Archeologists and art historians are in the business of organizing and cataloging artifacts and art. When pottery is the focus, the result are typologies of “types,” often organized in sequence (cf : Colton, 4/16/1956; Dittert and Plog, 1980; Wade, 1980a; Wyckoff, 1983 and Kramer, 1996:179-188). Such typologies are useful because they help us focus on systematic differences between pots. Tightly defined categories highlight these differences. More broadly-defined categories help us see patterns and trends of production. The pottery of the southwest United States seems particularly adept at quickly reflecting changes in social conditions. Hence archeologists are able to use changes in pottery style to sequence and date small changes in patterns of human habitation. Pottery typologies can also be misleading, however.
Pottery typologies are abstract ideal types and may not describe a particular pot. Pots might exhibit all of the “classic” traits associated with a defined type or they may have characteristics of form, finish or design that draw from more than one categorized type. Guided by their own aesthetic sensibility, individual potters may make a variety of pottery types at a particular time and over time. They are likely unaware or indifferent to ethnographic typologies of “type.” Thus, there is often difference between the clear boundaries of academic pottery typologies and design and the style of a particular pot. Potters experiment with different forms and techniques; pottery typologies try to organize this creativity into structures of systematic change. Often these two activities are not well fitted to each other.
Moreover, the custom of naming pottery types after the locations where the type was first discovered often leads to confusion. Type names should be used with some caution: they are helpful handles, but understood literally they are misleading. Thus, “Polacca” ware was probably made in all three villages on top of First Mesa but not made in the village of Polacca at the mesa base. “Walpi Polychrome” was almost certainly made in the village of Hano a few hundred yards from Walpi and may not have been made in Walpi village at all. “Sikyatki Revival” pottery drew its inspiration for pottery shards found at the ancestral village of Sikyatki but had several other sources of inspiration. Thus, although Polacca, Walpi and Sikyatki are village names, the use of these names in pottery typologies refers to characteristics of clay, form, finish and design and not necessarily place.
Between 1875 and the turn of the century, Hopi social organization was strongly impacted by outside forces. The result was a fundamental change in the role of pottery in the economy of First Mesa and a major shift in pottery form and decoration. These changes are well represented in this collection.
The next section is some social history, and then a discussion of the impact of this history on Hopi and Hopi-Tewa pottery.
Hopi Social History
The first European contacts with the indigenous peoples of (what is now) the American southwest occurred in 1539. Spain enslaved the local populations and attempted to convert them to Catholicism until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Hopi had only sporadic contact with people of European descent from 1700 until the establishment of the trading post at Keam’s canyon in 1875. However, contact with Europeans had a devastating impact on the Hopi people, primarily due to a series of smallpox epidemics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There were probably about 29,000 Hopi living at Black Mesa in 1520 CE. By the time of Nampeyo’s birth in about 1860 CE (during a major smallpox outbreak) this number had dropped by more than 90% to 2,500 people. Moreover, when Nampeyo was an infant, the katchinas stopped bringing moisture to Hopi. Fred Kabote speaks of “the terrible drought and famine of the early 1860’s, when so many people died that it took years to re-establish some of the ceremonies (1977:66).” The population of Hopi hovered around 2,500 until the 1930’s and the advent of modern medical care on the reservation. (Rushforth and Upham, 1992: 68-112).
During the periodic smallpox epidemics and droughts, the Hopi fled the mesas, many taking refuge at Zuni Pueblo to the east. When these refugees returned to Hopi in the early 1700’s they had adopted Zuni Polychrome pottery techniques. This Hopi pottery, typed “Polacca Ware,” was produced from about 1700 to 1890 and (except for temper and clay) is almost indistinguishable from Zuni pottery of the time.
In 1875 Thomas Keam established his trading post 13 miles east of First Mesa. Over the next 20 years First Mesa potters (including Nampeyo) adjusted their ceramic output to reflect this new reality (Graves, 1998:161-165). While some pottery continued to be made for domestic use, increasingly Hopi and Hopi-Tewa pottery became a commercial item intended for barter at the trading post (Wade and McChesky, 1981: 143-144 and 455). These two decades saw a dramatic change in pottery form, finish and design from “Polacca” to “Walpi” and then “Sikyatki Revival” types.
Sequencing Changes in Hopi Pottery Types
A subset of pots in this collection well illustrates the transition in Hopi and Hopi-Tewa pottery between Thomas Keam’s arrival at Hopi in 1875 and pottery production thirty years later. I have arranged these pots in a sequence that makes sense to me, but many do not exactly fit proscribed typologies of pottery. Different scholars might focus on different characteristics to organize this discussion. The sequence I present may also be out of temporal order, in part because I do not expect aesthetic change to be linear and also because the production dates of the pots discussed are merely informed guesses with much room for error.
The collection illustrates these changes: A dozen pots in this collection illustrate the transition from traditional Polacca “C” pottery to the “Sikyatki Revival” pottery, the type that made Nampeyo famous and become almost synonymous with modern Hopi pottery.
Stew bowl 1990-03 and jar 1994-14 were produced in the period 1870-1880’s and are classic Polacca “C” bowls. Diagonal stepped frets, scallops, Arabesque motifs and Zuni rain-bird designs predominate; these pots have red rims and are white-slipped with a crackled finish (Wade and McChesney, 1981: 143-144 and 564-565). Although Polacca “C” pottery was the standard household pottery of its day, neither of these pots shows ethnographic use. They were probably made and quickly sold to Thomas Keam in exchange for goods imported to the reservation.
Polacca “D” pot with idiosyncratic, goofy design (1994-16):
Pot 1994-16 is perhaps the first pot to show the impact of the commercialization of Hopi/Tewa pottery into a commodity for exchange. Like traditional Polacca “D” pottery of its day, the rim of this circa 1890 pot is painted red and the pot is wiped with a white slip, though this slip is not as crackled as the typical slip on Polacca “C” ware. A traditional Polacca “C” jar would likely have a red bottom; this jar’s bottom is white-slipped. The low-shoulder shape of jar 1994-16 does not reflect the Polacca ware tradition but harkens back to earlier Sikyatki forms. The decoration is carefully painted but idiosyncratic and simply goofy with no relation to the Arabesque or rain bird designs on the earlier Polacca C pots discussed above. It seems to me that jar 1994-16 is an attempt by a woman to make a pot that would sell to Keam. She uses a shape that she thinks will be attractive to an Anglo buyer and understands that the old designs are not desirable. Without a clear sense of what design tradition might sell, she simply carefully doodled on the pot surface.
Polacca “D” jar with Sikyatki-derived design (1992-05):
Pot 1992-05 has a Sikyatki shape that is similar to jar 1994-16, but on this Polacca “D” pot (circa 1890-1910) the Polacca tradition of a red lip has been eliminated and the slip is less-crackled than the earlier tradition. The design clearly reflects a return to a Sikyatki sensibility of angular pattern and is not at all Arabesque.
Polacca “D” bowl with direct Sikyatki design (1999-09a):
Bowl 1999-09a is a Polacca “D” pot from the 1890’s and retains the red lip of the earlier tradition. However the “hanging sky bird” design is a direct rendition of a specific Sikyatki image. The presence of a lug for hanging makes it explicit that the bowl was made for sale to outsiders and was not intended for home use.
Corn meal bowl with katchina design (2004-03):
Corn meal pot 2004-03 is in many ways a traditional Polacca jar. Though it lacks the red underbody typical of Polacca ware, it displays a traditional red rim (and red handle). The body is white-slipped, though not crackled. The katchina image is a traditional design, but its use on pottery was discouraged by a Hopi theocracy that thought the use of sacred images on commercial pottery was sacrilegious. This pot dates from about 1890 and was almost certainly made by the more liberal Tewa at Hano rather than the more theocratic Hopi of other First Mesa villages. The shape is traditional. Corn meal bowls of this shape are still used today in the plaza dances. (See 1998-14.) Again there is no evidence of ethnographic ware. It was likely made for sale to Keam using the katchina images that he favored.
Polacca “D” milk pitcher with katchina design (1997-09):
The design of jar 1997-09 is classic Polacca “C” motif and is very much like the corn meal bowl just discussed: white slip and a red rim, though unlike pot 2004-03 it also displays a classic red underbody, Both are painted with a katchina image favored by Thomas Keam and both were probably made in Tewa Hano rather than by Hopi from more theocratic First Mesa villages. For all its traditional design elements, however, the milk pitcher shape is clearly European in origin. The pitcher is evidence of a Tewa potter circa 1890 trying to appeal to an Anglo sense of exotic design while using a familiar Anglo culinary form.
Walpi polychrome piki bowl by Nampeyo (2009-17):
Piki bowl 2009-17 was made by Nampeyo about 1890-1895 and used in her home for several decades afterward. In shape and design it is a traditional Polacca “C” pot (though, again, the Polik’Mana image would have been discouraged in a Hopi village). The lack of white slip and the use of stone-polished finish on the interior and exterior, however, define this as a “Walpi Polychrome” bowl, transitional from Polacca ware to Sikyatki Revival pottery.
Small bowl with migration foot design, interior crackled slip, polished exterior, by Nampeyo (2009-08):
Bowl 2009-08 was made by Nampeyo about 1890 and is a casually formed bowl small enough to be sold to an Anglo tourist and easily carried home in a suitcase. What is striking and important however is its finish and design. The inside, like traditional Polacca “C” Polychrome, is covered with a crackled white slip. However, Nampeyo has stone-polished the outside of the bowl and used a petroglyph foot image on the interior. The foot image is an experiment in design and is neither a Polacca nor a Sikyatki design motif. Thus, while retaining one element of Polacca design (the interior slip), all other elements (external finish and design) are at sharp variance with the Polacca tradition.
Worn canteen with Polacca red underbody, Sikyatki Revival design, by Nampeyo (2009-10):
Worn canteen 2009-10 by Nampeyo has a red underbody like traditional Polacca ware bowls and a smooth white slip on the dome. Like piki bowl 2009-17, Nampeyo probably made this pot for use in her family, but unlike bowl 2009-17 this canteen draws upon Sikyatki design for its curvilinear decoration. Dating from about 1900 – 1905, no Polacca elements are present in the design on the dome.
Bowl with classic Sikyatki design, white-slipped interior, polished exterior, by Nampeyo (1993-04):
The “hanging sky bird” design on bowl 1993-04 by Nampeyo (like the similar design on bowl 1999-09 discussed above) is a direct rendition of a classic Sikyatki design. In contrast to bowl 1999-09, however, bowl 1993-04 has an unslipped exterior, though it retains a white-slipped (but not crackled) interior. Made about 1895-1910, the design on bowl 1993-04 is very similar to the design on canteen 2009-10. From at least 1893 till she became functionally blind around 1920, Nampeyo drew variations of this “hanging sky bird” design on dozens (maybe hundreds) of vessels.
Classic Sikyatki Revival seedpot with eagle-tail design, by Nampeyo (2005-16):
Seed pot 2005-16 with its eagle-tail design is a Sikyatki Revival jar by Nampeyo and displays none of the Polacca design traits discussed above. All six of the design techniques that make Nampeyo an artistic genus are displayed on this jar. Made about 1900-1905, the Sikyatki Revival is fully-realized by this pot.
A final note: The Zuni-inspired rain-bird motif common on Polacca ware has occasionally survived the transition to Sikyatki Revival and can be seen on some modern pots intended for domestic use. See “Rain Bird Design” in the Category List.