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

Bernice Suazo Naranjo Avanyu Abstract Sgraffito Vase


Here at the Indian Pueblo Store, we hope to not only provide one-of-a-kind Native American art – we also want to enhance your understanding of these intricate pieces of work.

One of the most celebrated and recognized art forms of New Mexico’s Pueblo communities is 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. Each Pueblo has a unique style which reflects the most available resources, as well as artists showcasing their own style within their pieces through intricate techniques and lessons taught over generations.

In this Collector’s Guide, we’ll introduce the Native American pottery style known by the Italian word Sgraffito, meaning “to scratch.”

Discovering 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.

The Art of Sgraffito Revived

Artist Regina Cata (1886 – 1971) married into the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Living close to the ancestral village of Potsuwi’i, she became 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.

Bernice Suazo Naranjo "Avanyu Abstract" Vase

Acclaimed artist Bernice Suazo Naranjo of Taos Pueblo has carefully handcrafted this beautiful sgraffito vase entitled, "Avanyu Abstract." Hand-formed from natural clay from the earth, Bernice carefully shaped the pot using the traditional coil method- showcasing her extraordinary skill as an artist. Fired traditionally outdoors, the sienna coloring serves as a bold background for the fine sgraffito work that emphasizes her geometric and Avanyu design. Get a closer look here

The Avanyu is a water serpent that the Pueblo people consider to be the guardian of water. Depicted as a horned serpent with lightning emerging from its mouth, the Avanyu is believed to live in the Rio Grande and its tributaries. 

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 1970s when the etching became more refined and intricate.

Tony Sangre Carved 7" Sgraffito Plate

Handcrafted by Isleta Pueblo artist Tony Sangre, this unique decorative plate carries on the important legacy of pottery making within the Isleta Pueblo while blending modern techniques. Created using commercial clay, this plate features beautifully hand carved geometric pattern around the rim with an interior design at the center.

Inspired by traditional Pueblo embroidery, Tony has created a piece of artwork that captures a unique perspective on an ancient art. 

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.

For sgraffito pottery, the artist then scratches through the top surface layer to reveal the lower layer of contrasting color underneath. This process is a highly detailed and precise pottery style in which intricate designs often take several weeks of painstaking work to create.

Tony Sangre "Falling Starz" Sgraffito Vase

Handcrafted by Isleta Pueblo artist Tony Sangre, this vase carries on the important legacy of pottery making in Isleta Pueblo while blending modern techniques. An artist in many mediums, Tony created this piece using commercial clay and creating a grid of beautifully hand-carved geometric patterns wrapping one side of the vase. Tony's designs are inspired by traditional Pueblo embroidery. He reflects that as a child some of his fondest memories are watching his mother create intricate embroidery patterns which now can be seen within his own work. 

With graceful form and beautiful symmetry, this vase displays the care and craftsmanship of a great artist and is a stunning vessel that captures a unique perspective on an ancient art. Get a closer look here.

Exceptional Native American Pottery 

Today, this Native American Pueblo pottery style is highly coveted. Artists from several 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.

Bernice Suazo Naranjo "Buffalo's Paradise" Sgraffito Vase

Acclaimed artist Bernice Suazo Naranjo (Taos) has handcrafted this beautiful oblong shaped vase using the traditional hand coil method and all-natural clay. With finely etched buffalos throughout, the vase features a contemporary mixture of geometric shapes carefully carved into the smooth, stone-polished finish to reveal the under layer of contrasting color. This is a truly stunning vase that will become the centerpiece of any Native American pottery collection. Get a closer look here


Pueblo Sgraffito Pottery

At Indian Pueblo Store, we guarantee that your purchase is an original and authentic work handcrafted by Native American artists as defined by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. We ask our artists to complete an extensive certification process, providing a CIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood) card and other documentation of their Native American heritage. Our team of experts carefully inspects every product to guarantee it is handcrafted using traditional, sustainable processes, and natural materials of only the highest quality. We record the place and date of each purchase, and pride ourselves in paying a fair price that allows artists to make a living practicing their craft. Every work of handcrafted art comes with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by an artist or buyer.

At a time when many commercially made products are being sold as handcrafted Native American art, our in-depth purchase process allows us to guarantee the authenticity of every unique piece of fine art we offer. For almost 40 years, we have made it a priority to visit artists in their studio or home to purchase their latest handcrafted pieces and learn about their work. We have developed lasting relationships with artists, as well as dealers and collectors, and we take pride in being a trusted destination for fine Native American art.


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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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