Pottery containers were among the Mimbres people's most important
household products because they were rodent-proof, watertight, and
could be made in different sizes and shapes. They were used to store
food, water, seeds, medicines, and other goods. They were used for
cooking, food service, as canteens, and in rituals. Most of the bowls
in this exhibition were first used as serving vessels and later buried
with the Mimbres' dead, under the floors of their houses.
We can speculate that the people who made the Mimbres pots worked
with techniques similar to traditional Pueblo potters. The shapes
of the pots were probably based on basket or gourd shapes. The clay
for the pots was gathered from the river-banks. The pots were made
by the coil and scrape method, in which the walls are built up by
hand, pinching together successive coils or ropes of clay. The sides
were scraped by a shaped piece of gourd or pottery shard to get
a uniform thickness. Next, the pottery was coated with red or white
slip, a watery clay mixture, and smoothed with a round river stone.
Designs were painted on with colored slip and then the pots were
fired in outdoor kilns, or ovens-constructed with wood and broken
pieces of pottery. The Mimbres were skillful at controlling this
firing process to produce a range of black or red color in the designs.
No one knows for sure what individual pictures on the pottery mean.
Some of the scenes obviously tell stories; some depict insects,
birds, rodents, fish, and large animals in the region. A number
show transformations or curious part animal-part human creatures.
Still others show complex, balanced geometric designs. However,
some scholars believe that all designs, no matter how abstract,
actually contain symbols that had meaning for the Mimbres people.
Many believe that the central theme of all Mimbres painted designs
is about the contrast and balancing of opposing forces.
The picture on this bowl at first seems to be a geometric design,
possibly describing mountains and lightning forms, but closer examination
shows that as a the design rotates around the center, it transforms
into the eye, beak and feet of a curled insect. This subtle design
has been interpreted as showing how the cosmos
is contained in a single animal or individual.
Many of the Mimbres bowls have large round holes in the bottom.
While some holes occurred naturally, or during excavation, some
were deliberately made in the bowls. This deliberate "killing"
of a pot was probably done as part of the funeral ritual, before
the pots were buried.
One of the important questions about Mimbres pottery is whether
or not they were considered sacred objects. We do know that the
bowls were used in daily life before they became part of the funeral
ritual because many show signs of wear. Many Native Americans today
view anything associated with a burial as sacred.
universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious whole.
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