2012-26 Monochromatic Redware Bowl with Maasaw Images

Most Hopi and Hopi-Tewa pottery is formed of clay that is grey when unfired and turns light yellow to golden on firing. The term for this material is simply coqa (clay) or masicoqa (dull, lacking color, grey clay) (Wyckoff 1985:151). Sikyatska (or sikacoqa) is a yellow clay found on the Hopi Mesas that turns red after firing. I am told that this clay is particularly difficult to form into a clay body, thus vessels that appear red after firing are usually formed of grey clay and coated with a yellow-fires-red sikyatska slip. Bowl 2012-25, however, was formed from sikyatska clay and is not slipped.

This bowl features a human form as its central design element. The large figure at the center of the interior of the bowl has a crosshatched rectangular body of four columns and 16 rows forming a grid; each square features an imbedded dot. Four similar figures with 3-row by 8-column rectangular bodies grace the outside of the bowl.

Figurative painting is not common on Hopi-Tewa pottery, and so I wondered about the inspiration for this design. Mike McMullen and I visited Nyla in her home on 10/11/13 and I showed her a photograph of 2012-26. She recognized it as a bowl she made “years ago.” She laughed to see it again, and said she got the idea for the design “out of a book,” which she immediately pulled out of a basket of books. Re-Creating The World: Painted Ceramics of the Prehistoric Southwest displays the pottery collection of Bill Schenck, a well-known painter (Moulard 2002). Plate 49 of the book displays a Salado bowl with an image adopted by Nyla on bowl 2012-26. Nyla has modified the face and hands of the ancient image and increased the number of crosshatched rectangles in the torso, but the form of her central image on bowl 2012-26 is very similar to that on the ancient pot. The Salado culture flourished in east central Arizona from about 1270 CE to about 1450 CE. Salado ceramics are typically ordered and balanced (Moulard 2002:106).

Moulard writes, “The iconography (of the Salado pot that inspired Nyla) has many not-too-subtle associations with the spiritual world of the dead. The splayed human figure with serrated teeth or grimace seems to be a theme…This figure has aspects similar to the Pueblo (Hopi) death deity Masau’wu, who owns the surface of the earth and leases it to the Pueblo. The figure has likewise been equated with the Mesoamerican deity, Flayed One, of the east. Both the Pueblo and Mesoamerican deities are not only associated with earth and agricultural renewal, but also with sacrifice and death” (2002:105).

Sekaquaptewa and Washburn discuss “corn as the metaphor of Hopi life.” They reproduce and describe a mural fragment from Awat’ovi that depicts “a woman as seed corn,” her black dress displaying a pattern of white squares, each with a dot in the center. “The dots symbolize the living germ, soona’at” (2010:145-147), and the motif is identical to the design on bowl 2012-26. The reference to Masau’wu as the deity of agricultural renewal could not be clearer.

For an extensive discussion of the role of Maasaw in modern Hopi life, see Malotki and Lomatuway’ma (1987).

McCreery and Malotki also show a drawing of a bowl found at Homol’ovi (an ancestral Hopi village) that has a design much like that on Nyla’s bowl (1994:59).

The original Salado bowl that inspired bowl 2012-26 has a somewhat static geometric design surrounding the central figure. Nyla modified this motif. On either side of the central interior figure of bowl 2012-26 she drew a folded linear design, much like a folded ribbon. While this design and the central figure are symmetrical, three interior design elements embedded in black patches to the right, left and below the figure are not, giving the design imbalance and energy. The right and left elements are triangles, though pointing in different directions and internally dissimilar. The design beneath the legs of the central interior image is circular, perhaps representing Ho-bo-bo, “The Twister” or whirlwind (Peterson 1994:250).

The four exterior human abstractions are also surrounded by the folded ribbon motif. One of the triangle-imbedded-in-black images is reproduced four times on the exterior of the bowl to separate the anthropomorphic designs.