2011-28 Flying Birds Seedjar

Object ID:


5.75” h X 11.0” w

This is a Hopi pot, made of Hopi clay using Sikyatki Revival techniques and made at First Mesa about 1905-1910 but the design has strong Zuni elements. The iconography is full of spirit, motion and humor – a classic piece of American folk art. Perhaps it was made by a Zuni woman who married a Hopi man and lived at First Mesa for many years.

Ed Wade has written that:

As late as the turn of the 20th century Pueblo women marrying into a different ethnic community were expected to cease production of their former pottery and adopt the ceramic traditions of their new home (Wade and Cooke, 2012:91).

If the maker of jar 2011-28 moved from Zuni to Hopi, her stylistic transformation was incomplete.

In an article in the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of Plateau, Ed Wade writes that:

“….prior to (Nampeyo’s Sikyatki) revival came a brief but brilliant moment when Nampeyo and a few other master Hopi potters turned their eyes to the broader Pueblo world in search of the birds who had fled the northlands centuries before. One of these unknown potters adapted the old Zuni style with its rosettes and ‘deer houses’ into a canary cage for a perky plumed feathered friend. This fleeting period between 1898 and 1905 preceded the full commercial success of the new Revival pottery that would channel Hopi aesthetic experimentstion into an increasingly narrow expression (2002:60-61).”

Wade illustrates his discussion with a photograph of a jar decorated with this Zuni style. Jar 2011-28 in this collection is by the same hand.

Eleven years after the Plateau article, working with a couple of other Pueblo pottery scholars, Wade has located 10 vessels possibly by this potter, of which 2011-28 is probably the most recent. One of these 10 pots, looking like a classic Zuni vessel but made of Hopi clay, is in the Weisel Family Collection now in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Robb and D’Alessandro, 2014:55). One is in the Arizona State Museum, Tuscon. The rest are in private collections. Reading a draft article by Wade and others, it is apparent that there is not yet in agreement about the source of these 10 pots. Wade is most convinced that the collection was produced by a single person; another author is substantially more unceetain. Similar rosettes appear in many of these 10 pots; “deer houses” are apparent on most. The designs on 9 of the 10 pots contain parrots, but the open-mouthed avain seen on 2011-28 is found on only 6 of the 10, as near as I can tell from small photographs. In addition, the authors have idfentified an eleventh jar, probably made by the same potter, and sold through Dewey Galleries in 1985, current location unknown. From the Dewey advertisement it seems that this jar has rosettes, deer houses and the open-mouthed parrot very similar to those on jar 2011-28.

It’s this perky parrot that is the most alluring image on jar 2011-28. Imagine the classic photograph of a person topping the crest of a rollercoaster and headed down a long drop. The resulting scream that is both real and unrestrained fun. That is the sensibility I see on jar 2011-28 in the upper bird riding those big red tails and racing forward. Just look at that face. Or maybe it’s more like the look of a test pilot riding one of those rocket sleds in the 1950’s. There’s lots of body affect here, and it makes me smile.

Rather coolly riding in the same direction below are monochromatic birds that seemingly glide along, like cormorants under water. (I realize that it’s been a geological age since there was enough water at Hopi to consider cormorants.) These longer birds surge ahead of the polychromatic birds above them and have a more confident, calm and demure presence. The contrast in color, shape and sensibility between these two avian elements gives the design great energy and an abundance of humor. It’s difficult to be sure from a single-view photograph, but this “parrot-over-cormorant” motif is found on 7 of the 11 jars identified in the Wade et al. article (including the jar advertised by Dewey Gallery).

The skill of design and execution of jar 2011-28 is equal to Nampeyo, who was about at the height of her design skills when pot 2011-28 was made. Thus 2011-28 is direct evidence that there were several potters at Hopi that were of similar skill level to Nampeyo but whose careers were never recorded. We do not know the maker’s name.

It may be worth noting that Nampeyo herself employed the Zuni “deer house” motif seen on 2011-28 on at least two of her jars. See Wade and Cooke, 2012:156 and a large jar in the collection of The Denver Museum of Art #1929-72, photogrph on file.

Purchase History:
Seedjar 2011-28 was purchased by telephone bid from Joseph Kabe Auctions, Orange, Connecticut on 11/5/11. The pot was consigned by a “Connecticut gentleman who is now in his 90’s and traveled out west many years ago.” No other provenance is available.