2015-10 Bowl with art-deco interpretation of “bird hanging from sky band” motif

Object ID:


Anglo, Hopi

3.0” h X 12.25” w

The design on bowl 2015-10 is a familiar format, originally Sikyatki but revived in the late 19th century by Nampeyo (1993-xx) and used regularly since. (See “bird hanging from sky band” in the “Category” listing.) What was intriguing to me was the markedly Art Deco interpretation of the design and the unusual yellow color of some design elements. Now, with the bowl in hand, it is an enigma.

Ed Wade thinks it is an outright fake, though he has never handled the bowl:


Modern paint generally dissolves off a pot when acetone is applied (cuff griffin pot XXX-XX), but that is not the case here. I puddled acetone in the bowl, covered all the surfaces, and the paints remains, even when rubbed with a soft cloth. The inside unpainted surfaces of the bowl shows a shadow-like small grid structure like that found on the shelves of some refrigerators. The same shadow grid pattern is seen clearly on the flat bottom of the bowl but not the curved outer wall. This pattern also does not wash off with acetone.

I don’t have a clear understanding of these incongruities. The bowl is not blushed, which would certify a traditional outdoor firing, but that is true of many Hopi pots that are well-protected from the flame during firing. The bowl “rings” when struck by a finger, but not at the pitch of a kiln-fired bowl and the sound is well within the range of other traditionally-fired Hopi bowls in the collection.

This clean, repetitively geometric and symmetrical interpretation of the original Sikyatki design clearly employs the Art Deco style popular from 1925 until the early 1940’s, which suggest a range of production dates. Particularly notice the three rectilinear geometric crooks between the four singular feathers.

The Art Deco style, the yellow paint and the showy grid marks are so unusual that I think bowl 2015-10 is probably unique. I suggest that the bowl was not make by a Hopi or Hopi/Tewa potter, but may be by an Anglo, perhaps working at Hopi within a Native tradition. Here’s one guess: In the 1920’s Frank Applegate of Santa Fe spent time at First Mesa to “help” Native potters solve what he saw as problems with ceramic production (Bartlett, 1977:13). . Perhaps this bowl was made by Applegate or someone working under Applegate’s direction. The Art Deco elements, unusual color and probable use of a grate in firing suggest such a time and an attempt to influence Hopi pottery production. Such musings are simply speculation. Most likely we will never have an accurate understanding of the production of this bowl.

Purchase History:
Purchased with a telephone bid from Bunch Auctions, Chads Ford, PA (Receipt on file.) Judging from stickers on the bottom, bowl 2015-10 was offered by Skinner at their 5/13/06 auction, but was not sold.