While pot 2014-02 is termed a “seedpot,” its form is totally impractical with only a pinhole for an opening, the minimum necessary to let hot gases escape during firing. The form of this modern pot is intended to be elegant and provide the maximum canvass for decoration. The collection contains a ca.1910 flat-topped Hopi seedjar that was likely intended for use with a corncob acting as a stopper (1986-01). The older pot is clearly utilitarian, the form of 2014-02 solely aesthetic.
Even for its modest size, pot 2014-02 is extraordinarily light and must have extremely thin walls. Although the pot is signed only by Alice Dashee, the seller tells me that it was actually formed by Nona Naha, a friend and neighbor.
Ancient Nations Gallery at Keams Canyon notes that:
“Nona Naha differs from many Hopi potters in that she uses the pinch method for constructing her pottery versus the coil method which most others practice. This keeps most of her pottery small, but also allows her to achieve an incredible egg-shell quality to her pieces. They are ultra light, and the walls of the clay are very thin.”
When I received the pot it was so light with such a sharp median edge that it seemed it might be slip-cast “greenware.” Not yet knowing of Nona’s unique construction techniques, I questioned David Parker, the seller, if such a form could have been hand-made. With only a pinhole in the top, how would the maker sand the walls and close off the opening? Dave responded:
“This pot was actually molded by Nona Naha. She is famous for her molding skills. All her pottery is that light. I have watched her mold, and contrary to traditional belief, she is capable of such work. She and Alice are friends, and she (Nona) traded a few molded pieces with her (Alice)…. Nona hand coils ALL her pottery. She coils two halves and joins them together (emails 1/28/14 on file).”
Most of Nona’s pots are variations on the seedpot form of pot 2014-02. Nona’s use of pinch construction and her technique of forming halves of her pots separately and then joining them together make her precise and ultra-light pottery forms unique.
The design and painting by Alice Dashee is as light and delicate as the pot. A fancy ruby-throated hummingbird flutters in the space created by the upper surface of the pot. Her breast is colored red, with added bars of red at the base of her tail and wing feathers. The upper portion of her head is stippled with red paint, the lower third stippled with black. Her small eye is the hole that allowed hot gases to escape during firing. While substantially realistic, the body of the bird is also abstracted with added areas of feathers in front and to the rear of the main body of the image: the front area morphs into branches of a bush with berries. Her rear tail feather similarly sprouts branches with berries.
The other sections of the design are painted black. Her shoulder continues the black stippling begun on the face. The round edge of the pot frames the scene beautifully, as if one were looking through a spyglass watching a hummingbird feed on a flowering plant. This design has much of the same form and (it seems to me) exactly the same spirit as the design on an ancient bowl from Awatovi excavated in the 1930’s and now in the Peabody Museum at Harvard. The design was reproduced in Wade and McChesney (1981:549) and Alic Dashee might have seen the image and have been inspired by it.
The overall effect is strikingly elegant and delicate, in part because Alice Dashee uses several of the painting techniques employed by Nampeyo. There is a tension between the thick linear body of the bird and the lighter curvilinear wings, feathers and branches. By definition the design is not symmetrical. Alice uses color to attract the viewer’s eye toward to center of the design and unify the image. Negative space frames and highlights the design.
Of the several hundred pots in the collection, seedjar 2014-02 and vase 2007-13 are unusual in that they tell a narrative story: birds gathering nectar or fishing. A pot by Nathan Begay (always unusual) tells a similar story of lizards hunting ants (2014-04).