Now is a good time to buy Southwest pottery. A large amount of material is coming onto the market, and for that reason you can easily find great, affordable pottery from the American Indian pueblos. Before you buy, it’s best to study the material and determine what appeals to you. Some people collect for rarity; others collect to decorate their Southwest-themed abodes.
Finely decorated pottery that was used by the people themselves is always very desirable. The rarest historic pottery is from Santa Ana. Because of their innovative designs and the fact that their pottery tradition ended at about the turn of the 20th century, a large Santa Ana olla could bring $100,000 or more.
However, you can start collecting with smaller jars, which usually have similar decorations to the larger historic jars, but can be found for prices in the $500-$2,500 range. These jars are usually less expensive because they were originally made for the market, not for their own use.
Here are four things to look for that affect the value of Southwest pottery:
1. Size & Historic Use
Big storage jars or dough bowls that were used on the pueblo can be quite valuable. Large, historic water jars, or ollas, often have wear on the rim from the ladle that was used to scoop out water. By the late 19th century, with the advent of the railroad, more pottery was being made for the market than for practical use in the pueblos. Often, these smaller, later examples can be much more affordable.
2. Origin & Decoration
Which pueblo’s style and design appeals most to you? Acoma pueblo pottery is quite popular for its thin walls and elegant decoration. Collectors also love Polacca, a form of Hopi pottery from the second half of the 19th century. Some people prefer the charming human and animal figures made in Cochiti pueblo in the late 19th century, and others love the simple, floral or geometric designs of Santa Domingo, the Zia bird pots, or the Zuni heartline deer and rain bird jars.
It’s also important to recognize the names of the most famous Southwest American Indian potters, such as Maria Martinez, Nampeyo and her descendants, Margaret Tafoya, and Lucy Lewis. Because these artists were so prolific, their work has recently come down in value. It’s a good time to collect examples of their pottery.
3. Form & Condition
Southwest pottery comes in many forms, from vessels to animal figures. People may collect non-traditional forms, like pitchers, but most collectors prefer traditional forms, including canteens, dough bowls, and ollas (water jars). However, the large, figural pieces made in Cochiti for the market are also quite popular and usually bring a high price. Make sure you also pay attention to condition. Collectors prefer pottery that hasn’t had extensive restoration. For an excellent book on historic pueblo pottery see: Pottery of the Pueblos of New Mexico, 1700-1940, by Jonathan Batkin or Two Hundred Years of Historic Pueblo Pottery: The Gallegos Collection, by Francis H. Harlow.
The February 2013 American Indian & Ethnographic Art auction will feature an extensive collection of pottery, including prehistoric Anasazi and Mimbres pottery and historic pottery from most of the Southwest pueblos. In addition to an extensive selection of Zuni pottery, the sale will offer fine Zia, Santo Domingo, Tesuque, Cochiti, and Acoma pottery. One highlight of the sale is a fine Polacca pot with unusual Kachina imagery. If you have questions about the auction or wish to consign American Indian art or artifacts, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.