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Navajo Pottery Firing Methods

    • Navajo pots are often plain and undecorated.making pottery image by Avesun from

      The Navajo (Dine) are the biggest Native American tribe in the country. Although more renowned for their weaving techniques, the Navajo are also known for interesting and distinctive pottery. In general, Navajo pottery is more conservative and restrained than that of other tribes. Traditionally, Navajo pots were completely undecorated and purely utilitarian. As with many tribes, the Navajo have their own particular methods of firing pots.

    Ancient Techniques

    • Traditional Navajo potters fired their pots in a pit dug into the ground. Once dug they lined the pot with traditional fuels, which included sheep manure and juniper or cedar wood. They placed the pots directly on the fuel, and after lighting, covered the fire pit and left it for 24 hours. Once the fuel was completely burned and the pit had cooled sufficiently, the Navajo removed the pots and usually coated them with a glaze made of pine pitch or piñon tree sap.

    Horse Hair Pots

    • A very typical ancient Navajo motif is that of the "horse hair" pot in which you can see faint lines and traces created by horse hair used in the firing process on the surface of the pot. The potter will partially fire the pot, then remove it from the firing pit and wrap hair from the mane and tail of a horse around the pot. She will then return the pot to the firing process, and as the horse hair burns, it creates darker, smoky lines. Once the firing is complete the potter will spray glaze it to preserve the marks.

    Garbage Can Kiln

    • This is a more modern take on the ancient Navajo methods of firing pottery. It uses a small galvanized garbage can with holes drilled through the sides and lid at 6-inch intervals. The fuel for the kiln is a 50/50 mixture of sawdust and animal dung -- usually sheep, cow or horse manure. This fills the can to a depth of about 10 inches before the pots go in. The potter puts more fuel on top, and then more pots, until the can is completely full. The potter lights the fuel mixture at the top of the can and loosely covers and then leaves it to burn for at least a day.

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