What is Horsehair Pottery?

Vicki Hogue-Davies

Horsehair pottery is pottery that, as the name implies, incorporates hair from the manes and tails of horses into its design. The process of creating horsehair pottery involves applying strands of hair to the surface of a hot clay pot that has just been removed from the kiln. The hair carbonizes, leaving random patterns in the pot's surface. Horse hair makes especially dramatic patterns because of its coarseness and length. Tail hair is thicker, so it leaves bolder patterns, and finer mane hair produces more subtle lines.

It's believed that horsehair pottery originated with Native Americans.
It's believed that horsehair pottery originated with Native Americans.

Some artists apply hair all over their pots. Others use it more sparingly, highlighting certain areas, such as the rim or bottom. Every pot created using this pottery technique inherently is unique, so the design possibilities are endless. Many artists add other design features to the horsehair pots they create. These might include paintings on the pots, etchings, stone inlays and more.

Some artists use feathers to make pottery.
Some artists use feathers to make pottery.

Horsehair pots typically are fired at lower temperatures, which make them more decorative than functional. They usually are not liquid permeable, so they are not useful as vases for fresh flowers, nor are they safe for holding food. They often are appealing to horse enthusiasts, people with Southwestern-themed homes and anyone looking for a unique piece of pottery.

Some horse owners have pots made using their horses' hair as fun mementos. Others have hair incorporated from their deceased horses as remembrances. Still other people, with no connection to the horses that supplied the hair, buy them purely for their decorative appeal.

It is not clear how horsehair pottery originated. Some people believe it originated among Native Americans because many Native American artists produce the pottery. Others think it could have been a random accident or intentional experiment by an artist that started the trend. Whatever its origins, horsehair pottery has grown in popularity.

Horse hair is not the only animal hair used to make pottery. Some artists use the same pottery technique with dog hair or even feathers for a different, but still interesting, look. Horse hair isn't used only in pottery, either. It also is braided to make bracelets, bands for cowboy hats and watches, key chains, belts and more.

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