Pottery Patterns: Feathers
At Palms Trading Company, we offer unique, hand-made pieces crafted by local Native American Indian artists, potters and silversmiths. Whether simplistic or highly decorative, these pieces are beautiful works of art. In many instances, their intricate patterns are more than just decorative — they are symbolic of a rich history deeply rooted in tradition, myth and even the sacred, such as the eagle feather design.
Many of the patterns you see on the pieces of art we sell have multiple meanings attached to them, depending on the artist and the traditions and beliefs of their pueblo and of their family. The eagle feather design is no exception.
The feather design on Zuni pottery often represents Knife Wing, a symbol of courage, honor, wisdom and strength. Historically, the symbol was placed on the shields of Zuni warriors to protect them. Today, the symbol is also used as part of the crew uniform of the Zuni Interagency Hotshot Crew firefighters.
Feather patterns also act as a reminder that many beliefs and practices of the Pueblo people go back to their agrarian roots. Knife Wing, and eagles in general, are believed to be messengers between our world and the spirit world and carry prayers to the gods. Depictions of feathers in pottery and jewelry may represent prayers for rain or a good harvest.
The design of the feather pattern may change from artist to artist and tribe to tribe. This can mean that not all feather patterns look specifically like feathers, which can make them difficult to identify. These feather designs are often simplified, such as the design on this large Navajo molded olla:
The feathers have a straight shaft with only a slightly beveled edge, the only hint that the design may be something more than decorative hashes.
Other times, the eagle feather pattern can be easily discerned, such as this unique piece of San Ildefonso pottery piece by legendary potter Maria Martinez:
The eagle feather pattern, and patterns in general, can act as a reminder to look a little deeper to find the meaning you may be missing.