Appendix B: A Tale of Two Pots: Ancient Sikyatki and bowl 1993-04 –The Development of Nampeyo’s Style–

Bowl 1993-04  has a pivotal position in this collection because:

1) The design helps us establish an aesthetic link between Nampeyo and ancient Sikyatki ware and helps us date this link.

2) It helps us refute an often-told tale that J. Walter Fewkes was primarily responsible for Nampeyo adaptation of Sikyatki forms and design.

3) Its white slip defines the pot as a transition piece between Polacca “D” crackleware ware and Sikyatki Revival/Hano Polychrome pottery.

4) The design on 1993-04 suggests how Nampeyo might have learned design characteristics that she developed into her signature style.

Some of the material in this Appendix is mentioned in the catalog entry for bowl 1993-04, but in order to keep that entry of manageable size, I have reserved more detailed discussion of these four issues to this Appendix.

Section #1: Nampeyo and Ancient Sikyatki Pottery

Nampeyo and Sikyatki Bowl #44-13-10/27101:

One ancient Sikyatki bowl was collected by Thomas Keam at Hopi between 1874 and 1892, bought from him by J. Walter Fewkes in 1892 at the behest of Mary Hemenway (a Boston philanthropist), and is now in the Peabody Museum at Harvard, catalog # 44-13-10/27101. It was made between 1375 and 1625, most likely towards the end of this period. It is the most frequently reproduced ceramic in the Hemenway collection.

Sikyatki bowl, the Peabody Museum

The design is known as “bird hanging from sky-band.” For published copies of this image, see Wade & McChesney, 1980:31; Wade & McChesney, 1981: 23 & 24; Wyckoff, 1985:Plate 2; Struever, 2001:29; LeBlanc and Henderson, 2009: 11.

There is a striking similarity between the design on Peabody bowl 44-13-10/27101 and the design motif used by Nampeyo on bowl 1993-04 in my collection. So striking are the parallels of design that Aileen Egan, an anthropology intern at the Milwaukee Public Museum noted the connection, though she had seen only photographs. (Personal communication 6/25/93). Both of us independently recognized the common spirit of the two bowls.

Bowl 1993-04

Bowl 1993-04 is proof of the direct influence of ancient Sikyatki  design on Nampeyo’s development as an artist.

It also carries the same design shown in the earliest photograph we have of Nampeyo with her pottery.  James Mooney arrived ay Hopi in January 1893 to take photographs for the Bureau of American Ethnology.  Barbara Kramer discovered that Mooney took several photographs of Nampeyo with her mother White Corn and one photograph of Nampeyo holding one bowl with another at her feet (Kramer, 1996:48-50).  These are the earliest photographs to show Nampeyo with examples of her work. We do not know when or how Keam obtained Peabody’s Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 but we know it was part of the collection sold to Fewkes in April of 1892 and shipped to Boston. The Mooney photographs document that Nampeyo was making bowls with this design the eight months later. Of course Nampeyo might have been using this design well before Mooney visited Hopi.

A photograph of the Peabody Sikyatki bowl is reprinted by Struever, (2001:29) who also reproduces the 1893 photograph of  Nampeyo with the two bowls of the same design. Additionally she shows two early Nampeyo bowls with elaborate versions of this “sky hanging from sky-band” design.  The design on pot 1993-04 in my collection, however, is much closer to specific design elements and overall spirit of the Peabody Sikyatki bowl than either of the two early Nampeyo bowls shown by Struever.

A short history of Sikyatki pottery:

Perhaps the most definitive typology of ancient Hopi pottery is offered by Kelly Ann Hays (1991:23-48, particularly 45-47). She explains that the “Sikyatki” pottery that inspired Nampeyo is a subcategory of Jeddito Yellow Wares that were made over about a 275-year period, AD 1350 to 1625. Subtypes include (from early to more recent) Awatovi Black-on-Yellow, Jeddito Black on Yellow, Bidahochi Polychrome and Sikyatki Polychrome. The Sikyatki subtype is itself divided into three subcategories: Early (AD 1350-1400), Middle (AD 1375-1450) and Late (AD 1450 – 1625). For another comprehensive discussion of the evolution of Hopi yellow ware pottery, see LeBlanc and Henderson (2009:15-23).

Jeddito was produced near First Mesa, the current pottery producing area on theHopi reservation. Unique to the area are fine, iron-rich marine sedimentary clays, mineral and organic material for paint pigments and a supply of coal for firing (Bishop 1988. Also Hack, 1942). Jeddito ware is the only prehistoric pottery that was coal fired; because of this high-temperature firing Jeddito ware is particularly durable and was traded widely, from what is now California to Kansas.

The style of Sikyatki pottery painting changed over time. The oldest Sikyatki ware displays interior designs that are highly geometric and balanced. ‘Middle’ Sikyatki bowls are dramatically different:

“Decorations are concentrated on the bottoms of bowls, usually contained within a circular framing line….In late Sikyatki polychrome, the designs are even freer. The framing line is usually missing and designs are commonly asymmetrical. The lips of bowls from this period also have a distinctive form (The Arizona State Museum, 1990: Labels for bowls #89-39-6 and #4114).”

“The very formal, precise, angular, geometric compositions of (early Sikyatki) are replaced (in the “middle” period) by the sweeping curvilinear designs of the newer yellow ware. A profusion of naturalistic and abstract animal and plant motifs are used in the new compositions…Particularly favored were abstract birds and bird parts, especially wings, feathers, and tails (Wade and McChesney, 1981:20).”

“Beginning around A.D. 1400 (in the Hopi villages of Awatovi, Kawaika-a and Sikyatki) there was a…trend from rigid, geometric asymmetrical painting to more fluid, loose compositions (Moulard, 2002:168).”

“Toward the end of the 14th century, the interior framing lines on Sikyatki bowls also underwent an evolution, first becoming broader, then dropping the thin secondary line and eventually discontinuing the use of framing lines, leaving the bowl interior unbounded and able to be decorated over the entire surface (A.K. Hayes,1991:46).”

The framing lines on Nampeyo’s bowls, including 1993-04, hark back to the older Sikyatki tradition with a thick framing line over a thin line, her designs reflect the sweeping curvilinear forms of “middle period” Sikyatki pottery.

For Jeddito pottery in this collection, see 1994-15 and 1997-05. For a modern pottery made using ancient Sikyatki materials and design, see pots by Michael Hawley (“Chakaptewa) (2007-03 snd 2019-06) and Bobby Silas (2019-11).

Section #2: The Creation of a Myth:

For more than 100 years, many published reports have credited J. Walter Fewkes’ 1895 excavations of the ancestral village of Sikyatki as the origin of Nampeyo’s interest in Sikyatki pottery designs and thus 1895 was seen as the year the “Sikyatki Revival” was born.  This scenario is inaccurate.  Nampeyo’s interest in historic Hopi design predates Fewkes’ excavation..

Apparently shortly after the establishment of his trading post in 1874, Thomas Keam went into the business of providing Hopi pottery to both tourists and museums. His initiative took two forms: 1) excavating ancient Hopi sites for relics and 2) encouraging the production of Hopi (or Hopi-Tewa) pottery that might appeal to Anglo collectors. [See Graves (1998) for an extensive discussion of Keam; also Wade & McChesney (1980:9-12).  About 1880 Keam commissioned several First Mesa potters to create modern reproductions of seven ancient vessels that he had excavated from prehistoric Hopi village sites. (For a summary of Keam’s impact on Hopi pottery production, see Graves (1998:164-165).

Between 1886 and 1894 Mrs. Mary Hemenway of Boston financed two ethnographic expeditions to the American southwest. In April of 1892 the leader of the Hemenway expedition, Jesse Walter Fewkes, paid Keam $10,000 for a huge collection of Hopi artifacts, including the seven reproductions, their ancient models and bowl 44-13-10/27101 discussed above . In 1894 this material was given to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. It was not until the 1970s that Edwin L. Wade and Lea S. McChesney catalogued the ceramics in this collection. Of the seven reproductions commissioned by Keam in 1880,Wade and McCheskey write that some may “possibly” have been made by Nampeyo. She would have been about 20 years old in 1880 when she made them (Wade & McChesney, 1981: 2 and 455.).  “Fewkes unquestionably knew that Keam and (Alexander) Stephen were commissioning Hopi potters to reproduce copies of ancient wares and the (Hemenway pottery) collection catalogue clearly states that objects were made as museum models (Wade & McChesney, 1980:9).”

Research by Joseph Traugott (1999) found specific evidence documenting Nampeyo’s participation in Keam’s 1880 museum reproduction project. Walter Hough was Fewkes’ assistant during the Hemenway excavations at Hopi in 1896. Traugott has discovered that the catalog card for ceramic jar #158,143 in the National Anthropological Archives reads “written on the base by Dr. Hough: ‘copy of ancient jar in Hemenway coll. by Nampeyo ‘(Traugott, 1999:10).” Traugott concludes that 1) this is direct evidence that Nampeyo participated in the Keam project to reproduce the seven ancient Hopi pots and 2) that Fewkes and Hough “knew that Nampeyo worked from the prehistoric designs in the Keam collection (Traugott, 1999:10).”

Writing in January 1893, Alexander Stephen, an ethnographer living at Hopi, wrote of a nameless potter that “She does not approach Numpe’yo the distinguished Tewa potter, in artistic skill…Like Numpe’yo she tells me she makes her designs after some she has seen on ancient ware…)1936″130).”

In short, we have several sources that prove that Nampeyo was using Sikytki designs on her pottery well before 1895.

Also it needs to be remembered that the ruins of Sikyatki are only a couple of miles from First Mesa and were familiar to the potters of First Mesa. Such sites are marked by literally hundreds of thousands of pottery shards and seeing at least fragments of Sikyatki design must have been an ordinary experience for Nampeyo and other potters.

Nevertheless, writing in The Smithsonian Institution Annual Report, J. Walter Fewkes wrote of his 1895  excavation of the ancestral Hopi village of Sikyatki:

“The best potter of East (First) Mesa, an intelligent woman from Hano named Nampio, acknowledged that her productions were far inferior to those of the women of Sikyatki and she begged permission to copy some of the decorations for future inspiration.  The sight of this dusky woman and her husband copying designs of ancient ware and acknowledging their superiority was instructive in many ways (1896:577).”

Writing in a 1917 volume of American Anthropologist, Walter Hough polished this encounter and highlighted the role of Fewkes::

“It is to the credit of an Indian woman, a native of Hano named Nampeo, that the ancient pottery art of the Hopi has been revived.  The mmanner of this happening is interesting.  Nampeyo’s husband Lesu, a Hopi, worked for Dr. Fewkes on the excavations of Sikyatki, and Nampeo often visited the scene of his labors.  She became very much interested in the beautiful ware which Dr. Fewkes was recovering from the debris of Sikyatki ….(1917:322).”

For about 100 years this statement was interpreted to mean that the revival of Sikyatki-style pottery would not have happened if Fewkes had not led the excavation of Sikyatki in 1895 and allowed Nampeyo and her husband to copy designs off the pots he found (cf Trimble, 1987:91 and 2007:111).  The full text of Hough’s comments are reprinted at the end of the catalog entry for bowl 1993-04.

However, as detailed above, we have evidence that 1) Nampeyo copied ancient vessels for Kean as early as 1880, 2) photographic evidence of Nampeyo using Sikyatki designs in January 1893, 2) a journal entry that same month by Steven saying that Nampeyo used ancient designs and 3) statements by Wade and McChesney (later proven by Traugott’s research) that Nampeyo participated in an 1880 experiment by Thomas Keam to reproduce ancient Hopi pottery. Nampeyo was using Sikyatki designs when Fewkes’s pots were still in the ground.  The myth of Fewkes’ critical role in the development of Sikyatki Revival pottery, like a broken bowl, does not hold water. It may well be true that Fewkws showed Nampeyo excavated ancient ware in 1896, but this was four years after the seminal Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 left Hopi.

Barbara Kramer has perhaps the most balanced comment about the episode:

“”Contrary to (Fewkes’s report), the excavation at Sikyatki in 1895 was not the stimulus for the new pottery style.  It served to energize a revival already begun (1996:60).”

In line with Steven’s report that another potter was also using ancient potttery designs in by 1893, there is some evidence that the “sky band, hanging bird” design on the Peabody Sikyatki bowl was widely known among Hopi or Hopi-Tewa potters during the period 1880-1892. Pot 1999-09 in my collection has all the characteristics of Polacca “D” pottery and displays a fairly simple rendition of the “sky band hanging bird” design. Such Polacca “D” pottery was common from 1890 to 1900. See “Appendix A” for how this bowl fits into the transition from Polacca to Sikyatki Revival pottery.  Sufficient to note here that it was almost certainly made for sale, at Keam’s Trading post. Obviously, either the maker of 1999-09  also was directly inspired by the Peabody Sikyatki bowl or the design had become iconic and was widely known among potters in the 1890s, even if they had not seen the Sikyatki original.

In short he inspirational spark between ancient Hopi pottery and Nampeyo may have occurred when Nampeyo walked the sites of Hopi ancestral villages as a teenager in the 1870s. Or it might have occurred in 1880 when Keam asked her to help reproduce ancient pottery, but Mooney’s photographs are evidence that she was using the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design at least three years before Fewkes’ Sikyatki excavation.  Modeled after the Peabody bowl, bowl 1993-04 in this collection is testomony that the link between Sikyatki and Nampeyo was made before April 1892, when the Keam collection was sold to Fewkes and the Peabody Sikyatki bowl  left Hopi.

Other Sikyatki bowls of similar design:

While Fewkes did not introduce Nampeyo to Sikyatki or specifically the “bird hanging from sky band” design, the Hemenway Expedition’s excavations of Sikyatki in 1895 did uncover at least one other example of an ancient bowl with a variation of the sky band hanging bird design. Published in the 1895-1896 Bureau of American Ethnology Report (Feweks, 1898: plate CXLVI, d facing page 692), the bowl is evaluated by Fewkes as “By far the most beautiful of the many food bowls from Sikyatki and, I believe, the finest piece of prehistoric aboriginal pottery from the United States (693).” Reproduced in color in the original publication, this bowl is a more elaborate version of the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design, with the painting visually filling almost the entire available surface. This lack of negative space will be a central issue when we discuss the development of Nampeyo’s style, below. In the Bureau’s 33rd Report (1911-1912) this same bowl was illustrated in black and white with the design apparently reversed (Fewkes, 1919:249).

Section #3: White Slip, a transition.

As detailed in “Appendix A,” the style of pottery made at Hopi changed radically from about 1875 to 1900.  One change was from the crackled white slip that characterizes Polacca ware to gold-blushed Sikyatki Revival pottery with the design painted directly on the polished body of the vessel (“floated”).  For example compare two pots of roughly the same shape, both  made by Nampeyo about 25 years apart.

Pot 2015-03, ca late 1880’s by Nampeyo

Pot 2005-16, ca 1900-1905 by Nampeyo

White crackled Polacca slip (as on pot 2015-03) was not suddenly replaced by designs painted directly on the polished surface of Sikyatki Revival pots (as on pot 2005-16).  Instead, the crackled white slip gave way to other forms of white slip while simultaneously potters began copying the Sikyatki tradition of “floating” (painting) designs directly on the polished surface of vessels.

Scholars of Nampeyo and Hopi pottery have made isolated comments about Nampeyo’s use of white kaolin slip, but there is no single source of information about her evolving use of different white slips.

Stephen Trimble writes:

“Nampeyo began using Sikyatki shapes and designs on her white-slipped pottery between 1885 and 1890. [He then repeats the erroneous Fewkes’ tale and adds]…By 1900 Nampeyo had fully revived the Sikyatki style, rediscovering the Sikyatki clay sources, abandoning white slip, and was polishing the yellow body clay itself. (1987:91)”

Twenty years later, in the second edition of his book, Trimble reaffirmed these conclusions (2007:111).

Charles Adams curated a comprehensive show about Hopi pottery at the Arizona State Museum 1990—1992. The label for a canteen (Cat #4099) in the exhibit reads:

“Nampeyo’s first efforts in reviving prehistoric Hopi ceramic designs were in the Polacca Polychrome style, marked by the use of a white slip over the yellow clay. By 1910 the use of white slip was discontinued and designs were painted directly on the yellow clay. (Arizona State Museum, 1990:23).”

The best current discussion of Nampeyo’s use of white slip is by Ed Wade in Canvass of Clay (2012) and his comments are integrated into the discussion, below.

My intent in this section is to organize the information we have about the different white slips Nampeyo used and then speculate about her choices.  I believe three styles of white kaolin slip were used by Nampeyo.  All three are represented on pots in this collection. There may be a temporal order in which they were used and this will be discussed shortly, but for now this listing does not imply a timed sequence: a) a crackled white kaolin slip with good coverage, b) a streaked white kaolin slip with intermittent coverage, and c) a smooth, even, stone-polished kaolin slip with good coverage.


A) Crackled white kaolin slip with good coverage:

White kaolin slip crackles because the clay of the core body expands during firing at a rate different than the slip.  This crackled white slip is the hallmark of Polacca ware pottery; bowls 1994-14 and 2011-07 are good examples.  Such pottery generally seems casually made, both in form and design.  Speaking of Polacca C ware, Wade and McChesney write that “Slip appears to have been carelessly rag-wiped and polished (1981:143).”  Except for flaking, the thick crackled slip covers these pots well.  Many Polacca C pots have the same form and design as pots made for home use. Note that most Polacca C pieces in my collection, all of the Polacca D pots, and hundreds of such pots in the Hemenway collection at Harvard show little wear and were probably made for sale to Thomas Keam or other collectors. “Appendix A” reviews this pottery history in greater detail.

Nampeyo was born about 1858; Polacca “C” was the common pottery of her childhood, and presumably this was the type of pottery she was taught to make in the mid-1870’s when she was a teenager.  Examples of Nampeyo Polacca pots with crackled slip are rare and the sole example in my collection is seedjar 2015-03 pictured above.  If you use the hyperlink to go to the catalog entry for 2015-03, please enlarge the photographs.  The thick, crackled, nature of the slip is clear.

In Canvas of Clay Ed Wade comments that:

“…in the 1870’s when (Nampeyo) first began making pottery, she adhered to the tradition of applying a thick white kaolin clay slip to the surface of a vessel, which crazed during firing….(Speaking of tiles made by Nampeyo) Technically the earliest works are Polacca Polychromes, fired in a coal burning atmosphere, possessing a thick kaolin surface slip….By the mid-1890s she replaced the crazed Polacca slip with a pure non-crazing kaolin slip similar to that which she used on her revival Black on white jars and bowls. (Wade and Cooke, 2012: 128 and 133).”

In short, Nampeyo, like the other potters of her day, used a crackled kaolin slip with good coverage on her earliest pots in the 1870’s  and continued to do so during the 1880’s when she was experimenting with a variety of pueblo designs.  By the mid-1890s she had invented a smooth, non-crazing white slip and was using it on at least her tiles.


B) White kaolin slip with intermittent, streaked coverage:

Of the three styles of kaolin slip used by Nampeyo, this is the most difficult to discuss because the characteristics seem most elusive and variable.  “Intermittent coverage,” after all, is a matter of degree and opinion.  Examples are rare, so we do not have a broad base of data.

Take a look at pots 2014-06 and 1990-03 in this collection.  Both are Polacca C stew bowls, one probably made for home use and the other probably made to sell to a trader.  Both have kaolin slip, but the coverage on both is intermittent.  On 2014-06 this might be attributed to wear, since I believe the bowl was used by a Hopi family.  Bowl 1990-03, however, seems to have been made for the market and never used, but it has a intermittent slip very similar to bowl 2014-06.  I simply do not know enough to decide if the irregular slip coverage on these two pots was evident when these pots were new or is an indication of use or misuse..

However an unambiguous example of  “white kaolin slip with intermittent, streaked coverage”  in this collection is bowl 1993-04, the focus of this essay.  I ask you to hyperlink to its catalog entry (1993-04)  and enlarge the photographs to see its white slip in detail.  The streaks of missing kaolin on this bowl are not due to wear: the bowl was made for sale and not indigenous use and  collector who bought it did not scrape the kaolin through misuse since the design painted on the kaolin slip is intact.

So how might we understand the white slip on bowl 1993-04?  Why is it so irregular and streaked?

While the finish is unusual, I have located three other bowls with the same finish. Interestingly all three have versions of the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design seen on bowl 1993-04.  The most similar slip to 1994-03 is seen in a photograph of Nampeyo bowls published  by Jerry Jacka in the book  Pottery Treasure.  These pots are “thought to have been made between 1895 and 1910 (Gill, 1976:21).”  The design on the bowl in the left background of Jacka’s photograph carries the familiar abstract Sikyatki bird motif bowl but lacks the tadpole element and has a smaller and simpler bird element than on my pot. The Jacka pot seems to use the same three colors (red, black and brown) used on my pot. As on my bowl, the neck arc ends with a simple prayer-feather design.  Most importantly, the pot has the same irregular, streaked kaolin slip as bowl 1993-04.

At the beginning of this essay I referenced a photograph of two bowls published by Marti Struever (2001:29) that carry elaborate versions of the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design.  “These have the thick white slip characteristic of Polacca Polychrome,” Struever wrote.  Clearly the slip on both bowls is streaked and intermittent, as on bowl 1993-04. Marti believed these bowls were made about the same time that James Mooney took the first photograph of Nampeyo working, 1893.  Having not examined these two bowls directly, I do not know if the streaked slip is thick, as Struever says, or thinner than the crazed Polacca slip.

The final example of a pot with this irregular kaolin finish is a bowl that  Andrea Fisher had for sale in 2003.  She evaluated this bowl  as an “early Nampeyo” given that it is quite similar to the bowls published by Struever.   Later this same bowl was available for purchase in Steve Elmore’s gallery. I was able to examine the bowl in both locations. Like the Jacka and Struever bowls, this bowl was dated circa 1893.

Of the four bowls with a white kaolin slip with intermediate, streaked coverage, my bowl 1993-04 is closest in design to Peabody Sikyatki bowl # #44-13-10/27101. I have conservatively dated bowl 1993-04 as made “ca 1895-1910.”  Given the dates estimated for the three other bowls with similar slip and design, an attribution closer to the beginning of that estimate might be warranted.

I have handled bowl 1993-04 and the bowl for sale by Fisher/Elmore. Both are even and well-made.  It’s difficult to judge from a photograph, but the two bowls published in the Struever bowl also look well-made.  The painting on the two Struever bowls is not as carefully executed as the painting on bowl 1993-04, but the brushwork is “good” and the designs on the bowls complex and well-organized.  Given these standards, why is the slip so imperfect?  At this point my discussion becomes conjecture based on supposition and only slight evidence and thus may well be in error.

Here’s what I think:  I’ve been looking for examples of this irregular slip since I bought bowl 1993-04 almost a quarter of a century ago and have discovered only three additional examples.  Probably there are more pots with this slip out there, but I am convinced that this slip is particularly rare.  Thus I do not think it is a unique slip that Nampeyo used over a period of time.  If it was a particular slip that Nampeyo used for even a short period –say 5 years– more examples would be available. I think this slip is very similar to the first slip (“crackled white kaolin slip with good coverage”) but Nampeyo watered this slip down and applied with with a sheep-skin  or a cloth in perhaps with only one pass to get the irregular coverage.  One sentence in Barbara Kramer’s carefully-researched book supports this supposition: “Nampeyo frequently applied a thin slip of white clay to the surface with a swab of wool, and the pot was set aside again to dry (Kramer, 1996:72).”  Notice that Kramer mentions that Nampeyo’s slip was “thin,” though I don’t know how much reliance to place on the single reference.

I can think of two reasons why Nampeyo thinned the slip and applied the slip in one layer.  First, she was using the ancient Sikyatki bowl as a model and saw that it did not have a crackled finish.  Trying to reproduce this  look given her Polacca-slip training, she avoided the traditional thick layer of slip that would craze.  The slip on these four bowls was kept intentionally  thin, perhaps applied with only one swipe of a rag,  and therefore coverage was incomplete and streaked.  Slight evidence for this argument is provided byNampeyo  vessel 2017-04 “Tray with Polacca-syle Polik’Mana interior and Sikyatki Revival exterior.”  The interior of the tray is 19th century in origin, a Polik’Mana painted on a white slip, except that here the white slip has been watered down so it is gossamer-like and not crackled (though also not intermittent and streaked).  This is at least  evidence that Nampeyo sometimes used a watered-down kaolin slip.

A second reason for the incomplete, streaked slip is suggested by the fact thst all four examples have variations of the same design.  Perhaps Nampeyo was so eager to experiment with this design that she was unconcerned with the slip beneath it.  As will be detailed below, we know that Nampeyo was much enamored with the “bird-hanging-from-sky-band” design; she made probably hundreds of versions during her design career.  Having seen the Peabody Sikyatki bowl before it left the reservation in 1882, she might have been excited to create a series of such bowls in order to play with the design, without much focus on the slip beneath the design.

Many evaluations of Nampeyo’s work comment on her genius, but they also depict aa artist with a fierce inner aesthetic that drove her to experiment for her own fun without much regard for the demands of the market. As a result, the Blairs note, sometimes beautiful designs were painted on poorly-formed pots:

“Several of (these) pottery pieces attributed to Nampeyo…can best be described as poorly formed and polished, but beautifully decorated…One gets the impression that these forms were hurriedly made to allow the artist to move on quickly to the more interesting and pleasant task of painting her newly inspired designs…[Fig 2.24 shows] Two crudely formed pottery pieces (that) illustrate what appears to be a period when Nampeyo emphasized painted design over pottery structure, although it is possible that they were formed by other family members…(The pots) are painted with) well-exicuted and masterful designs (1999:83).”

An example of this in the collection is pot 2012-08, “Handled pitcher with polychrome foxes.”  As suggest by the Blairs, this is a thick-walled and crudely-formed pitcher carrying a wonderful, carefully-painted design. A similar process might have been going on when, given the excitement of a wonderful “bird-hanging-from-sky-band” Sikyatki bowl,  Nampeyo experimented with variations of this design on well-formed bowls but had little interest in the slip beneath.  Again there is evidence for this logic in this collection in the form of 2018-04, “Small bowl with maiden image.”  The bowl is crudely formed, the interior kaolin slip casually-applied and one design is painted without much attention.  However one side of the jar has been sanded flat, carefully covered with a white slip and carries an exquisite image of a Hopi maiden.  Again we see Nampeyo treating different sections of a bowl with different degrees of attention because she was excited by a particular design.

My two suggestions may be complementary.  Nampeyo may have watered down that kaolin slip on bowl 1993-04 to avoid the crackly of a thick slip and still not been as focused on the quality of the slip as she was by the excitement of playing with the bird-hanging from-sky-band design.  I emphasize that such explanations are just suppositions based on thin evidence, but they are the best I can come up with having though about the issue for about 25 years.


C) Smooth stone-polished kaolin slip with good coverage:

The University of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania owns a Nampeyo pot that, again, is simpler than the design of my bowl (Brody, 1990:Plate 21). The Pennsylvania bowl lacks the tadpole images and more of the bird design is simply filled in by the cream background than is true on bowl 1993-04. Two parallel secondary arches sweep back with the neck/head image, in contrast to the one image on my pot. However, a three-lobed butterfly-like design element appears on both bowls, and on both the terminating design on the neck arc is a simple prayer feather. External glyph designs on the bowls consist of variations of a double- triangle butterfly-like figure. found on my bowlThe Pennsylvania bowl was made circa 1900: Unlike Sikyatki wares and those made later by Nampeyo (Hano Polychrome), the vessel is covered with a white clay slip. The slip on the Pennsylvania bowl is more regular than the slip on the Jacka- illustrated pot or my bowl.

A second Nampeyo bowl of very similar design to mine was also collected by Dr. Barrett in 1911 and is illustrated in Ashton (1976:28). An 8 X 10 color photograph of this pot from the Milwaukee Public Museum’s photo archive department is on file with my collection (Catalog number 7975/3101; photo negative number A-536-B and A.) According to Aileen Egan, Anthropology Intern at the Museum, their bowl is 7.5 cm in height and 23.5 cm in diameter (2.953” h X 9.25” w), somewhat smaller than my bowl. She writes that “the designs on the (interior of the Milwaukee) bowl are painted in the usual black and dark red colors. The dark red color is also found underneath the black design. I am unsure as to whether the dark red was applied before or after the black pigment.”Judging from the photograph, the bowl appears to have a fine white slip on the interior. This underlay of red is not evident in the 8 X 10 photo. It is clear, however, that the third (brown) color used on my bowl is absent. According to Ms. Egan, “Dr. Barrett shipped 131 boxes of specimens weighing a total of 8,426 pounds to the museum; however there is no information readily available on specific artifacts” (letter 6/25/93). While at Hopi Dr. Barrett took a series of photographs of Nampeyo making pottery, from the gathering of clay to the firing of the pots. Eight of these photographs are published in Schwartz (1969); eleven photographs from this series were published by Way (1977).

A bowl in The American Museum of Natural History has the same general design as 1993-04 but is not identified as by Nampeyo. The bowl has her signature extra-coil rim, however, as well as the confident painting indicative of her work. However, it lacks the tadpole and “butterfly” design elements seen in 1993-04. The design does not appear to be floated on the clay body; instead Nampeyo seems to have used a smooth white slip quite unlike the rough white slip on 1993-04. (AMNH catalogue number 50.2/6584.)


There is no single authority who has studied the use of white slip on Sikyatki Revival pottery. A series of people, however, have briefly commented on the issue and their collective wisdom might give us some insight into the position of bowl 1993-04 in the development of Nampeyo’s career.

Steve Elmore saw only the photograph of 1993-04 on the collection website, but on the basis of his experience handling Nampeyo pots, he judges that 1993-04 was probably made between 1895 and 1900. (Conversation, July 2005.)

Other authorities suggest that the discontinuance of white slip on Sikyatki Revival pottery occurred later.

In 1994, I had a chance to discuss bowl 1993-04 with Robert Ashton, whom I met in Robert Gallegos’ gallery in Albuquerque. Working from a color picture of 1993-04, Ashton quickly identified the Nampeyo bowl: “I’ve handled perhaps a hundred like it,” he said. “This design was done mostly between 1895 and 1910, 1900 to 1910 being the most common period. A collapse of the mesa precluded Nampeyo from the white-slip beds used at Sikyatki. Instead she used this white slip from Coyote Wells over on Second Mesa, where her family had a sheep ranch. With two or three coats of this white slip, the surface came out fairly smooth, but often she used only one coat, giving the rough finish on your pot.” Aston added that this Sikyatki bird design was done concurrent with the period that Nampeyo used the Coyote Wells slip, 1895-1910, 1900 to 1910 most common. According to Ashton, by about 1912 or as late as 1916, Nampeyo was largely blind, a date earlier than the early 1920s date usually cited in the literature. (Conversation on 5/27/94.) Ashton’s reference to Coyote Wells as the source of white slip is confirmed by Harry C. James (1956:161): “The paints used are…white, from a white clay free from iron, found at a place near Coyote Springs.”

Based on the opinions of these four authorities, combined with Rick Dillingham’s estimate of age, I conclude that 1993-04 likely was made during the years 1895-1910, at the height of Nampeyo’s painting career and less than ten years before she went functionally blind.

Taken together, the comments made by Dillingham in the appraisal of 1993-04 and Ashton’s verbal comments might offer some insight about the use of a rough white slip on Nampeyo bowls during the 1893-1910 period. I also draw on the ideas of Dwight Williams, a Nampeyo scholar, pottery trader, and eBay friend.

If Nampeyo used white slip concurrently with the production of pottery with a floated design, why was white slip used at all?

Perhaps, Williams suggests, the use of slip was a function of the quality of the clay used to construct the body of the pot. When high-grade fine-particle clay was available, the design could be floated directly on the polished surface of the pot (Hano Polychrome) or a fine slip made from the clay used for the body could be applied and then polished (Sikyatki Revival ware). When only lower-grade clay was available for construction of a pot, the pot would need a slip to hide the coarse underbody before the decoration could be applied. In this case Nampeyo drew on her Polacca ware experience and applied a white kaolin surface, as on 1993-04. (Personal communication, July 2006.)

When Nampeyo used white slip it is often regular and unblemished. What accounts for white slipped pots with an irregular finish, as on 1993-04?

As both Dillingham and Ashton suggest, Nampeyo made many bowls with variations of the sky band hanging bird design: Ashton says he had handled 100 or more; Dillingham notes they were “frequently” made for tourists and bought by the Fred Harvey Company, often for sale at the Hopi House, Grand Canyon.

Apparently the white kaolin slip was applied using sheep fleece. Ashton suggested that one swipe or so would produce an irregular white finish, as on 1993-04. Multiple careful swipes, perhaps followed by smoothing with a polishing stone would produce the more common smooth white finish.

It is all my speculation, but perhaps the use of white slip by Nampeyo or the quality of the white slip finish is simply a matter of time. Using a quick, irregular white slip would reduce the time needed to stone polish the interior of any bowl, independent of the quality of the clay body. When rushed by a large order from the Harvey Co. or other demands of the market, she may have settled for one swipe of kaolin, left the slip unpolished, and produced the irregular white finish exhibited on 1993-04. Alternatively, when Nampeyo needed to use a white slip because of the course texture of the clay body and had the time, she may have applied multiple coats of white kaolin slip, used a polishing stone, and created a smooth finish.

In January 2008 Ed Wade evaluated a small shallow dish for Adobe Gallery. He identifies the maker as Nampeyo and evidence suggests it was made between 1900 and 1906. He concludes: “An interesting and historically intriguing trait of the bowl is the treatment of the bottom. Only part of the surface is kaolin slipped, while in the other portion is seen the actual clay body heavily stone polished. We know that around the time of this vessel’s construction Nampeyo was experimenting with perfecting a non-crazing kaolin ship that would more closely replicate the surface of ancient Black-on-white pottery. Could this have been one of her first attempts?”

In summary, the “sky band hanging bird” design on 1993-04 was directly adopted form ancient Sikyatki pottery. The use of white slip on this pot represents a transition period in Nampeyo’s ceramic production between Polacca polychrome and the more modern Hano/Sikyatki Revival ware. What might be said about the impact of this ancient design on the development of Nampeyo’s distinctive design style?

Section #4: The Impact of the “Sky Band Hanging Bird” on the Development of Nampeyo’s Style:

Nampeyo and the “sky band, hanging bird” design:

It may well be that Nampeyo’s use of ancient designs to inspire her work was not due to a single contact with a “great” ancient pot. Nevertheless, Nampeyo was much taken by the design on 1993-04 and it became a central motif of Nampeyo’s work and Sikyatki Revival pottery from at least 1893 until somewhere between 1917 and 1920. Shortly after Barrett assembled a collection for the Milwaukee Museum in 1911, Nampeyo’s eyesight began to fail dramatically. Certainly by 1920 she was functionally blind and no longer painting pottery (Judd, 1951). Robert Ashton believed she was largely blind by as early as 1912, but certainly by 1916 (conversation, 1994). Thus during all or nearly all of her career painting Sikyatki Revival pottery, Nampeyo painted the “sky-band hanging bird” design on 1993-04. The impact of the Sikyatki “hanging sky band bird” design on the development of Nampeyo’s style is discussed below.

Pictures of Nampeyo with versions of the “hanging bird” design on 1993-04 are common. For example, a 1900 picture by Curtis of Nampeyo pottery shows the design (Blairs, 1999:156). An original copy of this image by Curtis is part of my collection. Earlier I quoted Robert Ashton’s 1994 response to seeing an image of bowl 1993-04: “I’ve handled perhaps a hundred like it.” In the quarter century since he made that remark, I have not handled 100 such pots, but I have seen photographs of probably 100 examples of bowls by Nampeyo with the “bird hanging from sky band” design.  Here are nine:

  1. At least two Nampeyo bowls of similar design to mine were collected by Dr. Samuel A. Barrett for the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1911. The first is a bowl illustrated in the Mitchell Indian Museum Catalogue (Collins, 1974:plate 2), and includes crosses with the tadpole elements, has one less left lobe, adds an attached triangular element in place of the “butterfly” design, and terminates using a different set of “prayer feather” elements, but is essentially similar to my bowl. I do not know if the bowl is slipped.
  2. According to Barbara Kramer (letter of 11/22/97 concerning 1993-04), a bowl similar to 1993-04 but without tadpoles was collected by Hough in 1895 and is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
  3. Joseph Traugott cites the example of a bowl with the sky band hanging bird design that was apparently made by Nampeyo, purchased by Horace Poley in 1908 and given by him to the Colorado Springs Museum. From the rough sketch presented, its design seems much like the 1903 George Pepper bowl, above. There is no evidence indicating if the design is floated on the clay body or if a slip was used (Traugott,1999:11 and 15)

A number of other pots in the collection use variations of the design on 1993-04; see “Bird hanging from sky band” in the Category listing.

What effect might this Sikyatki design have had on the development of Nampeyo’s talents? The discussion must remain speculative, but nevertheless, it may be productive.
A Background on Stylistic Changes in Jeddito Ware:



Sikyatki and the Development of the Nampeyo Aesthetic:

Earlier, I established that Nampeyo was familiar with the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101, used this Sikyatki pot as a model for bowl 1993-04 in my collection, and continued to use this sky band hanging bird design over much of her productive painting career, from at least 1893 to 1911.

What has not been considered is how the frequent repetition of this design might have influenced the development of Nampeyo’s distinctive style.

The “eagle tail” design on a low-shouldered jar is the iconographic Nampeyo pot. Such a jar is part of this collection (2005-16). The catalog entry for 2005-16 discusses the design elements of Nampeyo’s painting style; I will not repeat that detailed discussion here. To summarize, characteristic of Nampeyo’s designs are:

  1. A tension between linear and curvilinear elements, often represented as a contrast between heavy and delicate elements.
  2. A deliberate asymmetry of design.
  3. The use of color to integrate design elements.
  4. The use of empty (negative) space to frame the painted image.
  5. The use of a thick above a thin framing line on the interior rim of her bowls.
  6. Confident, bold, and impulsive painting

All six of these elements are present in the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and I suspect that the frequent renditions of this ancient design trained Nampeyo’s eye and hand into her distinctive “Nampeyo style.”

On the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101:

  1. The linear feathered body (?) of the bird contrasts sharply with the curvilinear neck (?) element it supports. The upward flow of the tadpoles contradicts the crosswise thrust of the body.
  2. The rectangular design of the central body core, the floating “butterfly” element and the red-winged elements at the “head” of the neck are symmetrical. The overall design image, however, is dramatically asymmetrical.
  3. While busy, the design elements are unified by the use of red paint: Visually the two red “wings” near the head and the square design in the “neck” are tied to the red skyband, thus integrating the overall image.
  4. Much of the design is drawn near the “bottom” of the bowl, near the skyband, leaving significant areas of the “top” of the bowl empty, This negative space highlights the design.
  5. Unlike later Sikyatki bowls, the design on #44-13-10/27101 is framed by a thick top and thin lower rim lines. These appear to contain a break line, which was not characteristic of Nampeyo’s work.
  6. The painting on this Sikyatki bowl is bold and confident.

All the distinctive elements of Nampeyo’s mature style are contained in an ancient bowl that she first copied as a young woman.

The idea of deliberately copying the work of a great master to perfect one’s own talent is not new: Students of painting often copy the paintings of Old Masters; young fiction writers have been known to copy by hand the books of established writers. The intent is to internalize mastery by training the hand, eye and ear to know greatness.

It may be that when she first saw Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and copied a version of its sky band hanging bird design onto her own pottery, Nampeyo did not intend to absorb the aesthetic lessons of a great ancient pot. Nevertheless, she did, and became a ceramicist of genius.

Such sensibility is mostly intangible and a matter of the viewer’s perception. Nevertheless, the Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101 and some other great Sikyatki ceramics also seem to share this bold, fluid and confident brushwork. Perhaps this, too, was an ancient gift to the young Hopi-Tewa girl born in Hano who practiced an ancestral design.