December 2, 2014
This seven-piece nativity scene was made in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe. Santa Clara potters are renowned for their highly polished blackware, which they have been making since the late 19th century. Pueblo women make pottery with a technique largely developed during the Classic Pueblo period (1050-1300 CE). Although the nativity set pieces were each molded from a small lump of clay, Pueblo pots are made from coils of clay that are then smoothed into the final shape without the help of a potter’s wheel. The shiny finish is created by the artist rubbing a smooth polishing stone over the piece repeatedly. The pieces are finished in a reduction firing during which the artist smothers the fire with horse manure, which traps thick smoke around the pieces. The carbon in the smoke turns the clay black. The process has many possibilities for problems, and only three out of five pieces emerge from the fire without damage, making Pueblo blackware rare and highly collectible.