2009-10 Sikyatki Revival Canteen with Worn Design and Belt

Object ID:
2009-10

Artist:
Nampeyo 1 (unsigned)

Dimensions:
7.75" h X 7.125" w

Hopi-Tewa Sikyatki Revival canteen by Nampeyo with a worn design from long-term use and attached worn Germantown sash, ca 1900-1905.

Photographs by A.C. Vroman (Webb & Weinstein, 1973) taken at about the date that 2009-10 was made show the interior on Nampeyo’s home. (Also see Kramer, 1996; the Blairs, 1999 and photographs, on file.) Vroman’s photographs show that Nampeyo’s home had the usual large posole cooking pots (1998-05) and 5-gallon canteens (1998-01) used by women to haul water from the base of the mesa. These utility vessels are made of coarse brown clay, presumably by Nampeyo. Vroman’s photos also show numbers of Sikyatki Revival ware in Nampeyo’s home. While the unfinished brown ware utility pots were meant for home use, it is generally assumed that Sikyatki Revival ware was destined solely for the tourist market. Canteen 2009-10 contradicts this assumption: a Sikyatki Revival canteen apparently extensively and indigenously used, perhaps by a member of Nampeyo’s family. A plainware (but polished) utilitarian canteen signed “Nampaya” and found in a tree (!?) was sold by Munn Auction on 3/24/07. [Photograph on file.]

Ed Wade writes:
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Many of the standards of perceived quality and value attached to contemporary and historic pueblo ceramics vary considerable. Nowhere is this more evident than with the issue of utilitarian wear. Up until the 20th century, pots were made to be used, even though often lavishly decorated. They had a life cycle from inception to death that included accumulated dings, abrasions and other scars of maturity. Unlike contemporary pottery collectors, the collector of historic ceramics is accepting of such organic imperfection and often relishes the life history scored into a vessel’s flesh.

This worn canteen is interesting on a number of levels. Up until the last quarter of the 19th century decorated Hopi canteens were extremely rare. There exist a few elaborately painted canteens from the Sikyatki period (A.D. 1375 – 1625) and later. However, many of them exhibit minimum wear, suggesting that their role was more ceremonial than functional. During the 1880s the Indian trader Thomas Keam began the commercialization of Hopi ceramics, and miniaturized canteens painted with Katsina forms became prevalent. Since these were made for non-native tourists any signs of native wear are predictably absent on them.

This particular Sikyatki Revival canteen dating to the turn of the 20th century is unique in having been intensively used by a Hopi farmer who left his burro’s imprint upon the abraded back of the vessel where it rubbed back and forth against the animal’s bristly fur. The man left his own history in the tattered Germantown belt, which once was swung over his shoulder, and the buffed side of the vessel that was polished against the cotton of his shirt or work pants.

More intriguing than the wear, however, is the compositional and decorative evidence that the canteen was made by Nampeyo, the famous potter of Hano village. This is seen in her adaptation of a Sikyatki design using stacked offset bi-rotational step-frets to connect the two crescent bird-forms that terminate in black ball heads with projecting antenna. In keeping with the prehistoric painting tradition she then splattered polychrome red and black paint upon the white slipped dome of the pot.

Totally unique in the repertory of Hopi and Nampeyo’s designs is the composition dominating the upper third of the canteen, which consists of five triangles, variously aligned, flanked by units of five stacked lines. The only traditional motifs even approaching these are associated with ceremonial objects and ritual time keeping. One is visually reminded of the tuning knob on an old tube radio and subliminally senses that the design should be turned.

A few Polacca Polychrome vessels from Nampeyo’s early career show native wear, but by the inception of the Sikyatki Revival period her pots were made for sale. This handsome canteen would have commanded a goodly price from the tourist trade, so why does it show native use? We will never really know but it is interesting to speculate.

It is very possible that the canteen was owned by a relative or in-law of Nampeyo, since unrelated Hopi men would have relied upon their own women-folk to produce such vessels. Also the wear indicates that the canteen had a long life of service, suggesting a sense of pride in ownership. To me this possible history, this glimpse into the life of a Hopi object, is as rewarding as the beauty of the artwork itself.

–Edwin L. Wade
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As with two smaller Sikyatki Revival canteens by Nampeyo (1999-03 and 2010-11) the design on this larger worn canteen seems like the convex projection of a classic Nampeyo bowl design. Specifically, the design of canteen 2009-10 has much in common with the “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” bowl (1993-04) extensively discussed in Appendix B. The designs of both have thick and thin framing lines that are typical of Nampeyo’s work. Both have the crescent bird forms ending in prayer feathers. On both pots these wing elements sweep around an abstract form (here, “forms”).

Purchase History:
I first saw photographs of this canteen and understood its history when Joe Jacoby and I visited Ed and Carol Wade at their home in Sedona, 4/23/09. Unable to shake its image out of my head, I called Ed back in June to inquire about its availability and we closed the deal. According to Wade:

"The owner was a mister Robert Witt who lives in the central valley in Oregon. The piece came down in his family…(Robert) had queried is father for information on the vessel. His father said the jar had been obtained from his grandfather, which would mean Robert’s great-grandfather. The elder Witt’s first name was Nathan. Apparently he lived in various locations and (was) employed in various vocations. This seems to be the extent of the family history. ‘The jar has always been in the family.’ That’s about it."