• Handmade pottery is coil-built—where long rolls of clay are stacked to create the vessel’s shape—so look inside the bowl. If it’s cast, it will be smooth, as though it is out of a mold. On handmade pieces, you can see little indentations and the roughness from when the artist smoothed out the coils. Many of the pieces you’ll find in gift shops along Route 66 are mass-produced. That is, a company will buy cast vessels and hire artisans to paint on them, usually with acrylics.


  • Everything contemporary should be signed. fine makes it easy to identify the artist and age of the artwork. You want to see that artists have signed their name into the clay on the bottom of the vessel.


  • Read online. Peruse gallery blogs and engage in social media. Go to the Indian markets; go to museums—the Heard Museum, the Museum of the West and the Phoenix Art Museum. There’s no scarcity of great resources to pull from.
  • See our books section.


  • Pottery is an artist-driven art. Not all Acoma pottery is the same and not all Santa Clara pottery is the same. For example, if you like blackware, start looking at the techniques of the various artists. Does this artist polish better than that one? Are one potter’s carvings more intricate than another’s? Once you identify the styles that you like, you can begin to differentiate the aesthetics and creativity of individual artists.
  • Pots by Dextra Quotskuyva (top) and Les Namingha, both Hopi-Tewa, are prime examples of different styles by artists from the same tribe.
  • 15-year-old Ty Moquino (Santa Clara) tackles environmental issues with his clay masks.


  • Established artists are going to be more expensive. If you’re willing to experiment, you can get really cool and innovative pieces for a lot less money.


  • Don’t just buy for the name of the artist or the value of the piece. Have confidence in your own choices and aesthetics.


  • If you’re just starting to collect, it’s important to ask a lot of questions. My job, and that of any gallery owner, is to educate you.


Article interview by ‘Cowboys & Indians Magazine, August-September 2018’

Building a quality collection you love requires careful navigation of the art world, a journey in which a trusted gallerist can be an invaluable guide. Charles King of King Galleries has been mentoring collectors and cultivating artists for more than two decades from his galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Santa Fe. “Native ceramics has moved from folk art to fine art,” says King, who specializes in the field. “Pottery, after paintings, is one of the most immediate art forms to be used to create content or a message. There is more immediacy in the voice of the potters. I think it is the beginning of a trend of artists claiming their culture, their narrative, the history of the pottery, and its significance.” C&I asked King to share some advice for collectors.

Cowboys & Indians: How would you advise collectors to train their eyes? Charles King: Read books, magazines, and go online. Find an artist you like and look at the variety of their work and learn about their work and culture. Look for consistency in quality or variations in size or design, and get a sense of pricing and how quickly their work sells. The internet is great. You can see years’ worth of work by an artist. But stop by a gallery or an art show and look at the pieces in person. Pottery has to be held to get a sense of weight and how good the an is on the surface, and how well the bowl to.

C&I: How can a gallerist help define and grow someone’s collection? King: Ask lots of questions. Ask the gallery what they like and why. Maybe they see something you don’t notice or understand, and it will be a great learning experience. Pay attention to styles or designs or shapes that you like.

A gallerist can help you discover young, emerging artists, which is always exciting. If you love an artist but can’t afford their work, maybe commission a smaller piece through the gallery or use their layaway. Don’t pass up that interest-free opportunity!

C&I: How do you find a gallerist you can trust? King: You want someone who works ethically with both artists and collectors. See that their aesthetic and personality match yours. I have a few customers who have an almost identical taste to mine in pottery, so when something comes in that I love, I know that they will want that piece. Do your due diligence: Talk to other collectors and check reviews online — Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Google, etc. If someone loves a gallery or is unhappy, that might give you some insight into whether you want to work with them.

C&I: A final word on building a collection that will stand the test of time? King: Think of the artisan versus the artist. The artisan may be technically perfect in their work, but the artist has the technical quality plus the creativity to grow their art over time. Trends last, but fads pass away and are forgotten. Watch what is going on in a variety of mediums, which suggests that a broader concept is being incorporated beyond the ideas of just one artist. What are galleries and museums featuring in shows? Exhibits take more time and thoughtful organization than what’s happening on social media. Social media gives you the pulse, while the shows give you the heartbeat. The heartbeat is the trend.            — K.F.