Part of the unique-ness of San Ildefonso pottery is the clay that is used, which comes from their reservation. Dried clay and volcanic ash are collected yearly from selected locations throughout the reservation, and later combined with water in small batches. The clay from each pueblo has its own mineral composition, allowing for rich differences in texture and color. The watery clay slip that is used on the black wares, for example, has a rich iron content that turns black when fired in a particular way.
After a batch of clay is mixed and has set for a few days, a "pancake" of clay is formed and pressed into a puki, beginning the process of building a pot. The puki is a bowl-shaped form that supports the bottom of the pot as it is being built. Most commonly, pots are formed with a coil technique, in which long snake-shaped coils are circled around the base of the pot and blended together to create the walls of the vessel. A potter's wheel is not used in traditional pueblo pottery making. When the height and the amount of clay are just right, the walls of the pot are smoothed and shaped into curves with pieces of gourd, called kajepes.
The pot is left to partially dry after the form is completed. In its semi-dried state, the pot is ready to be scraped, which refines the shape and removes any irregularity. Then the pot is sanded with sandpaper to rid it of any grit. The red slip is applied next, and the pot must be burnished with a stone before the slip dries completely. This step is most critical for the glossy nature of the black wares.
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