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Art and Artists
Africa, Zaire
England, Higham Manor, Suffolk
Donald Judd
New Mexico (Mimbres)
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Thailand (Blue Hmong)
Robert Rauschenberg

Inner Worlds Environment   Identity Designing Spaces and Places
New Mexico (Mimbres)
New Mexic (Mimbres), Mimbres Classic Black-on-White Bowl
New Mexico (Mimbres)
Mimbres Classic Black-on-White Bowl (geometric/insect design), Style III, about 1000-1130/1150
H. 4 x Dia. 8 5/8 in.
About the Art

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.

Vocabulary Terms

cosmos--The universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious whole.

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