25 Coil Pot Ideas Inspired by the Ancient Southwest

25 Coil Pot Ideas Inspired by the Ancient Southwest

Sometimes I hit a creative dead-end and need some inspiration, I think we all do at some point. When it comes to making a coil pot most of the ideas and tutorials I see on the internet these days look the same, I want something fresh. If you are like me then look further, I have done the hard work of digging up the freshest 25 coil pot ideas, but instead if being new ideas I looked to the past, the ancient Southwest where all pottery was coiled, take a look.

1. Mimbres bowl

Mimbres pottery bowl, a simple coil pot idea with a complex painted design.
Mimbres pottery bowl

Perhaps the most iconic of Southwestern pots, the Mimbres bowl with its black and white portrayal of ancient life, mythology and wildlife, is a coiled pot. So obviously the challenge in this project would be more in the painting than in the forming. Not to say that bowls cannot be challenging to form well because they can but out of the coil pot ideas in this article, this is among the easiest from a coiling skills standpoint.

2. Ancestral Puebloan ladle

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, CHCU 561
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, CHCU 561

Here is a special challenge for the coil potter. Oh sure the coiled ladle bowl is simple enough but the Ancestral Puebloan ladle is all about that handle. How will you form the handle? Some are solid, some are hollow and some are designed to rattle. Attaching it is also a challenge, some are just pressed firmly into the bowl clay and others use a lug attachment that passes through a hole in the bowl. And then there is drying this piece without cracking, will you use plastic to help you or will you use only the tools available to the ancient potters?

3. Water jar

anasazi water jar
Anasazi water jar

If you are interested in a really big coil pot idea then this is the project for you. Water jars in the desert Southwest were essential for life, and as such were an absolute necessity. They come in a wide range of styles based mostly on the culture that produced it, but they are usually quite large and have a small mouth to keep water from sloshing out, to minimize evaporation and to make it easy to cover.

4. Mesa Verde mug

Mesa Verde mugs
Mesa Verde mugs

It is an odd quirk of history that the Mesa Verde Anasazi developed a mug almost identical in form to our modern coffee mug, but then that form never spread beyond the Mesa Verde region. The mug is a small yet challenging and useable coil pot idea and they make great gifts too! For an extra challenging project try adding a separate chamber in the bottom that rattles when shaken like some ancient Anasazi mugs have.

5. Canteen

Ancestral Puebloan canteen
Ancestral Puebloan canteen

Here is another of the more challenging coil pot ideas, the ceramic canteen. Canteens were made by the Ancestral Puebloans for hundreds of years for carrying water on long treks across the desert. Not only is a canteen functional but it makes a truly unique and eye-catching piece of art too. The type pictures is just a narrow mouthed jar strap handles. For the more flattened variety try forming two bowls of the same size, then joining them together at their rims, then cut a hole and coil on a spout.

6. Hohokam scoop

A shelf full of Hohokam scoops and censors
A shelf full of Hohokam scoops and censors

Here is a much easier coil pot idea, the Hohokam scoop, short of coiling, long on painted designs and a truly unique piece of art. The Hohokam who lived around present day Phoenix, Arizona never made ladles like their northern Anasazi neighbors did. Instead they made the ceramic scoop, which seems to work just as well and give you a larger design field for painting. For a unique twist try adding a hole to the top for hanging these, another fantastic gift idea here!

7. Four-Mile Polychrome bowl

Four Mile Polychrome bowl
Four Mile Polychrome bowl

The beauty of White Mountain Redware pottery comes from the strikingly bright red slip and the expertly painted designs. These bowls will be relatively simple to form by coiling but the designs may be a bit harder to execute. The body of Four-Mile Polychrome is most often a grey, marine clay with sherd temper that is then covered with a yellow slip that fires to a bright orange/red color. The white designs are just a white clay while the black designs are a mineral based paint combination of copper, lead and manganese. These colors can be replicated with native materials or duplicated with store bought clays and minerals.

8. Seed jar

Maverick Mountain Polychrome seed jar
Maverick Mountain Polychrome seed jar

The seed jar is a simple but elegant form which originated in ancient Anasazi times. One nice thing about making a seed jar is that it is a small jar with a relatively large area to decorate, so if you are looking for maximum painting with minimum forming this is the shape for you. The seed jar is a simple coil pot, when you get to the top side you will need to do a lot of “compression pinching” to bring it in tightly. See the links below in the “Learn More” section if you need help with these pinches.

9. Casas Grandes Fat Man

Casas Grandes Fat Man
Casas Grandes Fat Man pots

The ancient potters in Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico produced much beautiful pottery but one of the most intriguing forms was the “fat man” pot. Although they are called fat man, many of them are women and we know this because they are usually naked and anatomically correct. Although you could make this pot using other techniques, the prehistoric examples are coil pots that are pressed out from the inside to form the desired shapes with additional bits of clay attached and sculpted to form noses, arms, feet and other appendages.

10. Gila Shoulder jar

Hohokam Gila shoulder jar
Hohokam Gila shoulder jar

The “Gila Shoulder” is a very unique and distinctive pottery form that was made by the Hohokam culture near present day Phoenix, Arizona. This coil pot idea is fairly easy to form if you have a good puki, just form the base in the puki, then as you start adding coils above the edge of the puki bring the walls in instead of up and out as you would to make a rounded form. 

11. Wedding vase

wedding vase
A Pueblo wedding vase made by Maria and Julian Martinez

The classic southwestern wedding vase has its origins in historic times and did not become widespread until the tourist trade in the 20th century. Still it is a fun and challenging coil pottery making project to attempt to form the twin jar necks. If you are interested in a possible Native American wedding pot with roots that actually go back over 700 years check out number 22 below.

12. Micacious bean pot

Micacious bean pot
Micacious bean pot

As beautiful as it is useful, the micaceous bean-pot is a must have for any coil potter. The mica in the clay actually makes this pot extremely resistant to heat stress cracks and thermal shock so you can cook with one right on a stove top. Micaceous clay can be ordered from a source on our resource page here.

13. Duck effigy

Duck effigy jar
Duck effigy jar

All sorts of effigy vessels were made in the ancient southwest but some were more common than others, one of the more common in is the duck effigy pot. These seem to be most common along the upper Gila River in Southwestern New Mexico during the fourteenth century. When making one of these remember that it’s basically just an ordinary coiled jar with a head and a tail attached.

14. Olla

A large olla
A large olla

Pronounced oya, in Spanish it means “jar” but in the Southwest an olla is a large jar. Some of these prehistoric ollas are huge, with a capacity of nearly 20 gallons, a truly impressive accomplishment for a coiled pot. When working on one of these you may need to wait for the clay to dry a little and firm up before you can continue building.

15. Chaco cylinder

A collection of Chaco cylinders, image #3521, AMNH Library
A collection of Chaco cylinders, image #3521, AMNH Library

The Chaco cylinder is unique among southwestern coil pottery, found almost exclusively at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwest New Mexico. Research has revealed that these cylinders were used for drinking cacao, the bean from which chocolate is made, which was traded all the way from central Mexico over a thousand miles away.

16. Kiva jar

kiva jar
A kiva jar

This is another form unique to a specific area, the kiva jar is an advanced, lidded jar that was made and used in the area around where Mesa Verde National Park is located today. The lid sits into a little lip that holds it in place, there are often holes around the lip used to tie the lid on. It seems to me that one of these would make an excellent urn for a loved one.

17. Cibola Pitcher

Cibola Pitcher
Cibola Pitcher

Pitchers are found all over but the finest were made in the Cibola region (ancestral Zuni). Cibolan pitchers often have little animals for handles and are always painted with black mineral paint on a white clay slip.

18. Tonto polychrome jar

Tonto Polychrome jar
Tonto Polychrome jar

Here is a colorful coil pot idea to break the pattern of the last few black and white pots. Salado Polychrome pottery like this was popular in the 1300s. This type is painted with organic paint so if you want to make it 100% authentically you need to have the right kind of slip otherwise just fake it with any old black you have around.

19. Corrugated jar

Corrugated jar
Corrugated jar

This is among the most difficult coil pot ideas listed here, Anasazi cooking pots were usually corrugated or textured. Studies have shown that these pots resisted the kinds of breakage that was common in pots that were frequently heated over cooking fires. To make a corrugated pot make your coils extremely small, keep your pinches close together and don’t scrape them away. Making corrugated pottery well takes a great deal of practice so don’t give up if it doesn’t come out right in the first try.

20. Culinary shoe pot

A culinary shoe pot
A culinary shoe pot

Here is another cooking pot idea for you to try, the culinary shoe pot spread across the Southwest late in prehistory, in the late 1300s. Archaeologists know that they were used for cooking but are not sure exactly how they were used or what was cooked in them because they had stopped being used by historic times so there are no written records of their use. This is a fun project to try coiling as closing in the top and adding the neck on the side is a unique experience.

21. Cliff polychrome bowl

Cliff Polychrome bowl
Cliff Polychrome bowl

The ultimate in coil pottery bowl ideas (in my opinion) is Cliff Polychrome because it is challenging and stunning. The recurve rim is hard to get right as there is a subtlety to the shape, I like to use my thumbs to flare it out. Painting inside of a deep bowl brings another sort of challenge to this type. Cliff Polychrome is a Salado Polychrome type that was made between 1350 and 1450.

22. Casas Grandes marriage vessel

Casas Grandes marriage vessel
Casas Grandes marriage vessel

Nobody knows for sure what these were used for, no doubt some type of ceremony so given the duality of the form it may have been a marriage ceremony. This type of pot was made from about 1100 to 1450 in northern Chihuahua, Mexico and adjacent areas of New Mexico and Texas. This is a fun coil pot idea if you are interested in the out of the ordinary.

23. Polished red ware jar

Polished red ware
Polished red ware

I have shown you lots of examples of painted pottery but there is something to be said for the beauty of a plain ware pot and when it comes to plain ware, nothing beats polished red ware. These are mostly made with a brown clay body that is slipped with red clay and polished good with a smooth stone. If you fire this with fuel touching the pot you can develop “fire clouds”.

24. Gila polychrome vase

Gila Polychrome Vase
Gila Polychrome vase

The vase shape is very rare is the ancient Southwest, which makes me wonder just what these people were doing with them, I kind of doubt they were for cut flowers. For an impressive looking pot, it is not extremely difficult to make with coils which means it would make a good project for a beginner coil potter hoping to make an impressive show.

25. Ring pot

salado ring pot, among the most difficult coil pot ideas
Ring pot at Besh Ba Gowah Museum (it is hard to take good photos through glass display cases)

The ultimate challenge for the accomplished coil potter who is looking to make a show stopper is the ring pot. This is a rare form but examples are found across a broad range of time and all over the map. I’ve never made one of these so I can’t offer any coiling tips, good luck and let me know if you get one made by leaving a comment below.

Help with coil pot ideas

If you have experience with making coil pottery then pick one of the pot ideas above and get started, but if you have little of no experience coiling then some of these project may seem daunting. In that case pick an easy project and take it slow. Or check out our other resources for coil pottery making help;

I've been making primitive pottery since I was a teenager in the 80's. My work focuses on reproducing the polychrome pottery styles made in the American Southwest during thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. I have taught workshops and lectured at venues all over the Southwest. When I was learning to make pottery it was very hard to find the information I needed, so I created this website to make the technology of southwest pottery readily available to all.

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