Back to Zuni Culture
Zuni was among the first of the Pueblos to attract the attention of Anglo-American outsiders, including the
first expedition of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1879, subsequent expeditions in 1881 and 1884, and the
Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition in 1888-1889. Many of the best-known anthropologists and
archaeologists in the Southwest conducted fieldwork at Zuni, including James Stevenson, Matilda Coxe
Stevenson, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Bunzel, Ruth Benedict, Frederick Webb Hodge, and
Alfred Kroeber, who described the history, arts, folklore, and religious practices of the Pueblo Peoples from
For hundreds of years, the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico has been known for the beauty of its arts, the complexity
of religious beliefs, and the efficacy of its rituals, not only to outside world, but to the other native peoples of
the west as well. In terms of its arts, the Pueblo's pottery designs, its kachinas or spirit beings (known at Zuni
as (oko.kwe), and its carved animal fetishes have been influential sources of artistic inspiration for many tribes
in the area, especially for the Hopi.
The natural Zuni style and the historical and artistic context of its influence provide a fascinating insight into
the artistic processes and cultural interactions in the Southwest. The Zuni Pueblo is located 39 miles
southwest of Gallup, on banks of the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, outside interest focused on Zuni ceramics and the carving
of animal fetishes. Today, silversmithing is of primary economic importance to the Pueblo. Although never
completely abandoned, a re-surgence in pottery making has occurred in the 1980s. Zuni ceramics long have been
known among the Pueblos and have been widely traded. Water jars, dough bowls, and stew bowls have been the
forms most commonly handcrafted pottery.
At Right: Kiapkwa Polychrome Pottery
Pieces made from 1760 to 1850 were crafted in the style known a Kiapkwa Polychrome. Finely hatched geometric
designs were painted in two zones, one around the neck of the jar and the second covering the body. The most
characteristic motif was the crooked spiral, which appears to be from prehistoric image of a highly stylized bird
head and beak.
The design has been called “rainbird,” but Zuni potters have described it as representing a drumstick used in
rain-bringing ceremonies or as a cumulus cloud which brings rain to the Pueblo. The pottery made by the Hopi at
First Mesa in the late 18th and 19th centuries were influenced by this Zuni style. There was continuous contact
between the tribes at this time.
However, an outbreak of small pox at First Mesa from 1853 to 1854, was followed by a series of droughts and
widespread starvation from 1864 to 1866. Another outbreak of smallpox at the Hopi Second Mesa from 1866 to
1867 caused many Hopi to flee to the Zuni tribal area where the Hopi picked up many cultural and artistic
influences. Copyright 20012.
Photo at right: 1873 on the Zuni Reservation
Bunzel, R.R. The Zuni: Southwest American Indians. 2008.
Wyaco, V. A Zuni Life: A Pueblo Indian in Two Worlds. 1998.