Located on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, the Arizona State Museum, established in 1893, is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwest.
We were especially interested in the exhibit Saving Southwest Traditions: The Pottery Project, which focused on the collection of 20,000+ pots, documenting 2,000 years of life in the region and reflecting nearly every cultural group in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. It is described as the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world.
A portion of this collection was presented in the floor-to-ceiling, glass-enclosed Wall of Pots. Because we have admired pottery produced by artists in the pueblos of New Mexico, we spent a good amount of time at this Wall. Some of our favorite pots in the display are shown below. Brief identifying information is presented after each photo.
left: Tarahumara painted jar, 1977
right: Tarahumara pitcher and lid, 1979
Tohono O'odham Friendhip Jar, 1970
second row, left: Mohave Female Effigy Jar, ca. 1900
second row, right: Quechan Red-on-buff, pitcher, 1900
front row, left: Quechan doll figures, ca. 1900
front row, right: Mohave female effigy jar, 1962
left: Tarahumara painted jar, 1972
center: Tarahumara pitcher and lid, 1979
right: Warihío appliqué Jar, 1980
We were disappointed to see only a relatively few of the 20,000 pieces of pottery on display, but when we learned about the Virtual Vault, we understood the reasons.
Thousands of priceless ceramic vessels were deteriorating on the shelves of the Arizona State Museum due to inadequate environmental controls and storage conditions. Soluble salts naturally occur in many of the clays used to make vessels. When soluble salt efflorescence (loss of moisture when exposed to air) occurs in a ceramic vessel, tiny salt crystals form. With moisture, they grow larger and push apart the ceramic structure while they move to the surface. There they slowly obliterate the decoration while leaving rings of clay dust on the shelves.
For this reason, the museum maintains a storage vault which must stay at a constant 72 degrees F. and 32% humidity. Since visitors are not able to enter this vault, a Virtual Vault has been established. This Vault is a three-dimensional, interactive database of signature pieces which enables visitors to access pieces of their choice "virtually:" to remove a pot from the shelf, rotate it, learn more about the archaeological site where it was found, watch a potter demonstrate how it was made, and more.
left: Santo Domingo Polychrome Jar, 1900
center: San Ildephonso Polychrome Jar, 1910
right: Santo Domingo Polychrome Jar, 1914
both: Sosi Black-on-white Jar, 1050-1180
Sacaton Red-on-buff Jar, 950-1150 CE (I think "CE" stands for "Common Era," and is used in place of Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord, in recognition of non-Christian cultures.)
left: Hopi-Tewa Polychrome Jar, 1920
right: Hopi-Polacca Polychrome Jar, 1880
second row: El Paso Polychrome Jar, ca. 1200-1400 CE
first row, left: Tularosa Black-on-white pitcher, 1200-1300
first row, right: Reserve Black-on-white bowl, 1100-1200 CE
second row: Sikyatki Polychrome Jar, 1450-1630 CE
front row, left: Pinnawa Glaze-on-white Jar, 1350-1450 CE
front row, right: Kwakina Polychrome Bowl, 1275-1500 CE
The description reads: "This pot is one of the oldest whole pots in the collection, dating to approximately 50-150 AD. This seed jar, or 'tecomate,' dates to what archaeologists call the 'Agua Caliente' phase, which spans the dates c. 50-475 AD.
This pot is important because it originates in the phase during which the earliest ceramic containers are known for the Southwest. Though early, it is relatively large and remarkably well-made, which suggests that it does not represent the very earliest attempt at pottery making in the Agua Caliente phase. Another point of interest is that these earliest ceramics are primarily storage, not cooking, vessels. This pot, with its relatively small mouth, is a seed jar and would have functioned as a storage vessel.
Seeing less that 1% of the Museum's collection in the Wall and sampling only a tiny portion of the 1% of the collection in the Virtual Vault left us wanting to apply for a job on the Pottery Project to see the entire collection.