jonathan Batkin

Close up view of side panel.

SC3816B-storage.jpgSC3816B-large.jpg Click on image to view larger.