Over the span of more than 400 years of intercultural contact, the Pueblos lost much of their land base and water rights; disease epidemics caused population decline. For the first time in their long history, Pueblo peoples became consumers instead of producers. People accustomed to a gifting, barter, and subsistence economy grew to be dependent on the new cash economy and manufactured goods. As a consequence of cropland and native game decreases, commodity productions closely tied to the expanding tourist trade became essential to Native economies.
Making pottery for sale permitted Pueblo people to earn money while still living a traditional life in their villages.
Making pottery for sale permitted Pueblo people to earn money while still living a traditional life in their villages. In a more pervasive manner than the railroad before it, Route 66 democratized travel and the masses joined the upper classes in travels to exotic locals. Affordable trinkets and souvenirs took their place beside "authentic" and, therefore, more expensive wares.
This new merchandise was the product of a careful study of the likes and dislikes of the Anglo-American tourist. Employing imagination, skill and wit, Native artists engaged the interest of tourists, curio dealers, and other collectors, and developed a viable cottage industry. To insure profits, sellers utilized specific marketing tools : they wore "authentic" costumes while selling their wares at railroad stations and roadside stands, and opened shops at their Pueblos; popular artists began the tradition of signing their wares in the 1920s. These strategies were geared to providing the buyer with an authentic experience to validate their purchase.
Although contemporary potters acknowledge livelihood as the primary reason for making pottery, they regard their pots as more than commodities. Pots represent Pueblo culture to the world, its spiritual legacy, and each potter’s relation to the environment, family, and community. They were, and still continue to be, one avenue through which native peoples represent themselves to the "other."