POTTERY

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Clay can be formed into an endless variety of items. Before Colonial contact the Haudenosaunee dug raw clay from the ground and shaped it into cooking pots, storage containers, pipes and beads.  Since there were no wheels in this part of the world at that time, pots were built by hand, with snake-like coils.  Geometric designs and sometimes figures were added to decorate the pot.  Pots were always given a round bottom, which would be very impractical for modern times.  However, in the old days this round shape was an excellent discovery!  The round bottom made it easy for the cooking fire to thoroughly heat the food inside. 

 


Traditional Iroquois Style Clay Pot by Linley Logan, Seneca

"Instinct" by Santee Smith, Mohawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doug Beaver, Mohawk

Although the early Haudenosaunee made strong and useful pots, the knowledge of how to construct and fire them in the old ways was completely lost until recently.  When Colonial people arrived, copper, brass, and iron kettles quickly replaced the old cookware.  The new metal pots were non-breakable and heated rapidly. It was not long before there was no one alive who remembered how to create an old style clay pot.

Haudenosaunee artists still make pottery today.  Instead of the old methods most use potters wheels, electric kilns, and colorful glazes.  Pots are often decorated with clan animals, beadwork designs, antler, and Iroquois symbols.     



Recently, a few Haudenosaunee artists decided to try to recover the earlier lost knowledge. It was very hard and discouraging work.  There were no living teachers.  The tools and meanings behind the designs and methods of firing had long been forgotten.  The artists made many mistakes.  Finally, after much investigation, artists like Elda and Oliver Smith, Peter Jones and Roger Perkins began to rediscover the ancient art.  These artists have taught others and now the beautiful old style pots are being created in Haudenosaunee communities again.  But there is still much left to be learned.  And today they are displayed in museums and homes as artwork and not used for cooking.  

 

 

Roger Perkins, Mohawk - Pit firing pottery


Pit firing pottery



Pete Jones, Onondaga teaching a pottery workshop.