Catawba Pottery

by Ashley Sexton on June 21, 2017

Perhaps the Catawba Indian Nation's greatest legacy is its pottery, made in simple, elegant style that is instantly recognizable. Traditionally, and today, Catawba men and children dig clay from pits along the Catawba River. After straining and drying the clay, Catawba women grind it into very fine powder to eliminate any grittiness from the final product. Unlike, many modern potters who "throw" pots on a wheel, Catawba's use lumps or snake-like coils of clay to form their pots. Once the "green" pot is allowed to dry for a few days, the potter thins the walls and smooths the inner and outer surfaces using tools that may have been passed down for generations. These implements- made of bone, shell, wood, or metal- are among the potter's most cherished possessions. A final dampening of the pot allows the potter to polish it to a glass-like finish. Ornamentation may be added in the form of handles, spouts, or the head of ancient Chief Haigler.

Catawba Indian pottery is NEVER painted, nor is it glazed- even though it often has sheen. Most potters sun-dry their pots, fireplace dry or oven dry before firing them outdoors in a pit or open fireplace; this produces a unique mottled pattern of black, tan, orange, and/or brown that makes the smooth but un-glazed final product so distinctive.

This technique is believed to have been used by the Catawba's for over 4,500 years and apparently pre--dates the work of more familiar pottery-making tribes in the Southwestern U.S..


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