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by Ernest Thompson Seton 

There are two well known, simple methods in the potter's art; one with a wheel, the other without. The first is quicker but the second is the more primitive, also simpler and cheaper.

In this, the first thing is the supply of good, stiff yellow or bIue clay, which must be worked up thoroughly to get rid of all lumps. Potters usually puddle it with water till it is like cream, then run it through a fine sieve, after which it is brought to the right condition by evaporating the water. Clay is tempered by mixing in with the slip, pure sand, crushed quartz or shell, or (best of all) old pottery finely ground.

Now on a small board, table or bench, the pot is to be built up, beginning with the flat bottom part.  Roll the clay into long strips and coil it round and round, as though making a basket or nest, sticking each new coil tightly to the rest by pressing them together, or even adding a little water if the clay seems too dry to stick well. After the bottom and three or four inches of the side are built up, work it over with a knife or flat stick and a little water, to close up all joints and make the surface even. Then set the pot aside to dry out a little, or it may not be strong enough to bear the next addition. Wet the edge of it to continue the work, adding coil after coil until again it is as high as safe, when it must be left to set. Continue this process until all is in final shape. Set it away in some warm place to dry out thoroughly.

Now it is time to paint the pot. There are regular pottery colors sold at the artist color shops; but the Indian used charcoal or soot off the pots for black, red ochre for red, and gypsum or powdered quartz for white. These shades suited the ground color of the clay and sufficed for very beautiful effects. Sometimes the entire vessel was painted a white or yellow as a background.

The colors are mixed with water to a cream or slip, and applied with a brush. Again the pot must be thoroughly dried. A trace of moisture in the clay would result in the destruction of the pot in the last operation, which is the firing.

Lay the pots in rows on the ground, about six inches apart each way, a small log that is a little higher than the pots between each row. Gently build over them with small pieces of dry wood, bark, etc., a pile of firewood three or four feet high. Light it and keep it going for two hours. Then it settles down to a glowing pile of embers and gradually the pots come to view. Some of them may be cracked, but usually, if they were properly dried and not injured by wood falling on them, they survive the fiery ordeal and come out complete, and hard terra cotta, with the pattern indelibly burned in.

Be sure and let them cool gradually by the dying out of the fire. If you rake them out while yet red, the sudden exposure to cold air will cause them to go to pieces.

Low, flat dishes are the easiest things to make, but the tall vases are more beautiful.

A thin rim of clay, i e., one of half an inch thickness, is more likely to come unbroken through the fire, than a very thick one or a much thinner one.

  The Birch Bark Roll 






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Peer- Level Topic Links:
Breech Clouts, Breech Cloths ] Buffalo Skull ] Buttons ] Canoe Decoration ] Drums and Shields ] Indian Graphic Arts ] Indian Names for Months ] Indian Moccasins ] Navajo Loom ] Painted Paddles ] Peace Pipes ] Picture-Writing ] Sign Language ] Painting the Tepee ] [ Pottery ] Teepee Plans 10' ] Tweezers ] War Bonnets ] Willow Bed ]

Parent- Level Topic Links:
Native Skills ] Totem Poles ] Indian Sign Language ] Indian Ceremonies ] Indian Dance ] Indian Songs ] Birch Bark Dances ] Birch Bark Songs ] Birch Bark Plays ] Indian Games for Boys ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.