2014-10 Rectangular tile with polychromatic Polik’mana

Object ID:

Nampeyo 1 (unsigned)

6.125” h X 3.875” w x 0.375” thick

Since prehistoric times Hopi women formed flat “tiles” of clay that were fired and then ground to use as temper in the formation of pots. Some decorated tiles may have been made for ritual use in the kivas (Wright, 1977:64).

In 1875 Thomas Keam opened the first trading post near Hopi , moved there in 1880, and as early as 1882 was encouraging Hopi women to make painted tiles for sale to tourists. (Hieb, 2009:47). Early results were irregular and lacked uniformity of size. Accordingly, by 1891 Keam provided Hopi potters with standardized wooden molds within which to form the tiles (Hieb, 2009:47). Flat rectangles of clay tend to warp and distort when drying and the wooden molds not only solved this problem but also provided a product of uniform dimensions that could be mounted in uniform rows and columns around an Anglo fireplace, for example. Mexican tiles apparently provided the dimensions for the molds (Wright, 1977:68).

For the next 40 years Hopi tiles were a popular tourist item:

“…no souvenir of handmade Indian pottery fit better in a suitcase than the small, flat slab of
clay (Messier & Messier, 2007:19).”

Tile 2014-10 has standard dimensions and was probably formed in a wooden mold supplied by Keam (Messinger & Messinger, 2007:24, 26 and Wade and Cooke, 2012:106).

The holes in tile 2014-10 are apparently also standard:

“A majority of tiles from the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries have holes on the top
and bottom, which were fired into the clay by inserting small round sticks, which would burn
away during the firing, into the formed clay (Messinger & Messinger, 2007:26).”

The front of tile 2014-10 was stone polished and slipped with a white kaolin clay that has lightly crackled, in the Polacca manner. (Polacca black-on-cream slip.) The back of tile is both unpolished and unslipped and therefore fairly rough. Both front and back show orange blushing from the outdoor firing.

“Tiles made before the mid-1890’s were Polacca Poilychrome Style C, characterized in part by a crazed (crackled) white slip underneath the painted image. After the mid-1890’s Hopi potters preferred design surface was unslipped yellow clay (Maurer and Olson, 2014:43 quoting both Wade and McChesney, 1981 and Messier and Messier, 2007).”

Later Messier and Messier seem to modify their time frame:

“During the years spaning 1890 to 1910…most tiles…exhibit Polacca Polychrome slip and Sikyatki-inspired designs…with full bodied Katchina predominating (Messinger and Messinger, 2007:26.”

Thousands of tiles were made at Hopi until the Depression set in the 1930’s, but based on the Messiers’ comment, I would date tile 2014-10 as having been made between 1891 and 1910. There is some basis for narrowing this time frame. Three Hopi tiles are part of the collection of The University Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, Phildelphia. One of these tiles depicts a Polik’Mana very much like tile 2014-10 in this collection, though it has a square face. The tiles were collected by Amos Gottschall, probably between 1897-1900, so these years would be my more specific guess as to when tile 2014-10 was produced (Brody, 1990:41, 961). As noted below, Ed Wade gave about the same estimate in an email to me, 1895-1900.


The design on tile 2014-10 is of a Polik’Mana dancer drawn in black and red colors. The image is framed by two thin black lines. The dancer is shown from about mid-thigh to the top of her elaborate headdress. This is an impressionistic rendition of the Mana and is not drawn to realistic proportions. The round face alone consumes about 35% of the verticle dimension of the tile; the face and headdress together fill 61% of this distance. The remaining 39% depicts her body from her chin to mid-thigh.

The stepped elements of the headdress are painted red and represent the stepped clouds that bring moisture. Growing from them are two red squash blossons supported by black structures that include an open-box element. Crowning the center of the headdress is a black birufucated form roughtly triangular in shape. Imbeded in the base of the triangular are two speckled hills. Below them and continuing the birufucated design are two solid triangles, one on top the other. These represent the “cloud ladder” wand (omausaka paho) carried by many kachinas and conveys prayers for rain to the clouds (Branson, 1992:231). This same triangular design can also be interpreted to represent both corn and fertile women, all images of emergent life (Wyckoff, 1985:105 and Patterson, 1994:253).

The round face wears a striped red headband with a black pendant of shell or turquiise. Rectangular slit eyes view the world, below are red triangular designs on each cheek announcing the male personification of this dancer, though a Mana. A red triangle arches over a mouth composed of two truncated pyramids, one red and one black. The ears are shown covered by mosaic earings of turquoise.

The muscular arms of the Polik’Mana are bent at the elbows to fit into the rectangular design space, her hands holding prayer feathers. Around her neck is a two-strand necklace with three pendants, turquoise perhaps. The Mana on tile 2014-10 is draped in cloth displaying traditional Hopi embroidery.

Defining a ” Nampeyo” tile:

Nampeyo was actively producing both tiles and other pottery forms during the time when large numbers of Hopi tiles were being produced for the tourist market. One would hope that there would be a known data base of certified Nampeyo tiles to which tile 2014-10 in this collection might be compared. That’s a nice theory, but does not apply in a straightforward manner.

First, the vast majority of older Hopi tiles that I have seen or are published have designs that are casually drawn without a careful layout and without much detail, some approaching the low standard of a doodle. See Wright, 1977: 64–71 for images of tiles from collections at The Heard Museum, The Denver Art Museum, The Fred Harvey Collection and The Museum of Northern Arizona. I took additional photographs at The Denver Art Museum and the California Academy of Sciences and these are on file with my collection.

The Keam Collection at the Peabody Museum, Harvard is said to contain tiles by Nampeyo, but which tiles are not specified (Wade and Cooke, 2012:107). The California Academy of Sciences has a collection of close to 100 Hopi tiles. Apparently all of these tiles were ordered from Nampeyo in the period 1904 to 1906. However Barton Wright, author of the original article on Hopi tiles (1977) has examined the full set of these tiles and concluded that “over half” of the tiles were made by Nampeyo, the rest probably by a daughter. Russell Hartman, senior collections manager at the California Academy of Science, also concludes that more than one potter produced the tiles in his collection (Messier and Messier,, 2007:35).

I examined these tiles directly. The three tiles in the CAS collection that seem to me most like the tile in this collection are 1987-3-3, 1987-3-2 and 1987-3-26 (photographs on file). In contrast to the tile 2014-10 in this collection, all three of the CAS tiles have square faces.

Messier and Messier publish photographs of eight tiles that they identify as by Nampeyo. Six are in the CAS collection but three are geometric or show a butterfly and thus are not useful for comparison with the tile in this collection (2007:39). The three remainig CAS Nampeyo tiles are rectangular and show katchinas, but are much simplier in design and less-carfully painted than the tile in this collection (2007:38).

The Messiers, however, publish (2007:32) photographs of two rectangular tiles in the collection of the Museun of Northern Arizona that they identify as by Nampeyo and are comparable to tile
2014-10 in this collection (MNA catalog numbers E6624 and E6609). Both are Polik’Manas, one female (with red cheek dots) and the other male, as with the tile in this collection. All three tiles are polychromatic and bordered with double black lines, as if displaying a portraits in frames. All show this spirit being from the waist up. Their heads carry elaborate, detailed headdresses, slit eyes and triangular mouths. All have square turquoise earings and necklaces. All have hands raised holding prayer feathers. All are dressed in traditional kilts and sashes, with those of the tile in this collection of slightly different layout than those in the MNA collection. One obvious difference between the MNA tiles and the one in this collection is that the museum’s tiles have square faces.

Barton Wright wrote the introduction to the Messiers’ book and is acknowledge as “mentor” by the authors, so I assume he agrees with their identification of the MNA tiles. (Indeed Wright was at one point the Director of the MNA and may have provided the identification.) An earlier catalog of the MNA collection provides a small image of one of these two tiles (E6609) but lists it as by an unknown maker, ca 1900-1930. The second tile (E6624) is also listed as by an unknown potter and is given a later date, 1940-1960 (Allen, 1984: 56 and 117). I assume that the later scholarship provided the identification with Nampeyo and implies an earlier date of manufacture.

Square tiles roughly half the size of 2014-10 are more common than rectangular tiles and these smaller 3.5” X 3.5” tiles often show kachina faces. The faces one these smaller square tiles are often but not always round (cf Messier and Messier, 2007:28 and Wright, 1977:65 for examples). The round face of the Polik’Man on tile 2014-10 is unusual on a rectanglular tile. The collection of the Denver Art Museum has some rectangular tiles with single personages and round faces, but these are not typical.

Dr. Wright has at least one more detail to add to this story. As reported by the Messiers (2007:29),
In 1985 Wright removed more than 100 Hopi tiles from the fireplace surround of the Sunrise Trading Post, near Leupp, AZ between Flagstaff and the Hopi reservation. The authors offer a 3.5” by 6.5” black and white image of a mosaic of these tiles, most of them apparently square and probably made about 1918. In the center of the collection are a half dozen rectangular tiles, the left-most a very close match to tile 2014-10 in this collection. The tiny image is very clear and, while I cannot determine color, the composition of this trading post tile and mine seem close (including having a round head ) and by the same hand. There is no suggested of who made this collection of 100 tiles and they are about 20 years younget than I believe tile 2014-10 to be. Based on a tiny image, such a comaprison is at best speculative.

Thus the literature provides little detailed guidance that might help me distinguish tile 2014-10 from the few other Polik’Mana tiles with similar design and quality of painting. The exception is some comments made by Ed Wade about Nampeyo’s “early work, 1880-1900.” Since such guidance is rare, I quote Wade’s comments at some length:

“…two women specialized in the production of…representational compositions. The hand of
Nampeyo is distinct from that of the other very scantily documented potter named Paele.
Nampeyo favored diminutive bodies on her anthropomorphs, typically with upturned arms
with hands holding feathers, bows and arrows, and rattles. In contrast to the body, the heads
of human-like creatures were generally double or more in size with elaborate headdresses and
face paint…

…Particularly on her tiles from this period we have seen anatomically correct renderings of
maidens wrapped in banded blankets. Additionally, Nampeyo provides decorative details to
signify the gender of the representation. [Red dots on cheeks indicate a female persona.] (Wade and Cooke, 2012:130).”

Tile 2014-10 carries such an elaborate headdress, its cheeks marked with red triangular elemets signifying its male gender. Relative to the head, the body on tile 2014-10 is diminutive, its arms upturned holding prayer feathers, its torso wraped in traditional katchina garb. By Wade’s criteria, tile 2014-10 is distinctly the work of Nampeyo.

Polik’Mana images by Nampeyo with round heads:

Since rectangular tiles apparenrly do not lend themselves to personages with round faces, it seems reasonable to survey round pottery with round Polik’Mana faces by Nampeyo. Doing so might help us confirm if Nampeyo made tile 2014-10.

Many such bowls and canteens by Nampeyo arer available in the literature. I will review just five: two bowls, a jar, and two canteens.

Two bowls and a jar:

1) Perhaps the first published image of a pot identified as “by Nampeyo” is part of the Thirty Third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1919). In his article “Designs on Prehistoric Hopi Pottery,” Jesse Fewkes writes that:

The most common figure on the third epoch of Hopi pottery, commonly called modern Tewa
and manufactured up until 1895 by Nampeo, a Hano potter, is a representation of the Corn
maid, shalako mana…. (1919:275-276 and 1973:173-174, reprint).”

As figure 108 Fewkes then prints the image of a bowl by Nampeyo. The headdress has the familiar stepped cloud design, though here apparently drawn in red (left side) and black (right side). The crowning triangular element is much like that on tile 2014-10 and one of the two squash blossoms shown is close to identical to that on the tile in this collection. The forhead on the bowl is not birufcated as on the tile, but has the same shape, including the two “hill” inserts. The face on the bowl lacks a pendant, but is otherwise close to identical to that on the tile. The image on the bowl lacks a detailed torso, unlike the tile.

2) The Denver Art Museum collection includes a Polik’Mana bowl by Nampeyo (catalog #1953.725) made in “the late 1800s,” about the time period of tile 2014-10. The bowl was part of an exhibit called “Nampeyo: Excellence by Name” which I saw in January of 2014, photographs on file.
The headdress on the Denver bowl contains two squash blossoms that are identical to those on tile 2014-10. The stepped cloud design on the bowl is less delicate and detailed than that on the tile and unlike the tile (but like the Fewkes bowl) is painted in red and black. The faces of the Polik’Mana on this bowl and the tile are close to identical, though the Denver Mana is of different gender represented by red dots on her cheeks. Food bowl 2009-17 in this collection has a design that is obscured by the residue of corn meal, but its Polik’Man imagery is very similar to the Dnver bowl and thus also similar to tile 2014-10

3) The Arizona State Museum contains a large Polacca Polychrome jar made about 1900 with a full-length Polik’Mana image painted on its side (ASM #GP913-x-1). “(B)ecause do few Nampeyo pieces in the Polacca Polychrome tradition have been identified,” the catalog notes, “….it is difficult to speculate how likely it is that she actually made this jar (ASM website).” The headdress depicted on the jar is substantially different than that on tile 2014-10, and the forehead somewhat different, but the rest of the facial features (forehead pendant, eyes, red triangular cheek elements and the mouth) are close to identical to those on the tile. Moreover, this is the best view yet of Nampeyo’s (?) treatment of the Mana body. Here too we are looking at a design very much like that on tile 2014-10: his neck is adorned with a turquoise necklace with pendants drawn as on the tile. His arms are bent at the elbows; each hand holds two prayer feathers. His torso is shrouded with fabric embroided with traditional Hopi motifs, all elements also seen on tile 2014-10. The Mana on the ASM jar stands in a large empty space; the Mana on the tile is constrained ito a narrow, bordered area, but these beings are brothers of the same mother.

Two canteens:

4) By far the most publicized pre-1900 pot by Nampeyo is a canteen displaying a Polik’Mana and now in the collection of the Arazona State Museum (catalog #4099). Almost every publication about Nampeyo reprints a phtograph of this canteen, in part because it is well documented as having been a gift by Nampeyo to an eye doctor, Dr. Joshua Miller. The largest published photograph of the Miller canteen is in Hays and Dittemore, 1990:61). The photograph most clearly showing the torso of the Mana is in Kramer (1996:147). The blossoms on the tile in this collection and the Miller canteen are quite similar in form, but the treatment of the stepped cloud elements on the Miller canteen is very different than on tile 2014-10 or any of the other Nampeyo pots discussed here.
These Miller clouds form deep wells out of which sprout the squash blossoms. The forhead of the Miller mana is also different than on the tile, but the rest of the face –pendant, eyes, red cheek triangles and mouth– is very close to that on tile 2014-10. I do not have a complete image of the torso on the Miller canteen. From what I can see, he mana’s arms are bent over her chest and she holds prayer feathers (as does the Mana on tile 2014-10), but the treatment of the body on the canteen seems much simplier and less –detailed than on the tile in this collection.

5) The most beautiful rendition of the Polik’Man is on a canteen made by Nampeyo, owned by Rosalind and Eugene Meieran, and included in the Heard Museum exhibit “Elegance From Earth.” 2012-2013. I took photographs of the Meieran canteen and gave them to Rachael Sahmie, who made a copy that is faithful to the original in both size and design. (See 2014-15 and photographs on file.) Though made more than 100 years after the original, the design on canteen 2014-15 was organized by the mind of Nampeyo and will be analyzed here as by her. The headdress on the canteen is massive and rises in five rows above the forehead of the Polik’Mana. This format is encouraged by the size and pregnant form of the canteen, but would be impossible on a small tile. Nevertheless, the treatment of the stepped rain clouds is similar to that on the tile, though the profile of the steps on the tile is deeper. Twenty-eight renditions of the squash flower fan out across the headdress like a huge bouquet, each using a design almost identical to the flowers on tile
2014-10. Except for the lack of a forehead pendant, the elements of the face on the Nampeyo canteen and tile are identical. The turquoise necklaces on the canteen lack the pendants seen on the tile. Both canteen and tile Manas have their arms bent with hands holding two prayer feathers, though the arms of the canteen mana are both facing to his left. Once again the torso of both manas are draped with elaborately embroidered Hopi fabric. The canteen is huge and expansive; the tile is small and constrained. Both are painted with very similar Polik’Mana designs that are powerful, even monumental.

The five Nampeyo ceramics reviewed here have both variance of design and similarities, but I judge their consistencies of design as predominant, thus defining a modal Nampeyo Polik’Mana design.
I believe that tile 2014-10 well fits this pattern of design and conclude that this tile was both formed and painted by Nampeyo. Moreover this is the most detailed and carefull-painted rendition of a round-headed Polik’Mana I have seen on a 19th century rectangular tile. The image has both power and presence and the physically small tile occupies a large visual space.

Ed Wade seems to agree:

“Your tile is 1895-1900, pre-Hopi House and pre-Harvey. It was done about the time that Fewkes was developing his Codex Hopiensis and hiring 5 Hopi men to paint for him. I think Keam was interested in taking that flat painting and developing an art market for it, especially Hopi Katchina images…
Your tile is easel art, like a picture in a frame and, in fact, it is framed by those double lines. You are correct that it is particularly carefully done compared, for example, to the tiles at the Academy of Science in SF. Those were mass-produced to fill a very large order for almost 100 tiles. Your tile and the two in my collection (of a Salako and Niman images) were more carefully done as single pieces. Like everything else Nampeyo put her mind to, her best work is unsurpassed
—Ed Wade
Phone conversation, 8/23/14

Purchase History:
Tile 2014-10 was purchased with a telephone bid from Devin Moisan Auctioneers, Dover, NH on 4/8/14 (receipt on file). The tile was consigned by a couple, John Rice and Pat Reese, and they report that they bought it “at a flea market in Massachusetts about 20 years ago. The seller didn’t know what he had.” (Provenance from a phone call with Devin Moisan, 5/20/14.)