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El Paso Polychrome Pottery

W. S. Strain General Entry

El Paso polychrome pottery is a red, black, and brown ware produced by Indian workmen between A.D. 1200 and 1600. The type locality is the Hueco basin northeast of El Paso, Texas. Though common within a radius of 100 miles of El Paso, the pottery is most abundant in the type area and the southern portion of the adjacent Tularosa basin, New Mexico. The workmanship is crude both in the vessels and in the application of paint. The clay is grayish brown to black, sand-tempered, and friable. Sand, frequently quite coarse, may be visible on the surface. Vessels include ollas, jars, bowls, and, more rarely, ladles, zoomorphic forms, and erratically shaped pieces. The shoulders of ollas and jars are thin, remarkably so in some instances, with surface smoothing accomplished by wiping or rubbing. The brown to reddish base color is applied either by a thin wash or, more probably, by a float. The decoration on the brown background is red and black. The red paint varies from bright to dull and is thin on some pieces. Since the black is a carbon paint, it is more uniform in intensity, except when over-fired. Designs are geometric, made up of parallel lines and stepped elements with some use of circles, arcs, and massed colors. Ollas and jars are decorated on the shoulder, on the neck, and often on the inner lip. The interiors and rims of bowls and ladles are decorated, while odd-shaped vessels are painted in a manner consistent with their shape.

W. S. Stallings, Jr., El Paso Polychrome (Santa Fe: Laboratory of Anthropology, 1931).


  • Archeology
  • Pottery
  • Visual Arts
  • Genres and Media

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

W. S. Strain, “El Paso Polychrome Pottery,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.