It has been suggested that the golden yellow Hopi pottery may have been the inspiration for
tales of wealth which lured the early Spaniards to the Seven Cities of Cibola, since to people
who did not refine precious metals, gold could have referred to the color.
Francisco Porras and two other padres came to the Hopi villages to stay, marking the
beginning of the Mission period which brought many changes in Hopi life and even influenced
the pottery in the half-century of its duration.
With the establishment of the missions at Awatovi on Antelope Mesa, First, Second and Third
Mesas, sheep were introduced to the Hopi.
Very soon after, pottery was being fired with sheep dung for fuel as it is to this day. The use
of coal as a source of heat, for cooking and for firing pottery was abandoned.
Pottery became thicker and heavier than it had been, shapes reverted to the pre-Sikyatki
hemispherical bowls and globular jars, and painted decoration was confined to geometric
designs as before.
Imitations of wheel-thrown pottery, such as plates with ring bases, were made by Hopi women
who saw imported Spanish and Mexican pottery at the missions. The Mission era ended
abruptly in 1680 when the Hopis joined the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico in
the Pueblo Rebellion.
For the next 200 years we have little information about the Hopis or their pottery. The few
Spanish, and later Mexican, visitors left some documents to be sure, but mostly on Hopi
stubbornness and not on pottery.
Collections of potsherds to tell us what sort of pottery was being made.
The tradition of a yellow ware with black and black and red painted designs continued, and the
vessels were thinner and better fired than in Mission times.
Sparse historic records indicate that a drought, with accompanying crop failure, and smallpox,
an Old World disease that came to the Southwest with the Spaniards, assailed the villages in
Other epidemics of smallpox cropped up at intervals during the following decades, and along
with confrontations with encroaching Navajos reduced the population.
In 1853 and 1854 another severe smallpox outbreak was recorded. Following one or perhaps
more of these periods when many people had died, a large number of Hopi families migrated
Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico and stayed several years.
Upon their return home, the potters were using new techniques, new shapes and new designs,
all learned from their Zuni friends.
Hopi pottery had become a grayish white and was decorated in black or black and red, and is
called Polacca Black-on-white or Polacca Polychrome.
The old Hopi clay that fired yellow was used to form the vessel, then when dry it was slipped
with an iron-free clay that fired grayish-white. The slip had a different shrinkage factor from
the base clay, so that when fired a crackled surface resulted. Perhaps because of the
crackled surface or the particular clay employed, the white slip is much grayer in appearance
than tho e slips used for Anasazi black-on- white pottery made around A.D. 1100 or 1200.
A favorite new Zuni shape was a bowl with an out-curving rim, made especially for serving
hominy and mutton stew. The interior of the rim was decorated with geometric designs.
The exterior or the body was decorated with arabesques or "rainbird" figures with a
geometric band design. Large deep bowls, generally with interior decoration only, were made
especially to hold cornmeal.
Other old shapes of pre-Zuni time continued, but all pottery now has the crackled
grayish-white surface. Hopi pottery, as in all the ages past, was made solely for the use of the
potter's family or the relatives and friends with whom she traded.
This was the status of Hopi ceramic art when Americans began to come to the villages in the
1870's and 1880's.
Hopi life began to change with the coming of the Americans. A trading post was established at
Keams Canyon, and Hopi pottery was soon traded by Hopi women for things that they wanted:
coffee, sugar, white flour, cloth, metal cooking utensils and china tableware. Happily, this has
left its mark on most beautiful Hopi pottery today.
Hopi Pottery Making
In all aspects of Hopi ritual, ideas
of space, time, color, and number
are all interrelated in such a way
as to provide order to the Hopi
world. This is true for Hopi