Collector’s Guide to Unique Native American Pottery Styles: Sgraffito

Bernice Suazo Naranjo Avanyu Abstract Sgraffito Vase


One of the most celebrated and recognized art forms of New Mexico’s Pueblo communities is pottery. At the Indian Pueblo Store we hope to enhance your understanding of Pueblo pottery, known around the world for its remarkable beauty and craftsmanship. Handcrafted in much the same way for over a thousand years, each step in the process is completed by hand. Every Pueblo has a unique style which reflects  the resources most accessible to each as well as artists showcasing their own style within their pieces through intricate techniques and lessons taught over generations.

In this collectors guide we introduce the Native American pottery style known by the Italian word Sgraffito, meaning “to scratch.”


Ancient Methods

Beautiful incised pottery shards were collected by excavators in ancestral villages of the modern Tewa speaking pueblos of Northern New Mexico. Known as “Potsuwi’i Incised,” these decorated pieces with etchings are dated to AD 1450-1500, a period known as The Classic Period.


Artist Regina Cata (1886 – 1971) married into the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.  Being located close to the ancestral village of Potsuwi’i, she was enamored with the pottery and encouraged the women of the village to revive this incised pottery style. Along with several others, they formed an art club that focused on sewing and embroidery of traditional regalia and the study and revival of this incised pottery style during the 1930s. Among the group of women working along-side Regina was artist Tomasita Montoya (1889-1978), who is considered the most prolific of the group and was part of a second renaissance during the 1970’s when the etching became more refined and intricate.

Carved in Clay

Tafoya Pueblo sgraffito pottery demonstration

After the pot is formed, the artist polishes the piece with a natural polishing stone, such as a river stone, then paints it with a vegetal, mineral or commercial slip. The pot is fired in an outdoor fire or kiln using manure or wood as fuel. The artist then scratches through the top surface layer to reveal the lower layer of contrasting color underneath. This sgraffito process is a highly detailed and precise pottery style in which intricate designs often take several weeks of painstaking work to create.

One-of-a-Kind Native American Pottery 

Today, this Native American Pueblo pottery style is highly coveted. Artists from Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Jemez Pueblos have perfected the style, pairing traditional techniques with innovative and stylized designs showcasing their extraordinary level of skill. The unique process and intricate details make it a special and beloved style of Native American pottery.

To view more sgraffito style pottery, shop our Sgraffito Collection

Pueblo Sgraffito Pottery


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1 comment

  • I have some pottery that is probably over 100 years old but do not where it came from or it’s worth. Got it from my aunt in New Mexico.

    Mary Bernard

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