The dimensionality of this pot is complex.
Gourd #1 (strap emerging from lip) is 7.125″ h X 6.00″ w.
Gourd #2 (strap emerging from body) is 5.0″ h X 5.0″ w.
The strap is 6.75″ long. The connecting tube is 2.5″ long.
Double-lobed canteens are sometimes seen at Acoma and ancient examples are fairly common, but this form is rarely made at Hopi. Both its form and decoration make this canteen stunning. Unfortunately the form also makes it susceptible to breaking and when this pot was received from its Ebay seller this was the view when I opened the box:
As detailed in the “Purchase History” below, the pot was repaired by Andy Goldschmidt and now appears as if new, though its integrity is compromised. Nevertheless, because of its color, decoration, multiple surfaces, viewing angles and perspectives, this canteen is one of the most compelling pots in the collection. Its double-lobed construction is clear; less obvious is that it also has two design sensibilities.
Structurally this is the most complex pot in the collection. One gourd end is somewhat larger than the other and they have slightly different shapes. The larger end (gourd #1) has the connecting strap emerging from its lip. The smaller end (gourd #2) has the strap connecting to its body below its lip. As a result, the connecting strap is not symmetrical: one end is 2.5″ lower than the other end. The tube connecting the gourds is hollow. The thickness of the walls of both gourds is quite substantial, thicker than I would expect if these were separate vessels. The vessel is made of grey clay slipped with yellow “sikyatska” clay that fires red. The surface is higly polished, with striations barely visible and producing only slight variations in color. The complexity of this form allows for multiple viewing angles.
The design elements on the canteen are generally quite simple, the exception being a large patch of geometric design on gourd #1. That design is so complex that it looks like an intricately-woven African cloth laid over the end and a part of the side of the gourd.
Like the connecting thread of a necklace, a 0.625-inch wide black stripe zigzags and wanders around the entire circumference of gourd #1 organizing its elements of design. Along the way, it forms 8 points. In order to provide a guide for this discussion, I call the tall point at the end of the gourd “point #1” and number the successive points #2 through #8 in a clockwise direction. Points #1 and #8 reach about two-thirds of the way up of the end and side of the gourd; points #4, #5 and #6 bracket the connecting tube on the lower interior side. Jean seems to have painted this stripe a solid black and then taken a sharp tool and engraved its interior with an undulating line that exposes the clay beneath the paint. Note that this thick stripe is paralleled by thin black lines painted just a fraction from its edge, so that surrounding designs do not actually touch the surface of the strip.
Below the encircling black stripe:
At the end of the gourd, below point #1, is a residual triangular space filled with red paint. Its lower left point devolves into a thick red stripe that becomes a curlicue that makes 2.5 counterclockwise turns and narrows to a small, sharp point. Just to the left, below point #3, is a similar black curlicue that makes more than three clockwise turns. Its outer edge is defined by the triangle above and thus has two points; its interior is filled with 91 parallel lines.
Tucked below point #4 is a 2.25-inch row of three isosceles triangles, elongated and conjoint. They point down with a thick upper base, its edge a straight line slightly curved by the form of the vessel. Off the right edge of this base is a thin rectangular crook with two 90-degree turns. The left end of the base continues an inch past the triangles, rising slightly. The lower edge of this shelf is paralleled by three lines, a two-lane “highway.” Pendant from the end of this element is a 2-inch right triangle, its point growing from the “highway,” its base dangling in midair, its hypotenuse curved. From the point on the right side of the triangle, a large large rectangular crook with two 90-degree turns rises back towards the 2-lane highway above.
Point #5 is just above the connecting tube. Below it is a solid red obtuse triangle. Off its longest side emerges a curved hook with a 180-degree turn. Most of this red element lies atop the connecting tube. The remaining space below point #3 is unpainted.
Below point #7 is a complex pattern of elements. Perhaps most simply this area can be seen as a semicircular form that is cut vertically by a thick zigzag white line. To the left of the white line the space is filled with 28 by 26 crosshatched lines. To the right of the white line, at somewhat different angles, the space of filled with 47 by 39 crosshatched lines. That’s a lot of brushwork. The right edge of the semicircular form is defined by a fairly thick black line that descends from the edge of space in a two short steps and then runs in a straight line back to edge, a zigzag with an extension. The space this element encloses is unpainted.
Above the encircling black stripe:
About half the area above the encircling zigzag line is filled with a dense pattern of elements, creating a pattern of design similar to the design below the line. The remaining space above this line contains three serene figurative elements.
In the valley between points #1 and #8 rests a red form with a serrated upper edge, much like the profile of a stealth plane. Intruding from its right wall is a rectangular unpainted space containing a thick black stripe surrounded on three sides by a thin black line. Just above this red element is a wide unpainted space, also in the form of a zigzag, containing a thin black line that reflects the serrated shape below.
The jagged upper edge of the unpainted space defines the base of an irregular black element whose upper edge sprouts two thin black curlicues. It’s a minor detail, but notice that these curved forms have thin straight lines along their right edge, lines that protrude just beyond the upper reach of the curlicue.
To both the right and left of the large black curlicues are smaller design elements. To the right a small curlicue is set against a right triangular base, though the hypotenuse of the triangle sags inward. At the tail of the triangle a thin triangular crook rises. To the left of the large black curlicues, and set against the right side of point #1, is a graduated set of three black isosceles triangles, their interiors inscribed by wavy lines. The thin framing line of the black stripe emerges from the left edge of the left triangle and drops down the left side of point #1 where it broadens to become the lowest of a set of three tails of an avian form. At the base of these tails is a set of four parallel lines forming a three-lane “highway,” the center lane being particularly wide and contain ing two dots. To the left of the highway is another right triangle with a sagging hypotenuse. From its point rises a thin crook representing a head.
Remaining design on Gourd #1:
It’s taken over 800 words to describe the complex geometric pattern on the end and side of Gourd #1. The remaining design on this lobe of the canteen consists of three figurative forms and will be simpler to describe.
Two of these motifs are black stalks of corn. One emerges from the upper edge of the black strip between points #2 and #3, is 4.50-inches tall, and has three sets of leaves. The second stalk grows out of the upper edge of the black strip between points #6 and #7, is 4.25-inches tall, and displays four sets of leaves. Similar corn stalks can be found on another pot in the collection by Jean (2010-08).
Leaning against the sloped black stripe between points #4 and #5 is an abstracted image of a Tewa-Hopi woman, her right side partially hidden behind the stripe. Her long, flowing hair –indicating that she is married— is a patchwork of colors . The crown of her hair is black. A red bang of hair covers her right eye; to the left long locks of black, unpainted, red and black hair flow down to her chest. Her face is indicated by a simple slit eye, a bit like the eyes found on Polik’Mana tiles (2014-10). Her muscular left arm is raised in greeting, its hand red. An inlaid spondylus (spiny oyster) shell necklace hangs from her neck. Her torso is indicated by a simple edge line that runs to her waist.
The decorative elements on this lobe are all figurative, with one exception. A black inscribed ribbon with notched ends wraps around the connecting tube and this gourd where they join. The smaller end of the ribbon is on the bottom of the tube and is almost hidden from view. Here the ribbon terminates with a a set of three parallel lines (a “two-lane highway”) followed by a black crown with three points. The ribbon then encircles the tube and becomes wider as it splits and forms two pointed tails on the upper surface of the pot. The lower of these tails extends into a thin point that curves downward towards the tube. The upper tail is not as elongated and points up the side of the gourd to just under the carrying strap.
All the remaining design elements on gourd 2 are figurative: six hands, a corn stalk and a maiden figure. Three hands —one black, one white and one red— are displayed on either side of the gourd. Each hand is 1.75-inches tall. The order of the hands varies between the sides and on one side the white hand contains three black “x” marks. Otherwise the sets of hands are identical. Handprints are also found on another pot in this collection, their form provided by Jean’s three-year-old granddaughter Muncie (1999-10).
The red corn stalk on the end of the gourd is 7-inches tall, running the entire height of the vessel, from the flat bottom to the lip. Only the vertical left half of the stalk is presented, displaying three graceful curved leaves. Two lines parallel its straight edge, a one-lane highway. To the right, somewhat obscured by the corn stalk, is the image of a Hopi maiden.
The maiden is large, standing 5.5-inches tall from the flat bottom of the vessel to the inflection point where the gourd shape begins to narrow to the spout. While still abstracted, she incorporates far more realistic details than her Mother on gourd #1. The bang of her hair on her forehead is nearly cut and parted, the whorls of hair over her ears testifying to her status as a maiden. Her pleasant face is marked by two slit eyes and a single-line mouth. From her ears hang jacla loop earrings, presumably turquoise and heishi. Her tall neck is encircled by a three-strand necklace, again presumably turquoise and heishi. She is dressed in a traditional pueblo mantle that is tucked under her left arm. That arm is bent at the elbow, wears a three-band bracelet, and her red hand is raised in greeting. The upper edge of the mantle carries black-over-red stripes; the order of these stripes is reversed on the lower edge. As evidenced by corner threads on the lower edge, the mantle is Native- woven. The maiden floats above the bottom of the jar, without legs or feet.
Strap and identification mark:
The entire 6.75-inch exterior of the strap carries the image of a red corn stalk with a 1.75-inch stem below the leaves and four sets of leaves above. It grows from the gourd-2 end of the canteen toward gourd 1. Between the stalk and a black background, a thin edge of unpainted surface surrounds the stalk. A small fish-like “J” near the base of gourd 2 indicates the canteen was made by Jean Sahme, her usual mark.
The two-lobed shape of canteen 2022-03 is unique in this collection and thus so is the ability to view its design from a variety of interesting perspectives. The very fragility of its form creates anxiety in a viewer: “That looks so easy to break.” Fragility sharpens focus.
Note that the thin arching strap is graceful. but not symmetrical. Its shape reflects the stone arches in Utah, particularly in Arches National Monument. Thus its form adds both a reference to local landscape and another source of fragility and tension. The two gourd chambers are similar, but not symmetrical, so there is energy and visual tension from this difference as well.
The red slip carries a dark, (almost) monochromatic design, making the image bold. Two colors of paint, solid black and dark maroon, are used for almost all the decoration. White is used in only three spots: two small hands and the zigzag below point 8. Thus, while the form of the vessel and its iconography are dramatic, the paint color is rich and subdued. The placement of figurative design elements is restrained.
What I had not expected was that this double-lobed form also carries a double-lobed design: two distinct design motifs that appeal very differently to a viewer’s eye.
The geometric design on the end of gourd #1 is strikingly different than the figurative design elements that compose the rest of the design. A complex geometric design casually wraps around the end of gourd 1. Simple figurative elements are carefully spaced across the remainder of gourd 1 and all of gourd 2.
Significantly, this shift happens on the same large gourd. Thus the division of painting styles does not reinforce the bi-lobed form of the canteen but cross cuts this physical distinction., thus visually linking the ends of the vessel.
Jean used a variety of additional design strategies to enhance her painting. Some of these are minute and almost subminimal; some announce themselves clearly. Among the former are a number of patterns in on the complex “African cloth” design on Gourd #1.
Below Point #8 on the side of Gourd #1, the thick zig-zag line is mirrored on the right edge of the crosshatched area by a thin zig-zag line, thus helping unify an otherwise frenetic design.
Black point #1 forces a viewer’s eye up while the red curlicue below it pulls that gaze downward to the red bullseye, creating visual interest.
On the right flank of point #8 above the black ribbon we noted the curlicue with a body formed by a right triangle with a triangular crook tail. This same triangle/crook tail combination is used on the left flank of point #1 above the ribbon to form the head of an avian figure. The two renditions are both small, easily overlooked and separated by 5.5 inches. A casual observer might well not notice this linkage, but they also provide at least subliminal coherence to a pattern of design that threatens to become centrifugal.
Between points #1 and #8 above the black ribbon, two black curlicues are set against two straight lines, creating curvilinear/linear tension that enlivens the design.
The three black isosceles triangles above the ribbon at the apex of Point #1 are connected by a thin line to a set of three similar triangles below them, thus creating a visual linkage between the two groupings. Both sets of triangles create foreground/background reversal images, which further enliven the design. Moreover the lower set of conjoint triangles on the left flank of point 1 has the same form (conjoint triangles, highway and crook) as the much larger design below point 4, though this larger design is completely hidden from view when the canteen is upright. Still, these three sets of conjoint triangles with their associated elements helps the frenetic African cloth design adhere.
Note that the large set of conjoint triangles below point 4 has simple rectangular crooks at either end of the design, though one rendition is small and the other large. The orientation of the two crooks is at a 90-degree angle, thus providing both diversity and unifying similarity of elements within the same pattern.
Similar visual strategies are seen in the figural designs.
Borrowing from “Grandmother” Nampeyo, Jean has left substantial unpainted space around her figurative forms to highlight their presence. This strategy is most clearly seen with the sets of three handprints that appear on opposite sides of gourd 2. The simplicity of this design and its surrounding space “cool off” the complex, dense, and busy “cloth” design on gourd 1.
The placement of the figurative elements on canteen 2022-03 integrates its design. Most obvious is the view of the two Tewa/Hopi women, maiden and mother. As I discussed above, the placement of the larger maiden on the end of the smaller gourd, within sight of the smaller woman on the larger gourd, increases a viewer’s sense of perspective and visually links the two ends of the canteen.
This view also expresses the strong generational links between women in this matriarchal society. As Jean wrote in a privately-published book documenting her ceramic career:
“I was born at the base of First Mesa in my family home. My [great-great] grandmother was Nampeyo, the great Tewa potter…I take pride in knowing that I am one of her descendants who continues her legacy by using traditional methods and incorporating visual elements of her style into my work.
My family heritage is handed down through the generations and I believe my obligation is to carry on this legacy so it is not lost. Carrying on the tradition involves long hours of loving labor, but it gives meaning and value to my life. It is a gift to me from the grandmothers that has supported and sustained me all my life. Making pottery has been good to me. I find it fulfilling and I honor the grandmothers who taught me the traditional way (2011:2).”
Two black corn stalks are painted on the sides of gourd 1; a larger red corn stalk occupies the end of gourd 2. The corn on the strap handle is large and is dramatically both black and red, thus connecting with the colors of the other corns stalks on the vessel. Because of the corn strap’s central location, any view of the canteen shows multiple images of corn, which integrates the design. Moreover, the centrality of the corn strap expresses visually the Tewa/Hopi understanding that corn is central to both their spiritual world and physical existence. The association of female and corn images on canteen 2022-03 is core to Hopi belief:
“Corn is not only a food; it is the central metaphor of Hopi life (Black 1984). The land, tuwapongya, the “sand altar,” is the nurturer of all living things… In effect, the corn plants and other natural resources that are sustenance are like the nipples of Mother Earth from which people and all other living things nurse…. Just as the corn plants await pollination, so too do young Hopi girls, who may be referred to as corn maidens (qa’ömamant), await fertilization.
This likening of the growing corn plants to growing Hopi girls is referred to in [song] as the “maiden metaphor.” The growing ears on the corn plants are the plants’ children…. This same concept of rebirth and nurturing at each new stage of life is also embedded in the songs with the metaphorical use of corn maidens as metaphors for women who will nature new life…. Living a life sustained by this corn is the Hopi life plan (hopivöts-kwani).”
—– Sekaquaptewa, Kenneth C. Hill and Dorothy K. Washburn, 2004:8-9
The 1) emphasis on corn, 2) the linkage of women across generations, and 3) the association of maidens with corn are central to the design of canteen 2022-03 and central to Hopi religious life.
No other pot in the collection is double-lobed. No other pot in the collection carries the dual design sensibility of canteen 2022-03. On no other pot in this collection do form and painting interact to produce such a strong visual experience. And no other pot expresses Hopi/Tewa beliefs so directly.