Ohkay Owingeh, San Juan Pueblo Black Historic OLLA

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Pueblo Potter Unknown

This is a magnificent traditional San Juan Pueblo-style historic OLLA or water jar with a polished black upper body and polished gray underbody, a style which has been made for centuries.  What makes this one so magnificent is the shape of the vessel—large globular body and thin graceful neck with a fluted rim. In these jars, a red slip is wiped over the upper two-thirds of the vessel body and the lower one-third left without slip.  Both upper and lower portions are then stone polished. When reduction fired, the red changes to black and the tan underbody changes to gray. The interior of the neck is matte finish. The jar probably dates to the first quarter of the 1900s.

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, now known by its original Tewa name, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, stuck to its original pottery traditions of simple undecorated utilitarian wares that were so beautiful in vessel shape and simple slipped surfaces highlighted by fire clouds.  Even today, a hundred years after the pueblo abandoned its traditional style for a more modern style to appeal to tourists and collectors, the beautiful undecorated wares of the pueblo are still capturing the eyes of collectors. Vessel shape and surface finish are the keys to the beauty of San Juan blackware.  There is no painted design to distract from the beauty of shape and sheen. Most collectors eventually warm up to the simplicity of San Juan pottery.

All the Tewa-speaking pueblos produced black pottery in the historic period.  It was not until the twentieth century, that the burnishing was improved and a matte-black design was painted over the polished surface.  Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo perfected the twentieth-century style from the already existing historic blackware style.  After the 1930s, the potters at San Juan Pueblo abandoned the plainware in preference to more modern pottery to facilitate tourist sales, however, even the more modern style was based on prehistoric wares previously made at San Juan Pueblo.  Change, based on continuity of style, retained the legacy of those Tewa potters.


Condition: Examination with UV indicates several cracks in the vessel body, however, it does not appear that the jar was ever broken, just cracked.  They have been professionally repaired and concealed.

Provenance: this Ohkay Owingeh, San Juan Pueblo Black Historic OLLA is from a gentleman  from Kansas

Recommended Reading: Pueblo Pottery of the New Mexico Indians: Ever Constant, Ever Changing (A Museum of New Mexico Press Guidebook) by Betty Toulouse

Relative Links: Ohkay Owingeh - San Juan PuebloSouthwest Indian Pottery, Historic Pottey

Here, we see thin graceful neck with a fluted rim.


Pueblo Potter Unknown
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