2002-03 Shallow Dish with Superb Abstract Avian Design

Object ID:

Nampeyo 1 (unsigned)

Corn Clan, Tewa, Tewa Village

2.5" h x 8.375"

Shallow Hopi-Tewa bowl with off white slip (?), convex interior rim, double framing lines with an interior abstract bird design. I attribute the bowl to Nampeyo.

Excepting the vessels made by Nampeyo and decorated by a daughter in the years 1930 to 1934 (cf: 1985-01, 1997-01 and 2002-12), Nampeyo pots are all unsigned. Thus attributing a pot to the “Old Lady” is inherently problematic. Marti Cusick (Struever) curated an exhibit “Nampeyo: A Gift Remembered” at The Mitchell Indian Museum of Kendall College, IL in May of 1984. In her catalogue, Marti wrote, “It is exceedingly difficult to ascertain whether specific pottery specimens were constructed and painted by Nampeyo….Pottery was not signed. Records are scarce and incomplete.” Marti then established four conservative classifications of attribution (Cusick, 1984:9):

• Documented as made by Nampeyo.
• Attributed to Nampeyo: “where opinion based on consultation with other students of Nampeyo, and consideration of design elements, layouts and construction of known Nampeyo vessels indicates the likelihood of the work being hers.”
• Possibly by Nampeyo, or made in her style.
• Probably panted by a member of Nampeyo’s family.

With some trepidation, I “attribute” 2002-03 to Nampeyo for the following reasons:

1) The rim seems to be finished with an extra coil of clay to form a slightly convex interior wall. According to the Blairs (1999:91) such a lip is characteristic of Nampeyo’s work: “ Most bowls were finished with a lip very nearly unique to Nampeyo.”

2) The double framing lines (thick nearer the rim, thin below) is not unique to Nampeyo’s work, but is characteristic of her style (cf 1988-01, 1993-04 and 1996-05).

3) The feathered image on the bowl is placed similarly to those on other pots attributed to Nampeyo. While the form of the image is quite different, see for example the drawing of the ninth bowl formerly at the Fray Marcos Hotel in Williams, AZ. (Schweizer,1942). While not an extensive or elaborate as 2002-03, the placement and circularity of the design and its placement within the thick and thin framing lines of the Fray Marcos pot is evocative of 2002-03, Specifically, there is a willingness to use blank space to set off and emphasize design. “Empty spaces or an economy of design indicate that Nampeyo knew exactly when creation was complete (Blairs, 1999:92).

4) The Blairs (1999: 92) write: “…Nampeyo’s designs were often bold, and at times there was a suitable avoidance of symmetry… Often small, almost unobservable and apparently meaning-less design elements appear to have been added as an afterthought or changed with the apparent purpose of altering balance.” Their point is illustrated (Blairs, 1999: III, Fig 2.31, E ) with a bowl whose design includes “paint lines on the upper portion of the stem…This small touch seems to upset the balance deliberately.” A similar device appears in the design of 2002-03. Notice that the black curl that forms the center of the feathered image has a row of 29 short lines that also create asymmetry in the overall design. Notice also that these 29 strokes are themselves not parallel and in fact two strokes are at almost right angles to each other. It appears that when painting the bowl, Nampeyo adjusted the position of the bowl relative to her hand four times so as to keep her hand motion in a comfortable range, thus creating four clusters of lines in the row. The spontaneous nature of this placement speaks to a sense of design that distinguishes Nampeyo’s work.

5) In evaluating my Nampeyo pot 1988-01, Barbara Kramer comments that the “design of the birds is painted impulsively and confidently; Annie’s painting is more studied and more delicate.” I think the design on 2002-03 shows the same confident spirit. In addition to the lines creating asymmetry, notice that the outer elements of the red tail feathers are not even; a couple of the cross lines extend slightly beyond the outlines of the image and one of the red “tear drop” elements is not fully fitted into the black body element. These are all signs, I believe, of the Nampeyo’s “impulsive and confident” style.

6) Finally and most subjectively, the overall power and creativity of the feathered design speaks to a Master potter at work and few potters other than Nampeyo had such spirit. While far from identical, the decoration has some of the elements of a classic Nampeyo designs (cf Kramer,1996:187, figure H).

For these reasons, based on my limited expertise, I “attribute” this pot to Nampeyo. One is reminded of a discussion between two art historians that is cited by Frederick Hart in a book about the authenticity of Michelangelo’s model for the famous David statue. Being discussed was the authenticity of an oil sketch by Van Dyck. “What do you want a certificate for? The picture is genuine.” To which Hart responds, “If the model (of David) was authentic, surly it would certify itself (1987:20).” For all the analysis, bowl 2002-03 must similarly certify itself as a Nampeyo.

I should note that I am not the only collector to attribute this bowl to “Old Lady.” As shown in the eBay bidding records [on file], three and a half minutes before the close of bidding, the highest bid on this pot was less than 25% of its final cost. Seven seconds before the end of bidding, Steve Elmore of Santa Fe (“Olla”) bid more than four times the high bid; three seconds later I bid higher and won the pot. Clearly both Steve and I saw something in the pot that prior bidders had not seen. A couple of weeks later I was in Santa Fe and visited Steve in his home. He estimates he owns 50 or 60 “Old Lady Nampeyo” pots, having (for example) bought two others the same night that I won 2002-03. “Without question” was his assessment of the relation between this pot and Nampeyo.

For an evaluation of the aesthetic of this bowl in the context of other Nampeyo pots the collection, see Appendix C.

Purchase History:
Purchased on 4/28/02 from Claude Paquette, of Grants Pass, OR. He provided the following provenance for the bowl: The pot was originally bought by Elsie C. Haddox who was born in 1898 and died in 1980. Ms. Haddox was Anglo and lived in Los Angeles most of her life. Sometime between 1920 and 1940 Ms Haddox and her sisters took a trip to Arizona.. Apparently the date was before Petrified Forest was made a national monument because they also picked up some petrified wood. One of the sisters married a man named Hudson, of the Hudson Bay Co. family. That sister inherited this pot when her sister (Ms. Haddox) died in 1980 and gave it to her daughter, Christine, who had married a Pieute man, Juhan. The pot sat in their curio cabinet for many years until Christine asked her friend Claude Paquette to sell it because she and her husband were relocating.