2010-20 Red Clay Bowl with Mouse-Like Creatures & Harvey Co. Label

Object ID:
2010-20

Artist:
Nampeyo 3 (signed); painted by a daughter

Dimensions:
3.0” w X 6.25” w

The bowl is unslipped and made of “sikyatska,” yellow clay that fires red. The base is particularly thick, and the walls are somewhat thinner, which makes the pot quite heavy for its size. The form is not particularly graceful. Except for one white line, the design is monochromatic. The orientation of the decoration is odd. When the bowl is sitting on its base, the decoration is upside down and appears to be a series of sagging lines and doodles. The photographs of the pot sitting on a table in the eBay listing were out-of-focus, which made the design even more incoherent. Only after the pot was received and could be seen from directly above did the designs resolve themselves into two abstracted animals (perhaps mice).

The design is casually painted. For example, the thick-above-thin framing lines around the pot opening are inexactly drawn so that the space between the opening and the first line and the space between the two lines vary in width. The two animal figures are different from each other, but both are also casually drawn. The figure with the white (kaolin) clay line outlining its back and tail has a black element behind the head that intrudes into its speckled body and a solid black tail ending in a ball and line element. Fewekes interpretes this design as representing prayer feathers (pathos) suspended from a string (nakwakwoci), the typical parayer offerings at Hopi (1973:138-140).

The second animal figure has a black element behind the head that is forward pointing and does not intrude into the speckled body. The tail on this latter animal is not solid black for the first two-thirds of its length but incorporates a box and line element that is unevenly drawn and the tail lacks the ball and line ending. If it were not for the paper label on the bottom, this bowl would be simply a poorly formed Hopi pot with an interesting but awkwardly conceived and placed design.

What is extraordinary about the pot is the paper label on the bottom: “Made by Nampeyo—Hopi.”

Most Hopi pots sold by the Harvey Co. had the label “From the Hopi Villages” affixed to the bottom (cf. 1997-02 and 1999-13 in this collection). The Fred Harvey Company heavily promoted Nampeyo: she opened the company’s “Hopi House” at the Grand Canyon in 1905 and she and her family returned to be “artists in residence” in 1907 (Kramer, 1996:171). Harvey publications featured her and evaluated Nampeyo pots as “the most artistic among Indian products” (Fred Harvey Co, 1914?, unnumbered). A turn of the century Santa Fe railroad booklet notes, “Nampeo, at Hano, is the best potter in all Moki-land (Hough, 1899:48) (“Moki” is an older and disreputable Navajo term for the Hopi.)

A 1903 Atchison-Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad book notes that the Tewa of Hano “are the most skilful potters of all this region, while the ware of old Nampeyo and her daughter have gone far and wide over the curio-loving world (Dorsey, 1903:108).” The daughter was Annie, who would have been 19 the year the book was published. A 1913 travel guide to the southwest mentions “Nampaii, the wonderful woman pottery maker from First Mesa (Laut, 1913:132).” Writing in 1915, Walter Hough noted that “Everyone who visits Tusayan (Hopi) will bring away as a souvenir some of the work of Nampeyo the potter (1915:75).”

All this promotion made Nampeyo the first Native American artist to be recognized by name in the Anglo world. Herman Schweizer of the Fred Harvey company regularly commissioned groups of pots from Nampeyo and had special labels made to distinguish her pots from others. Pots by the master from about 1902 to about 1920 were marked with the Nampeyo label seen on bowl 2010-20 and thus commanded higher prices (Kramer, 1996:86).

To enhance the value of the vessels made at Hopi House, small black and gold stickers proclaiming “Made by Nampeyo, Hopi” were affixed to all of the pieces that she made for sale (Kramer 1988:49).

Unable to write, (Nampeyo’s) pottery went unattributed until the Harvey Company supplied labels, glued to the undersides of her pots, that identified her as maker. These labels are now recognized as a possible guarantee of authenticity, and they add to the value of the pot (Blairs, 1999:88).

Over the years, many Nampeyo labels wore off (since they were often on the bottom of the pots), fell off, or were removed. The Harvey label on pot 2010-20 is placed off-center on the bottom, thus protecting it from wear. I had seen photographs of the Harvey–Nampeyo label but had never held one in my hands until I bought pot 2010-20.

The Harvey label generally is the best contemporaneous guarantee that a pot is an authentic Nampeyo. After Nampeyo became functionally blind and could no longer paint (about 1920) her daughters often painted pots their mother formed. About 1930 these daughters (especially Fannie) began to sign these jointly produced pots “Nampeyo” to distinguish her pots to buyers. (See the category listing “Nampeyo – signed” for such pots in this collection.) I argue that these 1930-1942 signatures were the functional equivalent of the earlier Harvey label seen on 2010-20.

So, who made and painted pot 2010-20? The Harvey label guarantees it is by Nampeyo. The painting and arrangement of the design and painting are far below her usual standard. One can only guess, but here are four guesses:

a) Nampeyo formed and painted the pot, but did so quickly (and thus casually) to fill a Harvey order that would be sold to buyers who simply wanted a “real” Nampeyo pot, regardless of the fineness of design. By 1908 Herman Schweizer was buying “two or three dozen” Nampeyo pots at a time, but had become critical of the quality (Kramer, 1996:103-104).

b) Nampeyo painted this pot when she was becoming blind and could no longer paint accurately (perhaps 1915 to 1920). This explanation, however, does not account for the thick walls and uninspired shape of the pot.

The quality of Nampeyo’s work varies (see Appendix D), but I have never seen a Nampeyo pot as clunky or with painting as crude as that on bowl 2010-20. A very high percentage of Nampeyo Sikyatki Revival pots are framed with thick-above-thin framing lines. Her framing lines are always even and precise with uniform space around them. From practice I suspect Nampeyo could draw these framing lines perfectly in her sleep. The uneven, inaccurate framing lines on bowl 2010-20 contradict this pattern.

I have seen quite a few Nampeyo bowls and have viewed photographs of many more. In all cases that I am aware of, the designs on the exterior of Nampeyo bowls were meant to be seen right side up when the bowl was sitting on a table. The contrary is the case with bowl 2010-20. I am guessing that, even when she was rushed to fill a Harvey order, Nampeyo would have followed her practiced instinct and placed her designs with the normal orientation on the bowl exterior. In addition, the bowl is thick, heavy, and not well-formed. Thus—based on form, the casual, uncontrolled painting and the unusual orientation of the design—I am guessing that Nampeyo did not form or paint bowl 2010-20. Rather:

c) The pot was formed and painted by a daughter who was young and not particularly skilled. “It is common for Hopi Girls to learn the art of molding clay into pottery when they are 12 to 15 years of age” (Ashton, 1976:30). As part of the order, a Harvey employee would have just assumed the pot was by Nampeyo and put on the label.

–Red clay pots with designs outlined in white kaolin were for a period of time hallmarks of Annie’s work. Perhaps she made and painted pot 2010-20. However, Annie was born in 1884 and was 21 when the “Made by Nampeyo” labels were first printed in 1905. By then she was an experienced potter capable of producing pots whose form and painting far exceed pot 2010-20. On the other hand, we know that pot 1999-13 in this collection was made by Annie and sold to the Harvey Company and it is not particularly well-formed or painted either, though still much finer than 2010-20.

–Nellie was born in 1894 and was 10 or 11 in 1905 when she moved with her family to Hopi House at the Grand Canyon for three months, the same year the Harvey “Made by Nampeyo” labels were first printed. A very kind person, she was never a particularly gifted potter or painter. Perhaps this is an example of her early work. At the Grand Canyon, she was far from her playmates at Hano and perhaps bored. It’s totally speculative (based on assumptions and no evidence), but it is not hard to imagine that while her mother was employed making pottery at Hopi House, young daughter Nellie also tried her hand a pot making. That was the normal way daughters of her age learn how to pot. Bowl 2010-20 may be an early attempt by a young Nellie to form and paint pottery, borrowing her Mother’s design and applying it with a child’s hand. It is not hard to imagine a Harvey employee slapping a “Made by Nampeyo” label on anything the family produced, even if made by a child.

Bowl 1997-04 in this collection is a shallow red clay bowl that was apparently formed by Nampeyo and painted by Annie. It is similar to a red clay bowl bought by Mary Colter, who designed Hopi House for the Harvey Co. Commenting on bowl 1997-04, Barbara Kramer wrote that “Annie demonstrated pottery making at Hopi House in the Grand Canyon with her mother, Nampeyo, in 1905 and 1907. The smaller size and shape of your bowl indicate that it might have been made more quickly for tourists, perhaps at the Canyon, which would correspond to the time that Colter bought her red bowl (personal correspondence, July 31, 1997).” Thus it seems that the Nampeyo family had a supply of “sikyatska” (yellow clay that fires red) on hand at Hopi House. This supports my speculation that the child Nellie might have made it while living with her family at the Grand Canyon. The data does not contradict this possibility, but there is no direct evidence for my musings.

More speculation: if the child Nellie is the maker, she might have made bowl 2010-20 while home at First Mesa. The Fred Harvey Co. was not given permission to buy directly from artists at Hopi until 1910. Before that they had to buy from whites with trading permits on the reservation, especially Don Lorenzo:

One single order from Schweizer (of the Harvey Co.) to Don Lorenzo in 1908 requested two or three dozen Nampeyo bowls…The increased demand to own anything by Nampeyo eventually made it necessary for family members to help in the production by painting vessels that she had shaped (Kramer, 1988:50).

As part of a general order for several dozen “Nampeyo” pots, a Harvey employee would have simply attached a “Nampeyo” label, not knowing or caring that a daughter and not Nampeyo herself made the pot.

–Youngest daughter Fannie (born in 1900 or 1905) was too young to have made this pot when Harvey introduced the “Nampeyo” label in 1905. On the other hand, she was around 15 years old when Harvey stopped using the Nampeyo labels (about 1920), so Fannie remains a possibility as maker of 2010-20. However, the collection does contain a pot (2009-14) that is probably an example of Fannie’s early painting and that painting is much finer than on pot 2010-20.

There is a final possibility:

d) Perhaps bowl 2010-20 was not made by Nampeyo or a member of her family. Perhaps a Fred Harvey employee simply added the “Made by Nampeyo—Hopi” label to an ordinary pot by an unknown maker. This logic fits the data, except that the animal/mouse creatures were one of the motifs used by Nampeyo (and her family?).

For one example see Collins (1974:28, #30) for a beautifully executed Nampeyo pot with a similar “mouse” design.

Two other examples are found on tiles that Nampeyo made in 1905, the same year the Harvey “Nampeyo” lable began to be used. In that year Nampeyo received a commission from Jacob and Maria Breid. Between May 1904 and July 1906 the Breids were employed as doctors on the Hopi reservation. During this time they apparently arranged for Nampeyo to make a set of 70 ceramic tiles, intending to install them around the fireplace mantle of their home. Probably about half of these tiles were made by Nampeyo herself and the rest probably by Annie (the Messiers, 2007:34-35). These tiles were subsequently given to The California Academy of Sciences and can be viewed online at: http://research.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/collections/Index.asp
using the search word “Nampeyo” as “maker.” Two of the tiles (#CAS 1987-0003-0066 and
CAS 1987-0003-0067) display carefully drawn depictions of the “mouse” design on 2010-20. That records do not indicate whether Nampeyo of Annie made which tile does not help identify the exact maker of bowl 2010-20, but it is evidence that the Nampeyo family was using this mouse image about the time the Harvey labels came into use.

I am inclined to give some weight to the Harvey label and “mouse-like” design and believe that bowl 2010-20 is a Nampeyo family product. For a modern Hopi/Tewa pot using the mouse-like creature, see 2010-29 in this collection by Neva Nampeyo.

It’s not the first time I have wished a pot could talk.

If this were a multiple-choice test, I would pick “C” above and suggest a young Nellie as the maker and painter of pot 2010-20.

Having only seen photographs of the pot, Ed Wade commented that “Strange vessel. The animal is definitely Nampeyo design but the execution is very crude. I’m tempted to say it is a very early Annie but it’s far too crude for her work. I think it is an example of a potter, likely Nampeyo family, practicing the family tradition and the Harvey company put the sticker on not caring who made or painted the vessel.” (Email 11/10/10, on file)

Whatever the case, bowl 2010-20 is important in the history of Hopi/Tewa pottery. The label clearly speaks to the commercial relationship between the Nampeyo family and the Harvey Company. If the “Old Lady” formed and painted it, this is a poor example of her work. If Nellie (or another daughter) formed and painted the pot, the design is either an early work by the daughter or an indication that pots made for the Harvey Company were not felt to require careful work. Perhaps a Harvey Co. employee mislabeled the pot, for whatever reason. The pot speaks loudly to these issues, but the origin of the pot is garbled by the awkwardly placed and painted design. As much as any pot in the collection, bowl 2010-20 remains an enigma: a clunky pot with a Nampeyo label.

Purchase History:
This pot was listed late one night on eBay by Ted Bishop of Wailuku, Hawaii. Given the time differences between Hawaii and Texas, eBay listed the item in the middle of (my) night. I happened to wake up about that time and checked to see if anybody was trying to sneak a Hopi pot past me. The photographs of pot 2010-20 on eBay were distant and fuzzy. The photograph of the label was not readable. The item description read: “old Indian bowl it says on it hameyo-hopi red bowl 3” tall by 6” round no cracks or chips nice.”

The shape of the label was distinct and looked like a Harvey label; the fuzzy shapes of the lettering seemed to conform to the “Made by Nampeyo—Hopi” message that I expected on a Harvey label. Since this pot was listed “Buy it Now,” I did so. [Documentation on file.] The seller wrote that he bought the pot from a 93-year old “part Indian” man who “said he has owned it forever.”