Take Coil Pottery Classes in the Southwest

Take Coil Pottery Classes in the Southwest

My traditional coil pottery classes are designed to give students the full experience, exploring ancient ruins, examining museum collections and recreating prehistoric coil pottery as accurately as possible. Keep reading to discover what is involved.

Some things are really hard to learn from reading a book (or a blog post), and that is especially true when it comes to learning how to make pottery. Learning from watching an expert and having that person available to answer questions is the best way to learn a craft like coil pottery. Unfortunately we don’t all have the luxury of having an expert available, this is especially true as it relates to less common pottery techniques such as traditional coil pottery. This is one of the main reasons why that I teach coil pottery classes, to help people to learn pottery techniques that are not commonly taught today.

A Lost Art Form

Many centuries ago, probably around 200 BC, but nobody knows exactly, pottery technology spread north from Mexico into what is today the American Southwest region. Back then it was taught one person to the other, in person with demonstration and questions and answers. Over the years it was taught mother to daughter or grandmothers or aunts, generation to generation the art of traditional coil pottery was handed down. It was all demonstration and question and answer, it was the best way to teach pottery way back then as it remains so to this day.

An example of ancient southwest coiled pottery
The knowledge of how to make pottery like this was passed from generation to generation for centuries.

Many potters and archaeologists have worked hard for decades to unravel the secrets of how pottery was made in the ancient Southwest. Through science, trial and error and observing Native American potters who are continuing some of those ancient traditions, much has been learned about how those ancient potters worked. Still many questions remain to be answered and new research is being done all the time on prehistoric pottery technology by experimental archaeologists and inspired artists.

A good coil pottery class should give insights into how things were done in the distant past while at the same time teaching the best ways to work today. My pottery classes are designed to bridge that gap between the past and present, offering a glimpse into what life was like in the ancient Southwest, how potters worked at that time and the best ways to make coil pottery today. I stay abreast of the latest archaeological research and pottery replication techniques to provide my students with the most best possible information.

What You Will Learn

There are four main areas of study involved in my traditional coil pottery classes, they are:

  • Wild clay location and processing
  • Forming pottery using the coil method
  • Finishing and decorating
  • Outdoor pottery firing
finding natural clay
Finding natural clay

Most of my classes will take you into the field to see and collect native clay. This hands-on experience with wild clay really helps students to learn how to find clay themselves. The discussions we have on these field trips also help the students to understand what is involved in finding, testing and processing clay. Even if they never do it again, it gives students a new a better appreciation of the work that goes into southwestern coil pottery making.

Forming a coil pot
Forming a coil pot

We will make pottery that same way that the ancient Anasazi and Mogollon potters did from about 200 AD on. Using the method that archaeologists call the “coil and scrape” method everyone in the class will make at least one pot and often several pots. I provide traditional tools like gourd scrapers, deer rib scrapers and polishing stones and I also have more modern tools on hand for those students who are so inclined.

Painting pottery
Painting pottery

Depending on the subject of the particular workshop, finishing the pottery may simply be painting designs on the pots or can be much more involved. In classes where polychrome pottery is produced there are other steps like applying slip and stone polishing. Brushes made from the leaves of the yucca plant are provided and paints are made from various natural and hand made materials. We always have a beautiful and eclectic collection of student pottery in the end.

Outdoor pottery firing
Pottery firing

The exciting climax of every class is the outdoor pottery firing. The finished and fully dried pottery is placed in a large teepee of wood and fired to around 1400 degrees Fahrenheit (800 C). This trial by fire sometimes results in some pottery breakage, but most often results in gorgeous traditionally made Southwest pottery. Once the pots are cool enough to handle the students gather for a group picture before saying their goodbyes and heading home.

Typical Coil Pottery Class Schedule

Schedules different depending on the number of days, the location and the type of pottery being made but are most frequently structured like this.

  • Day 1: Learn about the history of Southwest pottery and the type of pottery this workshop will focus on. Then begin forming pottery using coil method.
  • Day 2: Finish forming pot, make a second pot if time permits. Visit a local museum to view their pottery collection while the pots dry some. Then return and work of scraping and smoothing pottery.
  • Day 3: Finish smoothing pots if necessary, then begin to slip, polish and paint designs on pots. We may take a field trip to collect natural clay if time permits and if there is a nearby clay deposit available.
  • Day 4: All pottery must be completed by this morning because the pottery is left to dry while the class takes a field trip to explore some prehistoric ruins for the day.
  • Day 5: Usually starts early getting the fire going and preheating the pots around the fire. The pottery will be all fired and done before noon to finish the class.

Check out this gallery of photos from my summer 2018 class to see how much fun we had. Link to photo gallery >>

Class field trip to the ruins of Q Ranch Pueblo

Class Field Trips

My classes almost always have trips and tours to ruins and museums in order to give a good understanding of the prehistoric cultures of the Southwest who made the pottery we are recreating. Here are a few of the trips we have taken with previous classes.

  • Archaeologist led backcountry tour of Casa Grande Ruins National Park.
  • Guided tour of Mesa Grande Ruins.
  • Tour of back-room pottery collection at the Arizona Museum of Natural History.
  • Visit to Tonto Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
  • Tour of Besh Ba Gowah ruins and museum.
  • Tour of the basement pottery collection at the Amerind Museum.
  • Visit to the pottery collection exhibit at Cochise College.
  • Visit to un-excavated ruins of Pinal Pueblo.
  • Visit to un-excavated ruins of Chiricahua Pueblo.
  • Trips to dig clay all over the place.

The field trips are a lot of fun and we often stop and have lunch in a cafe while we are out. They offer the opportunity to get to know each other better. The trips also break up the pottery work so you can stay excited about the pots, come back refreshed and ready to get back to the clay.

A class showing off their finished coiled pottery
A class showing off their finished coiled pottery.

Past Workshop Locations

I have taught traditional coil pottery classes all over the Southwest in some great locations. Here is a list of some of the places I have been privileged to teach prehistoric pottery.

  • Besh ba Gowah Archaeological Park
  • Mesa Grande Cultural Park
  • Q Ranch
  • Old Pueblo Archaeology Center
  • Tohono Chul Park
  • Southwest Kiln Conference
  • Silver City Clay Festival
  • Upper Gila Preservation Archaeology Field School

In-Person vs Online Pottery Classes

In-person pottery classes are not for everyone. Maybe a person can’t get away for several days in a row or they can’t afford it or perhaps they don’t like being around groups of strangers. For those people I also offer some really great online traditional coil pottery classes, you can check them out here.

Online pottery classes offer several advantages over the more traditional in-person pottery class.

  • Convenient, learn from the comfort of your own home when you have time.
  • Affordable, online workshops cost much less than the in-person variety.
  • Replayable, you can re-watch any parts you are having trouble with over and over again.

Of course online classes miss out on the fun and camaraderie of in-person classes. They miss out on the field trips, the trips to museums and the total experience that is the heart of an in-person pottery class.

prehistoric Pinto Polychrome bowl
A prehistoric pot in the collection at Q Ranch

Sign Up For a Coil Pottery Class

I try to have a few future coil pottery classes scheduled at all times, but sometimes there are none available. Below is the list of my upcoming in-person coil pottery classes, if you are interested just click and follow the instructions to register for the class.

replicating an ancient pot

Experimental Archaeology in Southwest Ceramics Workshop

primitive pottery being fired

Prehistoric Cooking Pottery Class

ancient salado polychrome pottery

Ancient Salado Pottery Class

Online Pottery Classes Available

My online pottery classes are always available and come with a 100% money back guarantee if you are not satisfied. Here is a list of those, just click on the class you are interested in. You could potentially be signed up and taking the class in a matter of minutes.

Tucson Polychrome jar from Davis Ranch Ruin

Maverick Mountain Polychrome Jar

Follow along instructions for making a Maverick Mountain series jar using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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Ramos Polychrome Human Effigy Jar

Follow along instructions for making a Ramos Polychrome human effigy jar using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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Mesa Verde Rattle-Bottom Mug

Follow along instructions for making a Mesa verde style rattle-bottomed mug using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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Chaco Cacao Cylinder

Follow along instructions for making a Chaco cylinder vessel using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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coiled pottery teapot

Coiled Polychrome Teapot

Follow along instructions for making a coiled polychrome teapot using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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Dragoon red on brown shouldered jar

Dragoon Red on Brown Shouldered Jar

Follow along instructions for making a Dragoon Red on Brown Shouldered Jar using traditional coil and scrape methods. Covers coils building, smoothing, painting and burnishing.

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Cliff Polychrome Bowl

Cliff Polychrome Bowl

Follow along instructions for making a Cliff Polychrome bowl using traditional hand building methods. Covers coil building and finishing techniques.

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Cibola white ware pitcher

Cibola White Ware Pitcher

Follow along instructions for making a Cibola White Ware pitcher using traditional hand building methods. Covers coil building and finishing techniques.

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outdoor pottery firing

Pottery Firing Feb. 6, 2021

This was the final session to my January 2021 Zoom pottery workshop. Students mailed their pottery to me, I fired it in this livestream and then mailed it back to them.

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paints, slips and pigment

Natural Pottery Paints, Slips & Pigments

In this course you will learn how to make many types of natural pottery paints. You will see examples of raw minerals, then learn how to process those and the recipes to make your own paints for pottery. Mineral paints, organic paints, yucca paintbrushes, the process of levigation and much more are all covered in great detail. After completion of this class you will be able to make your own natural pottery paint.

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open, above-ground pottery firing

Outdoor Pottery Firing 101

This course teaches the ancient art of outdoor, above-ground pottery firing. I will explain the science behind a pottery fire, give tips on selecting the best wood and fire safety, then lead you through several complete outdoor pottery firings. All video based learning so you can come along with me as I fire pottery in the way practiced by the ancient Mogollon while I explain what is being done and why it is being done.

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how to make a puki

How to Make a Puki

Or, everything you ever wanted to know about pukis but was always afraid to ask. This short video lesson explains what a puki is, how it is used and demonstrates a simple and easy method of making one.

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native clay 101

Wild Clay 101

In this course I will take you out into the field around the Southwest to look at various actual clay beds. This is the kind of help that you need when starting out but is hard to find, seeing clay and being taught what to look for and how to tell if it is good. I will then cover how to process your clay to make it usable for hand-building. When you are done with this course you will know how to locate and process native clay like a pro.

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Coil and Scrape Pottery Making

Coil Pottery Making 101

Learn the coil-and-scrape pottery making technique in simple, easy to follow video lessons. Explore the ancient art of coil building pottery by hand, these detailed video lessons take you into the instructors studio with detailed explanations of the process. This course will give you the skills and techniques to hand-build pottery in the manner of the prehistoric people of the Southwest, and an attractive certificate to prove it!

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Learn More

I have a lot of free information on this website to help people who are interested in learning to make coil pottery, so go ahead and see what there is, this link will show you all articles available. I also have a YouTube channel with some great videos showing how coil pottery is made, you can check that out by following this link.

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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