San Juan Pueblo Red on Tan Large Historic Pottery Storage Jar

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Pueblo Potter Unknown

This very large and magnificent Red-over-tan storage jar from San Juan Pueblo dates to the 1870s and is the predominant type pottery made at the pueblo at that time.  The red on the upper section of the jar was achieved with the application of red slip over the natural base tan color of the remainder of the jar.

This dual color is typical of pottery made for hundreds of years at San Juan Pueblo.  Pottery of the historic period from most pueblos share the concept of leaving the lower portion of a vessel in the natural state of the clay from the area.  There is an explanation offered that the earth color natural clay of the lower section represents the plaza of the pueblo which is the center of life of the people of the village.  

San Juan Pueblo is located only 6 miles from Espanola, New Mexico, and was the area chosen by the Spaniards as the first capital 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.

When James Stevenson was visiting San Juan Pueblo in 1879 and 1880, he noted that even though available pottery was not abundant, there was no cessation in production; most of what was being made was being traded because of its location near Espanola.  By 1900, however, pottery production at the pueblo almost died out with only necessary items being made. According to Batkin (1987:65), “the 1910 census does not list any potters by occupation, although it shows several at San Ildefonso, Tesuque, and Nambe.”

In 1930, Regina Cata organized a pottery study group at San Juan Pueblo with the intent of revitalizing pottery production. The group studied ancient potsherds of wares made at San Juan in earlier times and selected Potsuwi‘i Incised Ware (1450-1500) as a basis for a contemporary pottery type.  The beautiful old San Juan Red-over-tan ceased production.

It is rare to find a large magnificent Red-over-tan storage jar of this type; one which dates to the 1870s decade.


Condition: a native repair of piñon pitch is still in-place just below the rim where it was put to seal a crack.  The leather strap was also added at that time to reinforce the jar against further damage. It appears that a U-shaped crack occurred on the body which has been professionally repaired.  

Provenance: this San Juan Pueblo Red on Tan Large Historic Pottery Storage Jar is from the pottery collection of a family from Colorado

Reference: Batkin, Jonathan. Pottery of the Pueblos of New Mexico 1700-1940, The Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1987

Reltive Links: Southwest Indian Pottery, San Juan Pueblo, Historic Pottery

Close up view of this amazing old San Juan pottery vessel.


Pueblo Potter Unknown
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