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Books: Where the Stars are Pots Volume 56 Number 4, July/August 2003
by Collen P. Popson

[image]Depicted on this vessel are common Casas Grandes motifs: birds and geometric shapes. (Amerind Foundation, Inc.; photo: Tim Fuller) [LARGER IMAGE]

Take one look at Casas Grandes pottery and chances are you're hooked. Its haphazard designs, in bursts of black, white, and burnt orange, beg to be decoded. Serpents morph into macaws and expressive human faces emerge from vessel walls, surrounded by a geometric landscape of diamonds and circles. Originating in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, Casas Grandes pottery is a masterful cultural tradition, yet few have had the chance to see much of it in one sitting until now.

Talking Birds, Plumed Serpents and Painted Women: The Ceramics of Casas Grandes (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003; $35), edited by Joanne Stuhr, features fine color photos of 75 painted vessels that appeared in the exhibition of the same name at the Tucson Museum of Art. While the stars are the pots themselves, four articles by leading experts--in English and Spanish--lead the reader to the mysterious arid river valley where these vessels were first made and used, and share the long history of excavation and pillage of the region.

Casas Grandes ceramics have not gone unnoticed by art collectors. While some of the vessels featured lack archaeological context and lamentably remain in private hands, the book succeeds in showing that the intellectual value of Casas Grandes pottery outweighs its esthetic or monetary value, and that they can speak volumes about the past, even more so when scholars know where the pots were found.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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