This “tray” is really a painted tile surrounded by a 1.6-inch high wall. If it were only a tile, it would likely be one of the largest Nampeyo tiles known. One prehistoric example of this tray form is documented. Based on photographic evidence, this is a rare “modern” example that was made by Nampeyo around 1905 and has not been duplicated since. Of the anthropomorphic designs by Nampeyo in this collection, this is the most extensive, detailed and beautiful.
This is a hybrid pot, incorporating both an older Polacca tradition and the emerging Sikyatki Revival style. As such, it is both a boundary marker between two traditions of Hopi pottery and a transition point in Nampeyo’s development as an artist. In this regard, it shares a similar place in Hopi pottery tradition with bowl 1993-04 with its Sikyatki form, Polacca slip and Sikyatki design.
A small chip on the lower lip of the tray reveals the usual grey clay used for the body of most Hopi/Tewa pottery. A larger chip on the upper left edge of the tray seems to have been poorly repaired. There is a tight crack at the lower right corner of the vessel.
Tiles the size of the footprint of this tray would tend to warp. (See Mark Tahbo’s tile, 2017-03.) Because the walls on the tray provide rigidity, the tile-like bottom of 2017-04 is perfectly flat, with wear marks on the bottom only on all four corners. The bottom has clear burnishing marks from the stone used to polish it and has the blushed finish characteristic of Sikyatki Revival ware. This same Sikyatki Revival finish is found on the outside walls of the tray.
The interior surface finish is more difficult to discern. Some of this surface has the variation in color one would expect from Sikyatki style firing with darker areas almost red. However, much of this surface is also covered with a thin grey haze. Since the image is clear and unimpeded by the grey color, the grey color lies under the design and was applied by Nampeyo before the design was painted. In applying a white slip, Nampeyo was following the conventions of the earlier Polacca ware tradition. (See Elmore, 2015:138 for a collection of white-slipped Polaccaware Polik’Mana bowls.)
While the form of this tray is unusual, the painting is spectacular. Visually this is a smaller version of the Polik’Mana image painted on a Nampeyo canteen owned by Rosalind and Eugene Meieran that was part of an exhibit at The Heard Museum in 2012-2013. The Meieran canteen was reproduced for me by Rachael Rachel Sahmie as 2014-15 in this collection. While there are differences of size, complexity of the tabula and a couple of other smaller details of design, the two renditions are very close in form and design and are identical in spirit.
The Meieran Polik’Mana is energized by the axis of her body leaning slightly to a viewer’s right, as if he were about reach beyond the confines of the canteen and whisper to the viewer. On the tray discussed here, the figure leans slightly to the viewer’s left, but with the same energizing result.
The Polik’Mana on tray 2017-04 is polychromatic using red and black paint. Multiple elements of the figure are painted red. On the tabula, the points of the squash blossom design and the yoke are red. On the face, the triangular cheek marks and elements of the mouth are red. The sprigs of spruce emerging from the Mana’s right neck are red except for the middle branch of the lower sprig. Her left arm (on the viewer’s right) has a red wrist while both her right wrist and hand are red or are outlined in red. Alternate designs of embroidery on the cloth manta are also red. These red areas are visually small and the red slip is thin and light.
A red yoke surrounds the top of the Mana’s head. Fanning out above it are five sections of design. The middle three are based on sets of double triangles painted black. At the apex of the tabula the two triangles are separated by a narrow empty gap. The flanking sets of triangles are separated by a gap filled with three parallel lines forming a four-lane “highway.” The far left and far right sections of the tabula consist of single isosceles triangles oriented so that their long flat sides form the lower edge of the headdress. Note that the right side of the red yoke is a bit longer than the left and this forces the attached black triangle to be shorter than other black triangles in the tabula. Sprouting from the apex of triangles in the 11 and 1 o’clock position are fleur-de-lis elements representing squash blossoms. At their base they are crossed by two linear elements. Below the right squash blossom these lines end in crooks, with the bottom set opening counterclockwise and the top set reversing this orientation. Below the left squash blossom the lower line ends in crooks, but the crooks for the top line have had their ends extended until they meet, closing off the design to form a rectangle.
The forehead on the Polik’Mana on the tray is crossed by two uneven bands of black separated by two parallel lines. This is a slightly different form than seen on other renditions of this figure by Nampeyo in this collection but other variations of this element by her are known. The slit eyes, triangular cheek design and triangular “Darth Vader” mouth are close to identical to those of other renditions by Nampeyo on pots both in this collection and in other collections.
“Nampeyo favored diminutive bodies on her anthromorphs, typically with upturned arms with hands holding feathers, bows and arrows, and rattles,” writes Ed Wade (2012:130). This is true of the Polik’Mana on the Meieran canteen and that rendition has almost exactly the same stance as the image on tray 2017-04. On both the Meieran canteen and this tray muscular bent arms hold what appear to be twigs, perhaps spruce boughs. Both on the canteen and the tray the chest of the mana is crossed by a sash, though that on the canteen has more detail. The embroidered edge of a manta dress runs down the right side of the Manna on the canteen. A very similar design is seen on the left edge of the Mana torso painted on the tray. In short, the design of the Polik’Mana on tray 2017-04 is close to identical to that on the Meieran canteen.
There is one odd element in the design of the Polik’Mana on tray 2017-04. Emerging from the Mana’s right neck (the viewer’s left) are two additional branches or spruce twigs like those held in his hand. There is a small perpendicular line from the lower of these branches to the Mana’s shoulder, as if for structural support. As we have seen, the format of the Polik’Mana is quite conventionalized and does not include this element. Perhaps these two branches are intended to pull the viewer’s eye to the left, adding to the leftward motion caused by the general left tilt of the figure and thus energizing the design. Nampeyo often add unbalanced elements to energize her designs (cf. 2002-03). Or perhaps these branches were simply added as a whimsy. 100+ years after this pot’s creation, it’s all speculation.
I had a chance to speak with Ed Wade about this tray. “If you looked at just the interior Polik’Mana, this looks like an 1880’s piece,” he said, “The exterior, however, are classic Nampeyo (Sikyatki) designs, which formally probably makes this a Walpi Hopi Polychrome ceramic, in Colton’s typology (Phone conversation, 3-28-17.)”
Except for slight variations in brushwork, the external designs on the two long sides of the tray are identical, as are the external designs on the short ends.
In the central position of the long side is a rectangular area that is split by a diagonal. In the diagonal is a single thin line, thus forming a two-lane “highway.” The areas above and below this diagonal are bordered by black lines forming triangles. Two sides of each triangle are painted with thick black lines. One side of each triangle has a thinner line. Given that this occurs on both sides, there are four such triangles on the tray. Three versions have the thin framing line perpendicular to the bottom of the tray. One triangle has the thin side parallel to the tray’s top edge. According to Barbara Kramer, Nampeyo used versions of this rectangular design “for a short period, around 1904 to 1910,” which reinforces the photographic evidence that Nampeyo made this tray about 1905 (Kramer, 1996:184). Rectangular designs with similar diagonal elements are found on bowls 1993-04 and 2015-11, both by Nampeyo and in this collection.
The central rectangle is flanked by the familiar two-lane highway, followed by Nampeyo’s “clown face” with the point of the nose facing towards the corners of the tray. “”Nampeyo whimsically tucked variations of the clown face into many designs throughout her career (Kramer, 1996:188).” Clown faces are also found on pots 1999-03, 2011-16, 2013-03, 2014-01 and 2015-11, all by Nampeyo and in this collection.
Extending from these clown faces to the corners of the tray are three linear tails. The top and bottom tails begin with black half circles, followed by an unpainted core ending in long solid black tips. The central feather has the same format but omits the black half circle. Linear tails with rounded ends are also found on pots 1993-04, 1999-03, 2002-03, 2006-02, 2012-21, 2013-03, 2014-01, 2014-07, 2014-20, 2015-11 and 2015-12, all by Nampeyo and in this collection. On the long sides of tray 2017-04, all of the design is black.
The short sides of the tray have both black and red elements. In the central position is a simple two-lane highway flanked by two more clown elements, again with their noses pointing towards the corner of the tray. An additional two-lane highway design follows and forms the base of an unpainted area that divides into two linear tails with solid black tips. Flanking these tails are pointed feather elements that are painted red. Linear tails with round ends flanked by pointed feathers are also found on pots 1988-01, 1996-05, 2002-03, 2013-03, 2014-17 and 2015-12, all by Nampeyo and in this collection.
The top edge of the tray is painted black.
The asymmetry of the interior Polacca design is detailed and has great energy; the symmetrical Sikyatki exterior design is simple and serene. This contrast energizes the eye and heightens the impact of this small rectangular tray.
Defining Nampeyo’s design strategy:
While the external designs and format of this pot are easily identified as “by Nampeyo,” it may be instructive to apply my usual typology of Nampeyo ‘s mature painting style to tray 2017-04. Such an experiment may be particularly instructive given the mixed Polacca/Sikyakti Revival design of this pot.
As detailed in the discussion in Appendix B, there are six defining characteristics of Nampeyo’s mature painting style:
1) A tension between linear and curvilinear elements often represented as a contrast between heavy and delicate elements.
The exterior designs on tray 2017-04 fit their thin strip of surface and are linear. The interior Polik’Mana form follows the traditional Polacca format and does not display the contrast between curvilinear and linear lines looked for here. This characteristic of Nampeyo’s mature painting style is absent from tray 2017-04.
2) A deliberate asymmetry of design.
The exterior decorations are strikingly symmetrical. However, the interior Polik’Mana figure is painted with a tilt. Moreover, below the face the format is strikingly asymmetric: A random bunch of spruce boughs grows out of only one side of his neck. His sash slopes to the viewer’s right. The embroidered strip on his kilt is only on the viewer’s left. One arm crosses the body so that both arms point to the viewer’s left. In short, major sections of interior decoration are asymmetric while the exterior design is not.
3) The use of color to integrate design elements.
Small red areas appear in multiple areas of the Polik’Mana figure.
The four corners of the external short ends are red. Thus on both the interior and exterior, color is used to integrate design.
4) The use of empty (negative) space to frame the painted image.
There is no negative space on the exterior of the tray; with only slight boundaries the design fills the available space. Empty space was not characteristic of Polacca designs. However, although Nampeyo has used a classic Polacca design on the interior, she has incorporated the older Sikyatki tradition by leaving a good deal of empty space around her figure. Moreover the interior walls of the tray are undecorated and when the tray is viewed at an angle the negative space on the walls and floor of the tray merge to create the impression that the Poilik’Mana is floating in a larger void. This void is particularly pronounced because it is boundried by the black line on the edge of the tray. The overall impression is of the Polik’Mana in a frame surrounded by a wide, empty mat. Thus negative space has a central visual function on tray 2017-04.
5) The use of a thick above a thin framing line on the interior rim of her bowls.
Although this tray has sides and a bottom, its rectangular low-wall form was apparently understood by Nampeyo as “not a bowl” and she did not incorporate thick above thin framing lines into the design.
6) Confident, bold, and impulsive painting.
Tray 2017-04 has many examples of the confident, bold and impulsive painting we expect of the mature Nampeyo. The “confident” characterization is clear from the fine brushwork on both the interior and exterior of the tray. The Polik’Mana is delicately drawn without any evidence of where the yucca brush touched down and then was reapplied to continue the design. For example, notice how uninterrupted are the two circles that form the boundaries of the face. The painting on the exterior of the tray is equally controlled and fine-lined. Choosing to tilt the figure off axis is also an indication of a confident, mature artist.
Nevertheless, there are many examples of impulsive painting. The right axis of the red yoke is a bit longer than the left, forcing the attached black triangle to be shorter than the other seven in the tabula. One of the linear elements that crosses the base of the squash blossom has a different form than the other three. The two boughs emerging from the Mana’s neck are particularly unexpected and yet were certainly intentional, perhaps because Nampeyo was following her usual style of insuring her designs were not symmetric. The five of the six tips of these branches are red; one is black. On the exterior of the tray, four triangles form the central motif on the long side, but one of these triangles is painted differently than the others. In short, Nampeyo seems to have been having fun here and introduced multiple inconsistencies into her work.
Thus of the five relevant strategies of Nampeyo’s mature painting style, four are displayed on tray 2017-04. The lack of linear lines offset against curvilinear elements may be explained by 1) the choice of internal design and 2) the physical constraints of the external surface.
First, although some recent potters have felt free to simplify and abstract the Polik’Mana form (see 2012-01 by Rachael Sahmie and 2017-03 by Mark Tahbo), Nampeyo developed her skill within a Polaccaware tradition that standardized the depiction of this personage. See 2009-17 and 2014-10 for other examples of Nampeyo’s Polik’Mana work from this era. On tray 2017-04, tradition constrained innovation.
Second, the 1.5-inch exterior walls of the tray do not have the wiggle room necessary to draw both curvilinear and linear designs. The narrow space forced the designs to conform to a narrow linear band.
Of course all of this is my conjecture 112 years after Nampeyo applied her brush to this tray. It is this attempt to imagine the dynamic of Nampeyo’s aesthetic process that I find most interesting. As I wrote in the description of Nampeyo’s early seedjar with an Acoma designs (2015-03), pottery that varies from our Sikyatki Revival expectations allows us to observe how Nampeyo’s aesthetic developed over time. Apparently tray 2017-04 was made about 1905, the year Nampeyo first visited Hopi House and had sustained contact with tourists and Native art from other traditions. While the experience triggered a variety of exocentric pots as Nampeyo searched for what would sell, it also ushered in a time of increased comidification of her work as demand grew. Tray 2017-04 is simply beautiful, but it also marks the final expression of Nampeyo’s Polacca ware production and yet incorporates her Sikyatki Revival style. Because it incorporates both Polacca and Sikyatki styles, In this one dated vessel we can experience the transition in Nampeyo’s aesthetic. Tray 2017-04 is a movie about Nampeyo and the evolution of Hopi pottery styles.
Nampeyo scholar Ed Wade provides photographic evidence linking this tray form to Nampeyo. In Canvass of Clay, written with Allan Cooke, Wade writes that “Historic photography is a critical aid to our understanding of Nampeyo and her art, and previously unknown images continue to surface (2012:118).” With this comment Wade publishes a 1905 photo by R. Raffius he discovered in the Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside (catalog # 1996.0009.KU41102) . In the photo Nampeyo sits on the ground surrounded by examples of her work. In the right foreground of the image is a tray that seems identical in form to 2017-04. In the center foreground is a second rectangular tray which has thicker walls that its neighbor. Leaning against the inside walls of this second tray are two white oblong objects, perhaps ears of corn.
Thus I am confident that Nampeyo made tray 2017-04 about 1905. As such, the Polacca-style interior depiction of the Polik’Mana may be one of the last Polacca style paintings done by Nampeyo.
Provenance for the tray as a Hopi form:
Reporting on his excavations in 1895, Jesse W. Fewkes wrote that:
“Several rectangular receptacles of earthenware, some with handles and others without them, were obtained in the excavations at Sikyatki…These are regarded as medicine bowls, and are supposed to have been used in ancient ceremonials where asperging was performed. In many Tusayan (Hopi) ceremonials square medicine bowls, some of them without handles, are still used, but more commonly and evidently more modern variety are round and have handles (1898:681).”
In plate CXXVIII (following page 668 in his report) Fawkes reproduces images of seven “medicine box and pigment pots” that he excavated from Sikyatki. Image “c” has the same rectangular and low-walled shape as the rectangular tray discussed here. Like the Nampeyo tray, the exterior of this ancient vessel is painted. The interior is not showed and thus remains unknown to me. Judging from the rough scale provided, the ancient vessel has dimensions that are somewhat similar to Nampeyo’s pot (1.67” high X 5.66” long). The width could not be estimated from Fewkes’ illustration Fewkes later claimed that Nampeyo’s “Sikyatki Revival” ware was directly attributable to her seeing the pots he excavated from Sikyatki. Scholars (Kramer, 1996: 190 among others) have rejected this assertion and there is clear evidence that Nampeyo’s Sikyatki revival began well before Fewkes ever visited Hopi. Nevertheless, this sequence would not preclude Nampeyo’s seeing the pottery Fewkes excavated in 1895, including the ancient rectangular bowl described above. Such a link is only speculation on my part and there is no evidence that Nampeyo ever met the rectangular Sikyatki tray, but it is possible that the ancient tray was an inspiration for 2017-04 and I want to mention that possibility.
Soon after my winning Ebay bid for 2017-04, I emailed Ed about my purchase. He replied:
“I was the under bidder on this piece so I have done some research. The form arises from the ceremonial corncrib in which the mother ear would rest upon an altar. Square bowls are typically ceremonial in purpose owing to their distinctively four compass point alignment (email March 27, 2017, on file). ”
Bowl 1992-11 is the only other rectangular medicine bowl in this collection. As the catalog entry for that bowl makes clear, there is substantial agreement that bowl 1992-11 is a medicine bowl. Wade has extensive knowledge of Hopi religious practice and his comments are in line with my knowledge of bowl 1992-11 and Fewkes. However, the most extensive discussion of Hopi altars is Hopi Indian Alter Iconography by Armin Geertz (1987) and I find no depictions of rectangular altar trays in Geertz or any other publications other than Fewkes. This may be because the Hopi do not want such bowls depicted, although I’m sure that many Hopi would already object to making public much of the information Geertz published.
Similarly, while Geertz makes clear that corn is a central focus of Hopi alters and prayer (1987:17, 19 and 20), I find no evidence that corn is placed in a tray on Hopi altars. The only evidence linking the formof tray 2017-04 to corn is the photograph published by Wade and Cooke showing Nampeyo and two rectangular trays, one containing two oblong light-colored objects that might (or might not) be corn (2012: 118).
In short I do not think there is evidence that tray 2017-04 was intended for ritual use. The tray that Fewkes excavated in 1895 might have inspired Nampeyo, but the preponderance of evidence is that Nampeyo made tray 2017-04 for sale. Its importance is documenting that moment when Nampeyo stood with one aesthetic eye looking backwards towards her Polacca clay tradition while the other eye focused on an emerging Sikyatki Revival.