Some pots in this collection have designs that are difficult to interpret (2013-16, 2018-01) or remain enigmatic (2001-04), but the design on jar 2021-12 speaks clearly to the eye.  Its beauty and grace are immediately accessible.  Six different butterflies with raised bodies fly between framing lines while a variety of small design elements float around them. Gloria has created an indoor butterfly garden.


From a 2.5-inch base the walls of the jar slope outward 4.75-inches to the waist, where they turn inward forming a 4.25-inch upper surface before they form a vertical neck 1.25-inches tall.  The neck is concave, flaring outward 3.5-inches.  The walls are substantial, but not thick, and evenly formed.

When struck with a finger, the pot rings at a fairly high pitch, suggesting that it was kiln fired.  The surface is an even tan color with no blushing, some indication that the color may be due to a slip applied to the pot and not a result of outdoor firing.  The surface of the pot is very-finely polished, with just the slightest traces of polishing stone striations. The wide mouth allows a viewer to see some distance inside the jar and thus both the external surface and the first 2-inches of the internal surface of the mouth are polished.


Framing designs:

What catches your eye when you first see the pot are those six butterflies with raised bodies.  However, this band of design is framed with unusual design motifs placed unusually on the jar and these deserve our initial attention.  All of the design on the jar is either a dark red (almost maroon) or black.

The entire external and visible internal surfaces of the neck are painted red. At the base of the neck Gloria drew a thin black line that encircles the jar; 0.75-inches lower she drew another thin encircling line.  Between them she drew a checkerboard band  of black and unpainted squares that is 5 rows tall and 80 columns long, 400 squares in total.  The columns alternate with one column having two unpainted squares and the next three unpainted squares so that any one square —unpainted or black— is surrounded by squares of the opposite color.  A very close examination of the 400 squares indicates a slight variation in size, but the overall pattern is one of extraordinary regularity of form.  This checkerboard serves as a dramatic upper framing band for the butterfly panel below.

Below the butterfly band are a second set of framing lines that are unusual in two respects.  First, Sikyatki and Sikyatki Revival convention would expect  lower thin-above-thick lower framing lines.  Instead, here, Gloria has drawn 4 thin framing lines above the expected thick line.  The four thin parallel lines encircle the pot without wavering and without touching.   Generally a set of thin and thick framing lines will display break lines at about the same spot.  Here only the thick framing line has such a break. Second, lower framing lines are often placed at the waist (widest point) of a pot, but here the framing lines are place just below this point.  They therefore are only visible when the pot is seen directly from the side, but disappear below the pot’s edge when the pot is viewed resting on a surface.

Butterfly band:

All of the raised bodies have the same elongated and domed shape, wider at the head and narrowing to a point at the rear, and all are unpainted.  Each butterfly is distinctive from the others, but all this variation is in the painting on the flat surface of the jar.

The six butterflies alternate the direction in which they head. The antennae of the butterflies vary, with only two having similar curls with black balls at the ends (and one of these bugs is large while the other is small). Long black tails alternate with either a straight or curlicue tips.  Three smaller butterflies alternate with three larger butterflies.  All six butterflies have two bulbous solid black (“gumdrop”) eyes.

All the butterflies have four wings organized into two sets.  The sets carry different designs, so that each butterfly (but one) displays two wing designs.  The only butterfly with two red wings has the same polka-dot design on both sets of wings.  The other 5 butterflies carry sets of wings that do not match. Thus between the six butterflies there are 12 minus 1, or 11 different wing patterns, ranging from solid black to all-black with unpainted designs, to red with black designs.   In every case the design on the left wing of a pair matches the design on the right wing.  There’s a lot of variation here and I am refraining from exhaustively describing the detail.  It’s quite a kaleidoscope.

Interspersed among the butterflies are 10 small, non-repeating design elements. Prominently, one hangs from the upper framing band.  It has the form of a squared crook with four 90-degree turns and is done with stippled paint.  To its  immediate left are a group of 6 small round shapes: 3 simple-point dots, 2 larger circles and 1 larger  black dot.  Below this cluster of dots is a sweeping curlique with a relatively long tail, also stipple painted.  To the left, just below the butterfly with four red wings, is an almost triangular black form based on the lower framing lines..  It might have been equilateral, but only its right edge is intact.  Intruding inward on the other two sides are a pair of unpainted kiva steps (or cloud) elements.  The design exhibits “foreground/background reversal,” where the foreground and background seem to keep changing places, enlivening the design.  Thus this form can also be seen as residual black kiva steps rising off a triangular black base against the unpainted surface of the jar.

After the next butterfly, near the upper edge of the butterfly band, is a  small black cross with equal stubby arms with an unpainted square at its center. Below it, just above the lower framing line, is a fairly large stippled curlicue that makes two complete circuits, like a whirlpool. At the 7 o’clock mark two long parallel lines emerge downward.   Just to the left is an element that consists of three short and parallel lines with three solid black balls spaced inside this pattern. Quite some distance away, on the other side of a large butterfly is the image of a dragonfly, a long axis with two short cross pieces and a solid black ball at the head.  Immediately above it, near the upper framing line, is a form constructed of crossing sets of parallel lines with the square hub painted black.  Finally, below the left side of the next butterfly, is an odd element with two parallel lines as its core and outward-facing, squared brackets on either side, sort of an abstracted butterfly form.

Design analysis:

One might look at a very expensive, sleek sports car and exclaim “That’s a fine car.”  Similarly, this is a fine pot.  It has a balanced and graceful form with a surface  that is carefully polished and made all the more elegant by that prominent neck, also polished on the interior.  Every aspect of the pot is delicately painted, from the fine checkerboard of 400 squares to the intricacies of the wing designs and the detail of the 10 small elements placed among the butterflies.

The layout of the design is unusual.  From the lip to the single thin framing line above the butterflies, the design is delicate, but formal. The framing lines below the butterfly panel are also delicate and formal, 4-thin lines above one thick line.  Between them is an undisciplined swarm of butterflies intermixed with 9 non-repeating small elements floating on the surrounding surface.  It’s like a terrarium with creatures dancing inside fixed boundaries.  Energy within boundaries creates visual interest.

When viewed form directly above, like the red dot at the center of a target, the solid red color of the jar’s neck attracts a viewer’s eye to the center of the swirling design. This centering function is reinforced by the  contrasting tiny detail of the black/unpainted checkerboard just below, a necklace around the neck of the jar.  The four thin and parallel lower framing lines are an extraordinary feat of painting.  In fact all of the painting, including the detailed butterfly wings, show great imagination and brush control.

It’s easy to see why the judges at the 2013 Museum of Northern Arizona Hopi Show were impressed by jar 2021-12 and awarded it a second place ribbon (on file).  Sitting with this pot for a while is refreshing, like visiting one of those indoor butterfly rain forests that are featured by some natural science museums.  An hour spent surrounded by all those butterflies calms one’s perspective, as does an hour with this pot.

Purchase History:
Purchased online from King Galleries, 7-19-21. When asked about provenance, Charles wrote: "Gloria Mahle. The clients purchased it from her (Gloria) at the MNA show, July 6 & 7, 2013 where it won a second place ribbon." The ribbon is on file with this collection.