2011-07 Polacca “C” Pot with Three Quadrupeds

Object ID:


3.375” h X 5.25” w

Dating “to around 1880 and likely a Keam innovation,” the engaging creatures on this pot represent an early attempt by Hopi (Hopi/Tewa) potters to create a product that would appeal to the tourist trade. (Quoted comments from Ed Wade.) The heavy matte kaolin slip is granular and crazed, but the crazing is small. The red slip used on the vessel base and for the bodies of the creatures is muddy and splotchy. The lack of wear reinforces Wade’s comment that this was a pot made for commercial trade and not for home use.

The opening of Keam’s trading Post near Hopi on 1874 had a profound impact on Hopi ceramics. Commercial metal implements began to replace pottery utensils and pottery that had been made for home use began to be made by the Hopi/Tewa in exchange for trade goods at Keam’s store. For about twenty years potters experimented with various pottery forms, styles and designs trying to find product that would appeal to the Anglo market. Pot 2011-07 is a product of this experimental period. Ultimately Polacca-style pots like 2011-07 proved unattractive to Anglos and this style gave way to “Sikyatki Revival” forms and finish identified with Nampeyo’s mature style. See Appendix “A” for a more extensive discussion of this transition period and pots in this collection that reflect that change.

A somewhat similar creature appears on a bowl from the same era. This bowl was bought on Ebay in 2010 and sold the following year by Dottie and Steve Diamont of Fine Arts of the Southwest. (Photograph on file.)

The identity of the three quadrupeds on pot 2011-07 is uncertain. The ovoid element emerging from their shoulders look vaguely like wings: “if pigs could fly,” remarked a friend.

Stevenson reproduces wall designs from the chamber of the War Chief of Walpi circa 1887, about the time that pot 2011-07 was made. None are terribly similar to the designs on this pot, with the closest being those he identifies as a wildcat and another deemed a white wolf (1936:88). As with the figures on 2011-07, both animals on the chamber wall are depicted with “heart lines.” Such heart lines are unusual on Hopi pottery but are characteristic of Zuni pottery decorations. Their presence on 2011-07 is another reminder of the close association between Hopi Polacca pottery and contemporaneous pottery at Zuni.

Discussing excavations at Awatovi and Kawaika-A, Watson Smith reports a similar uncertainty about the identification of quadrupeds found on kiva murals (2005:201-211 and fig 16, p. 219).
His discussion suggests that the figures on pot 2011-07 might be wolfs or dogs or a mythical creature he calls “rohona” (whose) “characteristics and identification with any living animal are indefinite and variable in the extreme…To the Hopi…. rohona seems to be an animal like a coyote but smaller, rather like a fox.” Smith adds “the conventional means of representing (a quadruped) may be subject to wide variation (Smith, 2005:110-111).” I think I have seen the design on pot 2011-07 before, but cannot find a reference in the literature. (It’s driving me nuts!) Given the lack of evidence that the animals on this pot have a specific identity, I suppose I’d vote that they represent rohonas, whatever they are.

Purchase History:
Purchased on 4/26/11 on eBay from Nancy Bowen of Brooklyn, NY. [Receipt on file.] She writes: “It was bought at auction by my father (Richard L. Bowen, Jr.) in…the late 1950’s —Rhodes Auction, a very small now extinct auction house in RI. He bought the entire lot (of four pots) that was up for sale along with the one you bought. He is 92, and had spent time as a college student out west doing archeological digs (in the late 1930’s) and had brought back pots and shards and things at that time. He told me he bought this lot because no one else bid on them and he got them for a steal. They have been in a box in his attic since then!” Pot 2011-07 was about 60 years old when bought at that auction; it spent the next 60 years in a box in an attic. It seems happier on a shelf with other Polacca pots.