July 08, 2011

What the heck is a shoe pot?

The Burke’s Ethnology division cares for amazing collections that often demonstrate the innovations and ingenuity of human cultures. Rebecca Andrews, Ethnology Collections Manager, highlights the process of researching these interesting pieces once they’ve been donated to the museum by taking us on one of her endeavors:

What the heck is a shoe pot?

Recently the Ethnology division received a very large donation of nearly 600 pieces of utilitarian Mexican pottery. The collection includes pots (ollas), water jugs (cantaros and tinajas), pitchers (jarras), grinding bowls (mocajetes), stew pots (cazuelas), cups (jarros) and bowls (cajetes). As part of the cataloguing process, I’ve been sorting, researching, and describing the pots, and was amazed to come across a very different kind of pot.

Shoe-shaped pots, or patojos as they are known in Mexico, are ceramic vessels in the shape of, well, a shoe. This is the catch-all name for the pots which are also called bird-, duck-, boot-, slipper-, moccasin- or foot-shaped. These are asymmetrical vessels with the opening at one end, and usually a handle extending from the rim of the opening. In Spanish, these vessels are called patojos, patos, zapittlos, botas and zuecos, but commonly known as patojos. These are culinary vessels, used for cooking. The pointed end is shoved between hearth stones over the hot coals, and the contents can be stirred or ladled out easily from the open end. Patojos are known ethnographically only in two areas of Mexico: Oaxaca, Puebla (and also in the country of Chile), however pre-historically the pots were used by several indigenous peoples over a much wider area of Mexico.

This shoe-shaped pot was donated to the Burke Museum by Frederick Hart. It was made in Mixistlan, Oaxaca, Mexico, and was collected in 1971. Catalog #2009-117/536.

For more information, see Dixon, Keith A. 1976. 'Shoe Pots, Patojos, and the Principle of Whimsy' Vol. 41, No. 3:386-391. Society for American Archaeology.

Posted by: Rebecca Andrews, Ethnology