1993-04 is important because:
- The design helps us establish an aesthetic link between Nampeyo and the earlier Sikyatki ware, helps us date this link, and refutes an oft-repeated story conjured up by Fewkes.
- The white slip on 1993-04 defines the pot as a transition piece between Polacca “D” crackleware ware and Sikyatki Revival/Hano Polychrome pottery; and
- The painting of 1993-04 suggests how Nampeyo might have been introduced to design characteristics that she developed into her signature style.
Section #1: Nampeyo and Ancient Sikyatki Pottery: By way of background:
Apparently shortly after the establishment of his trading post in 1874, Thomas Keam went into the business of providing Hopi pottery to both tourists and museums. His initiative took two forms: 1) excavating ancient Hopi sites for relics and 2) encouraging the production of Hopi (or Hopi-Tewa) pottery that might appeal to Anglo collectors. [See Graves (1998) for an extensive discussion of Keam; also Wade & McChesney (1980:9-12).]
About 1880 Keam commissioned several First Mesa potters to create modern reproductions of seven ancient vessels that he had excavated from prehistoric Hopi village sites. (For a summary of Keam’s impact on Hopi pottery production, see Graves (1998:164-165). Between 1886 and 1894 Mrs. Mary Hemenway of Boston financed two ethnographic expeditions to the American southwest. In April of 1892 the leader of the Hemenway expedition, Jesse Walter Fewkes, paid Keam $10,000 for a huge collection of Hopi artifacts, including the seven reproductions and their ancient models. In 1894 this material was given to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. It was not until the 1970s that Edwin L. Wade and Lea S. McChesney catalogued the ceramics in this collection. Of the seven reproductions commissioned by Keam in 1880, some may “possibly” have been made by Nampeyo. She would have been about 20 years old at the time. (Wade & McChesney, 1981: 2 and 455.) “Fewkes unquestionably knew that Keam and (Alexander) Stephen were commissioning Hopi potters to reproduce copies of ancient wares and the (Hemenway pottery) collection catalogue clearly states that objects were made as museum models (Wade & McChesney, 1980:9).”
Research by Joseph Traugott (1999) found specific evidence documenting Nampeyo’s participation in the project to recreate the ancient pottery. Walter Hough was Fewkes’ assistant during the Hemenway excavations at Hopi in 1896. Traugott has discovered that the catalog card for ceramic jar #158,143 in the National Anthropological Archives reads “written on the base by Dr. Hough: ‘copy of ancient jar in Hemenway coll. by Nampeyo ‘(Traugott, 1999:10).” Traugott concludes that 1) this is direct evidence that Nampeyo participated in the Keam project to reproduce the seven ancient Hopi pots and 2) that Fewkes and Hough “knew that Nampeyo worked from the prehistoric designs in the Keam collection (Traugott, 1999:10).” The first conclusion has direct bearing on the pedigree of bowl 1993-04 in my collection.
Nampeyo and Sikyatki Bowl #44-13-10/27101:
One of the ancient Sikyatki bowls collected by Keam between 1874 and 1892 and sold to Fewkes in 1892 has the Peabody catalogue number of 44-13-10/27101 and was made between 1375 and 1625, most likely towards the end of this period. It is probably the most frequently reproduced ceramic from the Hemenway collection. (See Wade & McChesney, 1980:31; Wade & McChesney, 1981: 23 & 24; Wyckoff, 1985:Plate 2; Struever, 2001:29; LeBlanc and Henderson, 2009: 11). An 8” X 10” photograph of this bowl is on file with my collection.
The earliest documented photographs of Nampeyo with her pottery were taken by James Mooney in 1893 and first identified as Nampeyo by Barbara Kramer (Kramer, 1996:48). Although the entire finished design is not visible, both bowls shown being made by Nampeyo clearly have the same design elements as the Peabody Sikyatki bowl.
It needs to be remembered that the ruins of Sikyatki are only a couple of miles from First Mesa and were familiar to the potters of First Mesa. Such sites are marked by literally hundreds of thousands of pottery shards and seeing at least fragments of Sikyatki design must have been an ordinary experience for Nampeyo and other potters.
Nevertheless, there is a striking similarity between the design on the intact Peabody bowl 44-13-10/27101 and the design motif used by Nampeyo on bowl 1993-04 in my collection. So striking are the parallels of design that Aileen Egan, an anthropology intern at the Milwaukee Public Museum noted the connection, though she had seen only photographs. (Personal communication 6/25/93). Both of us independently recognized the common spirit of the two bowls.
Martha Struever reproduces both the photograph of the Peabody Sikyatki bowl, the Mooney photograph and images of two ca. 1893 bowls attributed to Nampeyo. The design elements on the two Nampeyo bowls are similar to the design of the Peabody Sikyatki bowl and Struever comments “Nampeyo presumably saw this (Sikyatki) bowl before the Hemenway Expedition removed it (2001-29).” The design on pot 1993-04 in my collection is much closer in specific design elements and overall spirit to the Peabody Sikyatki bowl than either of the pots shown by Struever.
We do not know when or how Keam obtained Peabody’s Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 but we know it was part of the collection sold to Fewkes in April of 1892. The Mooney photographs document that Nampeyo was making bowls with this design the next year, 1893. Of course Nampeyo might have been using this design well before Mooney visited Hopi, but his photographs are the earliest evidence we have.
It would be wonderful to know how and when Nampeyo saw (and likely handled) the Peabody Sikyatki bowl. The image is almost romantic: Sikyatki meets Tewa-Hopi. Given the Peabody Museum bowl #44-13-10/27101, the 1893 Mooney photograph and bowl 1993-04 in my collection (as well as similar bowls discussed below), the conclusion seems inescapable: Sikyatki was the direct inspiration for some of Nampeyo’s pottery design. The inspirational spark between ancient Hopi pottery and Nampeyo may have occurred when Nampeyo walked the sites of Hopi ancestral villages as a teenager in the 1870s. Or it might have occurred in 1880, but the link was made before April 1892, when the Keam collection was sold to Fewkes and the Peabody Sikyatki bowl and the other prehistoric pottery in the collection left Hopi. Fewkes’ assertion that he was responsible for introducing Nampeyo to Sikyatki design in 1896 is nonsense.
Apparently in 1896 Nampeyo also made a second group of pots modeled after excavated ceramics:
The most important aspect of Nampeyo’s vessels … is their close relationship to specific pieces of pottery excavated during the two-day dig at Cunopavi (by Fewkes and Hough) in 1896. Their close similarity demonstrates that Nampeyo worked directly from the ancient vessels. She quoted their designs and forms as if from a cultural menu. (Traugott, 1999: 11)
The Annual Report of the Smithsonian (1898) containing Fewkes’ report on these excavations is part of the collection library.
Thus, Fewkes might accurately claim that he showed Nampeyo excavated ancient ware in 1896, but this is fifteen or sixteen years after Keam asked Nampeyo to reproduce ancient pottery and four years after the seminal Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 left Hopi.
There is some evidence that the “sky band, hanging bird” design on the Peabody Sikyatki bowl was widely known among Hopi or Hopi-Tewa potters during the period 1880-1892. Pot 1999-09 in my collection has all the characteristics of Polacca “D” pottery and displays a fairly simple rendition of the “sky band hanging bird” design. Such Polacca “D” pottery was common from 1890 to 1900. While the production date of 1999-09 is not certain, the presence of a lug to hang the pot and the use of Sikyatki design on Polacca ware establishes that the pot was made by a potter who was familiar with Keam’s trading post and made the pot for sale, not home use. Obviously, either the maker of 1999-09 was directly inspired by the Peabody Sikyatki bowl or the design had become iconic and was widely known among potters in the 1890s, even if they had not seen the Sikyatki original.
Other Sikyatki bowls of similar design:
While Fewkes did not introduce Nampeyo to Sikyatki or specifically the “bird hanging from sky band” design, the Hemenway Expedition’s excavations of Sikyatki in 1895 did uncover at least one other example of an ancient bowl with a variation of the sky band hanging bird design. Published in the 1895-1896 Bureau of American Ethnology Report (Feweks, 1898: plate CXLVI, d facing page 692), the bowl is evaluated by Fewkes as “By far the most beautiful of the many food bowls from Sikyatki and, I believe, the finest piece of prehistoric aboriginal pottery from the United States (693).” Reproduced in color in the original publication, this bowl is a more elaborate version of the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design, with the painting visually filling almost the entire available surface. This lack of negative space will be a central issue when we discuss the development of Nampeyo’s style, below. In the Bureau’s 33rd Report (1911-1912) this same bowl was illustrated in black and white with the design apparently reversed (Fewkes, 1919:249).
Nampeyo and the “sky band, hanging bird” design:
It may well be that Nampeyo’s use of ancient designs to inspire her work was not due to a single contact with a “great” ancient pot. Nevertheless, Nampeyo was much taken by the design on 1993-04 and, unlike her daughters or many of her descendents, the design became a central motif of Nampeyo’s work and Sikyatki Revival pottery from at least 1893 to 1911. Shortly after Barrett assembled a collection for the Milwaukee Museum in 1911, Nampeyo’s eyesight began to fail dramatically. Certainly by 1920 she was functionally blind and no longer painting pottery (Judd, 1951). Robert Ashton believed she was largely blind by as early as 1912, but certainly by 1916 (conversation, 1994). Thus during all or nearly all of her career painting Sikyatki Revival pottery, Nampeyo painted the “sky-band hanging bird” design on 1993-04. The impact of the Sikyatki “hanging sky band bird” design on the development of Nampeyo’s style is discussed below.
Pictures of Nampeyo with versions of the “hanging bird” design on 1993-04 are common. For example, a 1900 picture by Curtis of Nampeyo pottery shows the design (Blairs, 1999:156). An original copy of this image by Curtis is part of my collection. I have discovered nine other published examples of the 1993-04 design by Nampeyo in other collections.
- Marti Struever (2001: 29) publishes pictures of two ca. 1893 Nampeyo bowls with elaborate, sketchy versions of the sky band hanging bird design. These bowls and a similar bowl that was sold in Santa Fe are discussed in Section #2, “Bowl 1993-04” below. A third similar bowl was offered for sale in Santa Fe at the time [photograph on file].
- In the book Pottery Treasures, (Gill, 1976:21), Jerry Jacka prints a photograph of three Nampeyo bowls “thought to have been made between 1895 and 1910.” The design on the abstract Sikyatki bird motif bowl lacks the tadpole element and has a smaller and simpler bird element than on my pot. However, the pot has a white clay slip that is similar to my pot (with an irregular streaked surface) and the pot seems to use the same three colors (red, black and brown) used on my pot. The neck arc on both this bowl and mine end with a simple prayer-feather design.
- The University of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania owns a Nampeyo pot that, again, is simpler than the design of my bowl (Brody, 1990:Plate 21). The Pennsylvania bowl lacks the tadpole images and more of the bird design is simply filled in by the cream background than is true on bowl 1993-04. Two parallel secondary arches sweep back with the neck/head image, in contrast to the one image on my pot. However, a three-lobed butterfly-like design element appears on both bowls, and on both the terminating design on the neck arc is a simple prayer feather. External designs on the bowls consist of variations of a double- triangle butterfly-like figure.
The Pennsylvania bowl was made circa 1900: Unlike Sikyatki wares and those made later by Nampeyo (Hano Polychrome), the vessel is covered with a white (?) clay slip. The slip on the Pennsylvania bowl is more regular than the slip on the Jacka- illustrated pot or my bowl.
- At least two Nampeyo bowls of similar design to mine were collected by Dr. Samuel A. Barrett for the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1911. The first is a bowl illustrated in the Mitchell Indian Museum Catalogue (Collins, 1974:plate 2), and includes crosses with the tadpole elements, has one less left lobe, adds an attached triangular element in place of the “butterfly” design, and terminates using a different set of “prayer feather” elements, but is essentially similar to my bowl. I do not know if the bowl is slipped.
- A second Nampeyo bowl of very similar design to mine was also collected by Dr. Barrett in 1911 and is illustrated in Ashton (1976:28). An 8 X 10 color photograph of this pot from the Milwaukee Public Museum’s photo archive department is on file with my collection (Catalog number 7975/3101; photo negative number A-536-B and A.) According to Aileen Egan, Anthropology Intern at the Museum, their bowl is 7.5 cm in height and 23.5 cm in diameter (2.953” h X 9.25” w), somewhat smaller than my bowl. She writes that “the designs on the (interior of the Milwaukee) bowl are painted in the usual black and dark red colors. The dark red color is also found underneath the black design. I am unsure as to whether the dark red was applied before or after the black pigment.”
Judging from the photograph, the bowl appears to have a fine white slip on the interior. This underlay of red is not evident in the 8 X 10 photo. It is clear, however, that the third (brown) color used on my bowl is absent. According to Ms. Egan, “Dr. Barrett shipped 131 boxes of specimens weighing a total of 8,426 pounds to the museum; however there is no information readily available on specific artifacts” (letter 6/25/93). While at Hopi Dr. Barrett took a series of photographs of Nampeyo making pottery, from the gathering of clay to the firing of the pots. Eight of these photographs are published in Schwartz (1969); eleven photographs from this series were published by Way (1977).
- A bowl of similar concept was collected by George H. Pepper in 1903 and is in the collection of The American Museum of Natural History, NYC. It lacks the tadpoles incorporated into the design of pot 1993-04, but the design is otherwise quite similar. The interior of the bowl may have a fine white slip; it is difficult to tell from a photograph. See the Blairs (1999:III:F). This pot can be found at the AMNH website, catalogue number 29.0/348. See also, Blair (1999:85) for a general view of sixteen of the bowls collected by Pepper in 1903.
- A second bowl in The American Museum of Natural History has the same general design as 1993-04 but is not identified as by Nampeyo. The bowl has her signature extra-coil rim, however, as well as the confident painting indicative of her work. However, it lacks the tadpole and “butterfly” design elements seen in 1993-04. The design does not appear to be floated on the clay body; instead Nampeyo seems to have used a smooth white slip quite unlike the rough white slip on 1993-04. (AMNH catalogue number 50.2/6584.)
- According to Barbara Kramer (letter of 11/22/97 concerning 1993-04), a bowl similar to 1993-04 but without tadpoles was collected by Hough in 1895 and is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
- Joseph Traugott cites the example of a bowl with the sky band hanging bird design that was apparently made by Nampeyo, purchased by Horace Poley in 1908 and given by him to the Colorado Springs Museum. From the rough sketch presented, its design seems much like the 1903 George Pepper bowl, above. There is no evidence indicating if the design is floated on the clay body or if a slip was used (Traugott,1999:11 and 15).
Several Nampeyo bowls with the sky band hanging bird design also have been offered on eBay.
A worn Sikyatki Revival canteen in this collection (2009-10) was formed and painted by Nampeyo and shares several of the design elements on bowl 1993-04. Both have the thick and thin framing lines characteristic of Nampeyo’s work, both incorporate the crescent bird form ending with a prayer feather, and on both this crescent design encircles one or more abstract elements.
Although it is not common, a number of other pots in the collection use variations of the design on 1993-04; see “Hanging Sky Bird Design” in the Category List for a complete listing. Notice especially pot 2005-03. In creating 2005-03, Rachael Shamie worked from a photograph of pot 1993-04. Nampeyo’s pot 1993-04 is about 600 years younger than her inspiration, the Peabody Sikyatki bowl. Rachael was born almost 100 years after her famous relative, and her pot (2005-03) is about 110 years younger than 1993-04.
Section #2: Nampeyo and the Transition from Polacca White Slip to Designs Floated on the Clay Body:
The predominant style of Hopi pottery at First Mesa from about A.D. 1780 to 1900 is called Polacca Polychrome, Style A through D. Archeologists have tended to consider these ceramics as “technically and aesthetically inferior” to prehistoric pottery, especially Sikyatki ware (Wade & McChesney, 1980:ix).
“This pottery is white slipped with stew bowls (see 1990-03) and globular jar forms (see 1994-14) characteristic. The white slip was evidently copied from contemporary Zuni/Acoma ceramics, as were some designs. The Hopi lived among the Zuni from 1777-1780 due to a severe drought. These ceramic ideas were brought back (to Hopi) when the people returned. Surface slip color is white, pale brown, yellow or pink, but in nearly all cases the slip has a crackled look probably due to the shrinkage of the slip during firing at a different rate than the paste (Adams, 1983:2).
The last style of Polacca Polychrome is “Variety D: Sikyatki Revival.” As noted above, this pottery was generally not intended for home use but was made for sale to Thomas Keam. Charles Adams notes that
“When Nampeyo and her contemporaries began copying designs off of prehistoric pottery (Sikyatki Polychrome and related types) in the 1880s, she first used these (Sikyatki) decorations on the white slipped Polacca type ….1885-1910, common 1890-1900 (Adams, 1983:2).”
See Wade and McChesney (1981:457-465) for examples of Polacca “D” pottery in the Keam Collection. Few examples of Nampeyo Polacca ware are documented. By far the most famous is a large Polacca “C” canteen with a katchina design made about 1880 that Nampeyo gave Dr. Joshua Miller and which now is part of the Arizona State Museum collection, cat. #4099, (See Kramer, 1996:147 and Hayes & Dittemore,1990: 61)
As discussed, in the description of the Polacca “D” katchina pitcher in my collection (1997-09), Polacca D pottery with its crackled white surface was not popular with Anglo buyers and soon gave way to “Hano Polychrome” pottery which has been made from about 1885 to the present, common 1895 to the present:
After experimenting with the new designs on the white slipped Polacca Polychrome, Nampeyo and her contemporaries switched to the unslipped yellow ware that characterizes Sikyatki Polychrome and all other Hopi pottery (before 1780)…There is…a lot of variety in surface colors due to fire clouds…probably due to almost total reliance on sheep dung for firing….Paste is more crumby than (the prehistoric pottery).” This Hano Polychrome Variety “A” pottery is unslipped.” (Adams, 1983:2-3)
Kramer points out that modern Hopi/Hopi-Tewa pottery may be either unslipped or slipped. Following Colton (1956), Kramer designates modern unslipped First Mesa pottery as “Hano Polychrome” and reserves the term “Sikyatki Revival” for vessels with a light slip, usually consisting of fine-particle clay derived from the same clay used for the vessel body (Kramer:1999:160).
Given this background, how might we understand the irregular white slip on bowl 1993-04 in my collection?
Most of what I initially knew about Hop/Hopi-Tewa pottery I learned from Rick Dillingham. It is a great loss that he never wrote the Hopi pottery book that was stored in his head. While I am grateful for his many gifts, I think he was wrong when describing the finish on bowl 1993-04, which I bought from him in May 1993, eight months before his death on January 22,1994, age 41. This bowl and two other Nampeyo pots were illustrated in an ad placed by Rick in the summer 1993 issue of American Indian Art, p. 23. [On file.] When I visited his home on May 17 and bought the bowl, this was the only Nampeyo pot unsold, through to me it was the most desirable of the three. Rick’s appraisal of 1993-04 reads:
“Bowl, Hopi, First Mesa Arizona. Ca. 1900-1910. Polychrome with yellow clay, red slip and black mineral paint (iron, etc. and bee weed as a vehicle.). Shallow bowl with modeled rim. Interior design is a stylized bird covering roughly 2/3 of the interior. I feel the clay here is floated perhaps giving the impression of a slip. The white slipped pottery was done alongside the floated yellow clay and probably stopped in the mid teens. These bowls were frequently made for tourists and many were sold at the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon through the Fred Harvey Co. I feel Nampeyo made and painted this bowl herself. Judging by photos of Nampeyo with pottery, this style of painting appears to have been done by her and not her daughter Annie. Nampeyo had a special knack for spaciousness and personal ‘proportions’ evident in the placement of the design on this bowl. [The owner] has reference material about Nampeyo and this bowl in particular. Excellent condition. Value: $XXXX” — August 4, 1993. [On file.]
It seems to me that Rick is wrong: the design on 1993-04 is painted on a coarse white slip that covers the interior of the bowl, and not floated on the clay body, which is visible on the rim and rear of the bowl.
I have located four other Nampeyo bowls with variations of the sky band hanging bird design painted on a coarse white slip. The bowl photographed by Jacka has already been discussed. Marti Struever described the two early Nampeyo bowls that she linked to both the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and the 1883 Mooney photograph of Nampeyo: “Bowls attributed to Nampeyo, ca 1893. These have the thick white slip characteristic of Polacca Polychrome and are similar to the pair with which Nampeyo poses (in the Mooney photograph) (Struever:2001:29).”
In 2003 Andrea Fisher had for sale a bowl attributed as an early Nampeyo that was quite similar to the two bowls described by Struever. Later this same bowl was available for purchase in Steve Elmore’s gallery. I was able to examine the bowl in both locations. Like the bowl in the Jacka photograph and the Struever bowls, this bowl was dated circa 1893 and had an irregular slip like bowl 1993-04 in my collection. (See online photograph.) Of the five bowls with a course white slip, my bowl 1993-04 is closest in design to Peabody Sikyatki bowl # #44-13-10/27101. Of the ten bowls listed in “Section #1, Nampeyo and the ‘sky band hanging bird’ design” section above, the bowl photographed by Jacka is most similar to the design on my bowl.
There is no single authority who has studied the use of white slip on Sikyatki Revival pottery. A series of people, however, have briefly commented on the issue and their collective wisdom might give us some insight into the position of bowl 1993-04 in the development of Nampeyo’s career. Stephen Trimble writes:
Nampeyo began using Sikyatki shapes and designs on her white-slipped pottery between 1885 and 1890. [He then repeats the erroneous Fewkes’ tale and adds]…By 1900 Nampeyo had fully revived the Sikyatki style, rediscovering the Sikyatki clay sources, abandoning white slip, and polishing the yellow body clay itself. (1987:91)
Steve Elmore saw only the photograph of 1993-04 on the collection website, but on the basis of his experience handling Nampeyo pots, he judges that 1993-04 was probably made between 1895 and 1900. (Conversation, July 2005.)
Other authorities suggest that the discontinuance of white slip on Sikyatki Revival pottery occurred later. Charles Adams curated a comprehensive show about Hopi pottery at the Arizona State Museum 1990—1992. The label for a canteen (Cat #4099) in the exhibit reads:
Nampeyo’s first efforts in reviving prehistoric Hopi ceramic designs were in the Polacca Polychrome style, marked by the use of a white slip over the yellow clay. By 1910 the use of white slip was discontinued and designs were painted directly on the yellow clay. (Arizona State Museum, 1990:23)
In 1994, I had a chance to discuss bowl 1993-04 with Robert Ashton, whom I met in Robert Gallegos’ gallery in Albuquerque. Working from a color picture of 1993-04, Ashton quickly identified the Nampeyo bowl: “I’ve handled perhaps a hundred like it,” he said. “This design was done mostly between 1895 and 1910, 1900 to 1910 being the most common period. A collapse of the mesa precluded Nampeyo from the white-slip beds used at Sikyatki. Instead she used this white slip from Coyote Wells over on Second Mesa, where her family had a sheep ranch. With two or three coats of this white slip, the surface came out fairly smooth, but often she used only one coat, giving the rough finish on your pot.” Aston added that this Sikyatki bird design was done concurrent with the period that Nampeyo used the Coyote Wells slip, 1895-1910, 1900 to 1910 most common. According to Ashton, by about 1912 or as late as 1916, Nampeyo was largely blind, a date earlier than the early 1920s date usually cited in the literature. (Conversation on 5/27/94.) Ashton’s reference to Coyote Wells as the source of white slip is confirmed by Harry C. James (1956:161): “The paints used are…white, from a white clay free from iron, found at a place near Coyote Springs.”
Based on the opinions of these four authorities, combined with Rick Dillingham’s estimate of age, I conclude that 1993-04 likely was made during the years 1895-1910, at the height of Nampeyo’s painting career and less than ten years before she went functionally blind.
Taken together, the comments made by Dillingham in the appraisal of 1993-04 and Ashton’s verbal comments might offer some insight about the use of a rough white slip on Nampeyo bowls during the 1893-1910 period. I also draw on the ideas of Dwight Williams, a Nampeyo scholar, pottery trader, and eBay friend.
If Nampeyo used white slip concurrently with the production of pottery with a floated design, why was white slip used at all?
Perhaps, Williams suggests, the use of slip was a function of the quality of the clay used to construct the body of the pot. When high-grade fine-particle clay was available, the design could be floated directly on the polished surface of the pot (Hano Polychrome) or a fine slip made from the clay used for the body could be applied and then polished (Sikyatki Revival ware). When only lower-grade clay was available for construction of a pot, the pot would need a slip to hide the coarse underbody before the decoration could be applied. In this case Nampeyo drew on her Polacca ware experience and applied a white kaolin surface, as on 1993-04. (Personal communication, July 2006.)
When Nampeyo used white slip it is often regular and unblemished. What accounts for white slipped pots with an irregular finish, as on 1993-04?
As both Dillingham and Ashton suggest, Nampeyo made many bowls with variations of the sky band hanging bird design: Ashton says he had handled 100 or more; Dillingham notes they were “frequently” made for tourists and bought by the Fred Harvey Company, often for sale at the Hopi House, Grand Canyon.
Apparently the white kaolin slip was applied using sheep fleece. Ashton suggested that one swipe or so would produce an irregular white finish, as on 1993-04. Multiple careful swipes, perhaps followed by smoothing with a polishing stone would produce the more common smooth white finish.
It is all my speculation, but perhaps the use of white slip by Nampeyo or the quality of the white slip finish is simply a matter of time. Using a quick, irregular white slip would reduce the time needed to stone polish the interior of any bowl, independent of the quality of the clay body. When rushed by a large order from the Harvey Co. or other demands of the market, she may have settled for one swipe of kaolin, left the slip unpolished, and produced the irregular white finish exhibited on 1993-04. Alternatively, when Nampeyo needed to use a white slip because of the course texture of the clay body and had the time, she may have applied multiple coats of white kaolin slip, used a polishing stone, and created a smooth finish.
In January 2008 Ed Wade evaluated a small shallow dish for Adobe Gallery. He identifies the maker as Nampeyo and evidence suggests it was made between 1900 and 1906. He concludes: “An interesting and historically intriguing trait of the bowl is the treatment of the bottom. Only part of the surface is kaolin slipped, while in the other portion is seen the actual clay body heavily stone polished. We know that around the time of this vessel’s construction Nampeyo was experimenting with perfecting a non-crazing kaolin ship that would more closely replicate the surface of ancient Black-on-white pottery. Could this have been one of her first attempts?”
In summary, the “sky band hanging bird” design on 1993-04 was directly adopted form ancient Sikyatki pottery. The use of white slip on this pot represents a transition period in Nampeyo’s ceramic production between Polacca polychrome and the more modern Hano/Sikyatki Revival ware. What might be said about the impact of this ancient design on the development of Nampeyo’s distinctive design style?
Section #3: The Impact of the “Sky Band Hanging Bird” on the Development of Nampeyo’s Style:
What effect might this Sikyatki design have had on the development of Nampeyo’s talents? The discussion must remain speculative, but nevertheless, it may be productive.
A Background on Stylistic Changes in Jeddito Ware:
Southwest archeological reports are filled with a myriad of ceramic typologies with unique, overlapping and contradictory designations given to subcategories of pottery.
(See Moulard, 2002 for a comprehensive, illustrated study of southwest prehistoric pottery.) Perhaps the most definitive framework for the Hopi area is offered by Kelly Ann Hays (1991:23-48, particularly 45-47). The “Sikyatki” pottery that inspired Nampeyo is a subcategory of Jeddito Yellow Wares that were made over about a 275-year period, AD 1350 to 1625. Subtypes include (from early to more recent) Awatovi Black-on-Yellow, Jeddito Black on Yellow, Bidahochi Polychrome and Sikyatki Polychrome. The Sikyatki subtype is itself divided into three subcategories: Early (AD 1350-1400), Middle (AD 1375-1450) and Late (AD 1450 – 1625). For another comprehensive discussion of the evolution of Hopi yellow ware pottery, see LeBlanc and Henderson (2009:15-23).
Jeddito ware is prehistoric Hopi pottery and was produced near First Mesa, the current pottery producing area on the reservation. Unique to the area are fine, iron-rich marine sedimentary clays, mineral and organic material for paint pigments and a supply of coal for firing (Bishop 1988. Also Hack, 1942)). Jeddito ware is the only prehistoric pottery that was coal fired; because of this high-temperature firing Jeddito ware is particularly durable and was traded widely, from what is now California to Kansas.
The style of Sikyatki pottery painting changed over time. The oldest Sikyatki ware displays interior designs that are highly geometric and balanced. ‘Middle’ Sikyatki bowls are dramatically different:
“Decorations are concentrated on the bottoms of bowls, usually contained within a circular framing line….In late Sikyatki polychrome, the designs are even freer. The framing line is usually missing and designs are commonly asymmetrical. The lips of bowls from this period also have a distinctive form (The Arizona State Museum, 1990: Labels for bowls #89-39-6 and #4114).”
“The very formal, precise, angular, geometric compositions of (early Sikyatki) are replaced (in the “middle” period) by the sweeping curvilinear designs of the newer yellow ware. A profusion of naturalistic and abstract animal and plant motifs are used in the new compositions…Particularly favored were abstract birds and bird parts, especially wings, feathers, and tails (Wade and McChesney, 1981:20).”
“Beginning around A.D. 1400 (in the Hopi villages of Awatovi, Kawaika-a and Sikyatki) there was a…trend from rigid, geometric asymmetrical painting to more fluid, loose compositions (Moulard, 2002:168).”
Toward the end of the 14th century, the interior framing lines on Sikyatki bowls also underwent an evolution, first becoming broader, then dropping the thin secondary line and eventually discontinuing the use of framing lines, leaving the bowl interior unbounded and able to be decorated over the entire surface (A.K. Hayes,1991:46). The framing lines on Nampeyo’s bowls, including 1993-04, hark back to the older Sikyatki tradition with a thick framing line over a thin line.
Earlier, I established that Nampeyo was familiar with the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101, used this Sikyatki pot as a model for bowl 1993-04 in my collection, and continued to use this sky band hanging bird design over much of her productive painting career, from at least 1893 to 1911.
What has not been considered is how the frequent repetition of this design might have influenced the development of Nampeyo’s distinctive style.
The “eagle tail” design on a low-shouldered jar is the iconographic Nampeyo pot. Such a jar is part of this collection (2005-16). The catalog entry for 2005-16 discusses the design elements of Nampeyo’s painting style; I will not repeat that detailed discussion here. To summarize, characteristic of Nampeyo’s designs are:
- A tension between linear and curvilinear elements, often represented as a contrast between heavy and delicate elements.
- A deliberate asymmetry of design.
- The use of color to integrate design elements.
- The use of empty (negative) space to frame the painted image.
- The use of a thick above a thin framing line on the interior rim of her bowls.
- Confident, bold, and impulsive painting
All six of these elements are present in the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and I suspect that the frequent renditions of this ancient design trained Nampeyo’s eye and hand into her distinctive “Nampeyo style.”
On the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101:
- The linear feathered body (?) of the bird contrasts sharply with the curvilinear neck (?) element it supports. The upward flow of the tadpoles contradicts the crosswise thrust of the body.
- The rectangular design of the central body core, the floating “butterfly” element and the red-winged elements at the “head” of the neck are symmetrical. The overall design image, however, is dramatically asymmetrical.
- While busy, the design elements are unified by the use of red paint: Visually the two red “wings” near the head and the square design in the “neck” are tied to the red skyband, thus integrating the overall image.
- Much of the design is drawn near the “bottom” of the bowl, near the skyband, leaving significant areas of the “top” of the bowl empty, This negative space highlights the design.
- Unlike later Sikyatki bowls, the design on #44-13-10/27101 is framed by a thick top and thin lower rim lines. These appear to contain a break line, which was not characteristic of Nampeyo’s work.
- The painting on this Sikyatki bowl is bold and confident.
All the distinctive elements of Nampeyo’s mature style are contained in an ancient bowl that she first copied as a young woman.
The idea of deliberately copying the work of a great master to perfect one’s own talent is not new: Students of painting often copy the paintings of Old Masters; young fiction writers have been known to copy by hand the books of established writers. The intent is to internalize mastery by training the hand, eye and ear to know greatness.
It may be that when she first saw Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and copied a version of its sky band hanging bird design onto her own pottery, Nampeyo did not intend to absorb the aesthetic lessons of a great ancient pot. Nevertheless, she did, and became a ceramicist of genius.
Such sensibility is mostly intangible and a matter of the viewer’s perception. Nevertheless, the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and some other great Sikyatki ceramics also seem to share this bold, fluid and confident brushwork. Perhaps this, too, was an ancient gift to the young Hopi-Tewa girl born in Hano who practiced an ancestral design.