Making a Pinched Clay Pot: Knead, shape, embed a design, paint, and dry this Native American classic craft.

Native Americans have a long tradition of craft work ranging from colourful beadwork to intricate dreamcatchers. There are beautiful clay pots and amazing leather goods. Native Americans have an affinity with the earth. They have learned many lessons from the ancestors but one that is most imperative is learning to live with the land instead of thinking they own it. Many of their crafts celebrate this philosophy. The feathers used to make headdresses, corn husk for dolls, birch bark creations, all come from these traditions of taking from the land only what you need but never depleting it. There is not only a respect for the land, there is also the need to give back to it.

In this project we are going to make a clay pot similar to how the Native Americans have created them all through history.

Materials needed:

  • air dry clay
  • paints
  • glaze or varnish
  • paintbrushes
  • Black fine point permanent marker (optional)
  • hand towel

You will need a piece of clay about the size of an apple.

Knead the clay on a hard clean surface as you would bread dough to get the air bubbles out. This also increases the elasticity of the clay as it warms in your hands. Once you are satisfied that it is thoroughly kneaded, begin shaping it into a ball. We do this by cupping our hands together with the clay between and applying pressure for a moment. Shift the clay and repeat the pressure. Continue until you have a symmetrical ball of clay (or close to it).

If you are right handed put it in your left hand and lefty’s, put it in your right. For the sake of demo I am going to use the right-handed method. I put the clay in my left hand and push my right thumb into the middle making sure to not break through. Beginning with the bottom, I am going to work my way around the clay, giving it a continuous quarter turn as I pinch the clay making the bottom of my pot with my thumb to thin out the bottom clay but not so thin as to make it weak. Be careful you don’t just go wider and wider. Flatten the bottom on the kneading surface.

Now begin working on the sides. The idea is to pull the clay upwards as you are thinning it out. I use my thumb from the inside and my pointer finger on the outside of the clay. Continue rotating the clay in your hand as you work it with your other. If it gets too large you can cut off the excess.

At the top of your pot, smooth and round off the rim. You can put a design in the clay if you like or you can wait for it to dry and paint it. While it is drying, wet your hand towel and lay it over the pot. You want it damp not sopping. This will keep it from drying too fast and cracking.

Remember with the paint colour to look for colours in nature. Below is a link to a page about the symbolism found in Native American art. Check it out. After the paint dries you can outline the symbols with your black marker to make them pop.

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