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Treasures In Your Attic
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson
Scripps Howard News Service
Dear Helaine and Joe: This 14-inch diameter pot was given to my family in the early 1900s. A family friend was a Franciscan brother who worked in New Mexico beginning about 1902 and it came from him. I would like to know the age, origin and value. — R.P., Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dear R.P.: There is something very compelling about this beautifully painted jar, which is a very fine example of traditional Native American art from the turn of the 20th century, circa 1910. This particular piece was made at Zia Pueblo, a village located on a dismal, lava-encrusted, flat-topped hill or mesa situated almost due west from Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico.
The land around Zia Pueblo is not well suited for agriculture, and the inhabitants of this area have long made fine pottery and other items to trade for food and necessities. Clay is abundant in the area but it needs to be mixed with another material so that it will not be too sticky or crack while drying.
This mixing of the two materials is called "tempering," and potters of the different Pueblos used different materials for this purpose. The Zias have always used finely ground black basalt, which is abundant in their environment. Basalt shows as characteristic black specks in the finished pottery that is very indicative of Zia craftsmanship.
The jar belonging to R.P. was created by a method known as "coiling," which involves building an earthenware vessel using thick strands — or coils — of clay that are carefully raised and manipulated with one circuit of coils being placed on top of another until the desired shape is realized. It is an age-old method of making pottery, and it is one that requires as much as, if not more, skill than "throwing" an object on a potter's wheel.
The surface of this piece has been decorated with leaves and berries at the top and a row of spotted deer eating tall plants around the center. There is a large dark splotch — sometimes called a "fire cloud" — that is evident in the photograph. Some might think this is a terrible defect, but in fact it is the result of the piece being too near another object during the open-pit firing process.
The proximity of the two pieces of pottery did not allow the air to flow between them properly during the firing, and a carbon "cloud" formed in the area where the two items were closest to each other. This does not materially detract form the monetary or aesthetic value of this jar, and the small chips found at the rim also are not a serious deduction.
There is some wear to the decoration, but this, too, does not adversely affect the value because this is a fine and rare example of Zia pottery. After consulting with specialist Joan Caballero in Santa Fe, we feel the insurance replacement value of this Zia jar is between $14,000 and $18,000.