This essay addresses four aspects of bowl 1993-04 and does so in four sections. The bowl has a pivotal position in this collection because:
1) The design helps us establish an aesthetic link between Nampeyo and a specific ancient Sikyatki bowl and helps us date this link. (Section #1)
2) It helps us refute an often-told tale that J. Walter Fewkes was primarily responsible for Nampeyo’s adaptation of Sikyatki forms and design. (Section #2)
3) Its unusual white slip helps us better understand the sequence of kaolin slips used by Nampeyo. (Section #3)
4) A comparison of the designs on the ancient bowl and on bowl 1993-04 suggest how Nampeyo learned design strategies that she developed into her signature Sikyatki Revival style. (Section #4)
Some of the material in this Appendix is mentioned in the catalog entry for bowl 1993-04, but the extended discussion is reserved for this essay.
Section #1: 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 images of this bowl, see Wade & McChesney, 1980:31; Wade & McChesney, 1981: 23 & 24; Wyckoff, 1985:Plate 2; Struever, 2001:29; LeBlanc and Henderson, 2009: 11.
As you can see, 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.
One small detail is difficult to see in these photographs, but convinces me that Nampeyo must have been looking directly at this ancient bowl as she drew the design on bowl 1993-04. Above the red lunette of Nampeyo’s bowl is a base with three black-tipped feathers drawn to the left and a similar set to the right. Notice that the top edge of the top feather on the left extends past the feather, seemingly an impulsive error. The same extra line is seen on the bottom edge of the bottom feather of the right set. There seems to be no reason for Nampeyo to have drawn these “extra” extended lines. Then look closely at the ancient Sikyatki bowl: exactly the same lines extend from the top and bottom feathers of the three corners of the design that are visible in the photograph, also seemingly unnecessary. Precisely because these lines play such an insignificant role in the overall design, they are strong proof that Nampeyo was focused on the ancient bowl as she designed her own.
Thus bowl 1993-04 is evidence of the direct influence of ancient Sikyatki design on Nampeyo’s development as an artist.
The bowl 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 nine 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 ‘ (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 (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 non-Native 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 potters. 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. This is how Nampeyo explained the source of her designs to anthropologist Ruth Bunzel:
“When I first began to paint, I used to go the the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint. But now I just close my eyes and see the designs and paint them (1929:56).”
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).”
The full text of Hough’s comments are reprinted in Appendix C. Barbara Kramer, however, points out that Hough was not present at the Sikyatki excavation and wrote his comments 22 years after that work was completed (1996:190). 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). Here’s one example from a The Philbrook Art Center:
“In 1896 the Peabody Museum at Harvard excivated the prehistoric Hopi village of Sikyatki…Nampeyo picked up potshards and copied their prehistoric designs on her pottery (1958:’Hopi,’ no page number.)”
However, as detailed above, we have evidence that 1) Nampeyo said that she learned to paint from the shards of ancient pottery she found, 2) Nampeyo copied ancient vessels for Keam as early as 1880, 3) by January 1893 Nampeyo was photographed using Sikyatki designs on her pottery, 4) Stephen wrote a journal entry that same month that Nampeyo was using ancient designs and 5) Wade and McChesney believed that Nampeyo participated in an 1880 experiment by Thomas Keam to reproduce ancient Hopi pottery, a conclusion later documented by Traugott. 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.
Probably the inspirational spark between ancient Hopi pottery and Nampeyo occurred when Nampeyo walked the sites of Hopi ancestral villages as a teenager in the 1870s. Perhaps Nampeyo first used ancient designs 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 20 years apart.
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).”
By the end of Section #3 I will have convinced myself that Charles Adams offers the best assessment. 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 her tiles and a similar slip on pots.
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 bowl 1993-04. 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?
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 unique 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 only one pass using a sheep-skin or a cloth . 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. Luckily, a second, confirming, source is available.
On May 27, 1994 I had a chance to speak with Robert Ashton about bowl 1993-04. Ashton is the author of the first comprehensive article on Nampeyo (1976). Working from a photograph, Ashton said that the white slip on my bowl was likely from a deposit at Coyote Wells on Second Mesa, where the Nampeyo family had a sheep ranch. He then added a comment central to our concern:
“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.”
Karmer’s and Ashton’s comments give me confidence that this discussion of intermittent, streaked kaolin slip has come to a reasonable conclusion.
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 so it would not crackle and therefore coverage was irregular and streaked. Slight evidence for this argument is provided by Nampeyo vessel 2017-04 “Tray with Polacca-syle Polik’Mana interior and Sikyatki Revival exterior.” The design on 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 concern about 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, sometimes without much regard for the demands of the market. The Blairs write that 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).”
One 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. There is evidence for this logic in this collection in the form of pot 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, very carefully covered with a white slip and carries an exquisite image of a Hopi maiden. Again we see Nampeyo treating different aspects of creating a pot with different degrees of attention because she was excited by a particular design. On bowl 1993-04 the slip may have been the least engaging of the production process given her excitement about the painted design, thus the slip was applied without much concern for quality.
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 thought about the issue for about 25 years.
Note: Pot #33 in the Cooke collection “A Black on white Prehistoric Revival Bowl by Nampeyo, ca 1890” has an intermittent kaolin slip that has some similarity to the slip on bowl 1993-04. Ed Wade writes of bowl #33 that its “matt kaolin slip is also un-Hopi and is influenced by prehistoric ceramics (Wade and Cooke, 2012:144).” This is the only reference to such a slip that I know of, so I know little about it. I’m not sure, for example, why the slip is described as distinctivly “matt” (sp) since traditional Polacca slips were not stone polished and thus all had a matte finish. Ed’s comment may shed light on the slip on bowl 1993-04, but all I know is the short phrase quoted here.
C) Smooth stone-polished kaolin slip with good coverage:
In contrast to the slip just discussed, the appearance of a “smooth stone-polished kaolin slip with good coverage” is clear and distinctive. Once again documented early purchases of Nampeyo pots provide crucial evidence about Nampeyo’s evolving white slip.
Jar #29 in the Cooke collection is labeled “Polacca Polychrome, Style D.” Based on a stylistic analysis and its coal firing, Ed Wade believes that jar #29 was made by Nampeyo and was directly inspired by an ancient Sikyatki jar in the Keam Collection at Harvard, just as my bowl 1993-04 was directly inspired by the Sikyatki bowl in the same collection. About the slip on Jar #29, Wade writes that “The slip is not…technically true Polacca since there is little crackle in the kaolin. This pure white slip is something that Nampeyo perfected in the mid 1890’s (Wade and Cooke, 2012:137).” The slip on jar #29 is smooth, but it is not polished. The Keam collection, including the ancient Sikyatki pot which served as a model for jar #29, left Hopi in April 1892, evidence that Nampeyo had developed a smooth kaolin slip before that date. Wade believes that jar #29 was produced ca 1880-1885, obviously seven to twelve years before its ancient model left Hopi.
Another pot in the Cooke Collection has a smooth white slip and (again) is dated by Wade as “ca. 1880-1885” (Wade and Cooke, 2012:36). The slip on this pot is polished. These early dates are certainly possible, but I do not know how Wade arrived at his estimate.
Cooke collection bowl #31 has “a finely processed white non-crazing Kaolin slip, highly polished” which is “a variant of Polacca Polychrome…(except here) the white kaolin slip surfacing the vessel is not crazed…(This) pure wash of kaolin slip is an important styalistic trait since it was Nampeyo who perfected its application…Around 1890…(Nampeyo) began experimenting with a pure kaolin slip which first appeared on her interpretative reproductions of prehistoric Black on white wares and later decorative tiles (Wade and Cooke, 2012:131 and 140).” Wade estimates this bowl was made ca. 1890
Similarly, a Polacca bowl is item #32 in the Cooke Collection and is described by Ed Wade as having ” a finely processed white non-crazing Kaolin slip,” and “a polished cream-white kaolin slip” (Wade and Cooke, 2012:142) and the jar characterized as having been made ca 1895.
We have documented evidence that Nampeyo was using smooth, stone-polished white slips by 1896. In that year Walter Hough, working for the Bureau of American Ethnography, bought 7 pots from Nampeyo. They are the earliest documented vessels by her that we have. A photograph of one of these vessels is reprinted by Marti Struever. The jar is large, 16.5-inches high, and Hough wrote on the bottom “[Copy] of an ancient jar in the Hemenway coll. by Nampeo (Struever, 2001:30).” This is likely one of the jars that Keam asked potters at Hopi to make as reproductions of ancient ware. As such, it is another direct link between ancient pottery and Nampeyo’s evolving style. Nampeyo’s jar is monochromatic: an intricate black designs on a smooth white slip. Speaking of the Hough Nampeyo jar, Wade says it “exhibits a polished cream-white kaolin slip” like jar #32 in the Cooke collection (Wade and Cooke, 2012:142).
In short, four bowls by Nampeyo in the Cooke Collection carry a smooth kaolin slip with good coverage and the slip on three of them has been polished. The four are estimated by Ed Wade to have been made between 1880 and 1895. Certainly somewhere during this range of 15 years Nampeyo began using this non-crazing kaolin slip. The jar collected by Hough confirms that Nampeyo was using smooth, stone-polished kaolin slip with good coverage by 1896.
Two pots in my collection are likely by Nampeyo and are finished with a smooth, stone-polished kaolin with good coverage. Interestingly they both carry Harvey Co. labels “From the Hopi Villages.” I am confident that Nampeyo both formed and painted jar 2015-12 “Lobed white-slipped jar with feather motifs.” The jar is marked in pen as having been purchased in 1917 in Albuquerque, probably at the Harvey Co.’s Alvalardo Hotel. Its lobed shape is unusual –close to unique– among pots made at Hopi. Having handled the jar, Ed Wade thinks that it was probably made about 1903 to 1905 and did not sell well because of its “odd” shape (for a Hopi pot) and because Nampeyo’s golden-blushed Sikyatki Revival pottery was more popular.
I am less certain of the maker of white-slipped bowl 2013-17, “Small kaolin bowl with eroded man eagle design.” Having seen a Nampeyo bowl with a very similar design at the Denver Art Museum, I somewhat hesitantly attribute my bowl to Nampeyo. I labeled this bowl “eroded” because mineral paints do not adhere well to the slick polished kaolin surface and thus the design is substantially worn. Ed Wade handled this bowl and believes that, given the particular color of the white slip, the kaolin clay came from a deposit on a Nampeyo family farm at Coyote Wells that was not available after about 1910. Thus he estimated its age as the first decade of the 20th century.
From this evidence, what can we say about when Nampeyo began to apply a smooth kaolin slip to her pottery? Ed Wade’s discussion of the pots in the Cooke Collection suggest that Nampeyo was using an unpolished kaolin slip that did not crackle as early as 1880–1885 and may have started polishing the slip at about the same time. By 1890 he reports a non-crackling kaolin slip that is polished and we have the definitive example of this treatment in the Nampeyo vase purchased by Hough in 1896. The two non-crackled. polished Nampeyo pots in my collection were likely made during the first decade of the 20th century. The “From the Hopi Villages” black bordered labels found on both my polished kaolin slip pots certify they were sold by the Harvey Co. after 1900.
Why did Nampeyo stop using white slip?
Both the smooth kaolin-slipped pots and Sikyatki Revival pots need to be stone polished, a time-consuming process. In contrast, Sikyatki Revival pots are not slipped: their design painted directly on the polished surface. Thus kaolin-slipped pots take more time and effort than Sikyatki Revival pots. Moreover, as we see on bowl 2013-17, the design does not adhere as well on the slick white slip as it does when painted directly on the unslipped clay body. Finally, the publicity around Nampeyo emphasized her recreation of Sikyatki yellowware and not white ware and thus I speculate that demand for her yellowware was greater than for her white-slipped pots. Because 1) white-slipped pots took more time to produce, because 2) the designs on the smooth white slip tended to easily wear off, and 3) because Nampeyo’s renown depended on her recreation of Sikyatki yellowware, I believe Nampeyo gradually reduced her production of white-slipped ware by 1900 and then stopped making white-slipped pottery by 1910. This assessment is in line with that offered by Charles Adams at the beginning of Section #3.
To summarize this long section of Nampeyo and kaolin slips, I think the thick crackled white slip of Nampeyo’s youth was gradually replaced during the late 1880’s to mid-1890’s with a thinner, generally polished white slip. The “white kaolin slip with intermittent, streaked coverage” on bowl 1993-04 is so unusual that I think it reflects Nampeyo’s eagerness to get to painting the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design and her disinterest in the quality of her slip on those bowls. I believe the slip on bowl 1993-04 is simply a thin, quick coating of the traditional kaolin slip and is not technically different than the earlier slip, except in its quick and indifferent application.
Section #4: The Impact of the “Sky Band Hanging Bird” design on the development of Nampeyo’s style.
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 cited a portion of Ashton’s comments above, but here is the whole statement:
“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 coata of this white slip, the surface came out fairly smooth, but often she used only one coat, giving the rough finish on your pot (Conversation in Robert Gallegos’ gallery, Albuquerque, 5-27-94).”
Ashton added that the bird-hanging-from-sky-band design was done concurrent with the period that Nampeyo used the Coyote Wells slip, 1895–1910, 1900 to 1910 being most common. Ashton added that Nampeyo was functionally blind by 1912 or 1916 at the latest, a date earlier than the 1920 date cited in the literature. [Ashton’s reference to Coyote Wells as the source of the kaolin is confirmed by Harry C. James: “The paints used are…white, from a white clay free from iron, found at a place near Coyote Springs (1956:161).”]
I have not found as many examples of the “bird-hanging-from-sky band” bowls with the irregular kaolin slip as Aston suggests, but his comment that he has handled “perhaps a hundred” Nampeyo bowls with this design may well be accurate. A range of museums include such pots in their collection and I have seen others for sale in galleries, auction houses or on Ebay.
Nampeyo probably painted pottery for about 45 years, roughly 1875 (as a teenager) to 1920 (when she was too blind to paint). The process of making a pot, from digging the clay to firing is not linear, but even if she averaged just one pot a day, she would have made more than 16,000 pots in her lifetime. Of course I don’t think this number is an actual count, but it does indicate that Robert Ashton’s estimate that he handled a 100 of her “bird/skyband” pots is within reason. From the frequency that I see such pots for sale, I’m guessing she drew this design hundreds of times during her career.
How might the frequent repetition of this design have influenced the development of Nampeyo’s distinctive style?
I believe by repetitively drawing versions of the design on the Peabody Sikyatki bowl, Nampeyo’s eye and hand internalized 6 design strategies present on the ancient bowl. Later, the 6 strategies learned from this one design became broadly applied to the wide range of designs that Nampeyo developed over her career and allowed her artistic genius to flourish. For example, these design techniques are found on jar 2005-16, an “eagle tail” seedpot (Nampeyo’s most iconic shape and design) even though the pot’s seedpot form and painted design at first glance seem to have little in common with a bowl carrying the “bird-hanging-from-sky-band” design. For a discussion of eagle-tail jar 2005-16 and Nampeyo design strategies, see the catalog entry for that jar.
I reprint the same two images that are at the beginning of this essay so you can visually follow this next section of discussion. Click on a photograph to enlarge or you can go to the catalog entry for bowl 1993-04 for its full range of photographs.
A detailed analysis of the design on bowl 1993-04 is available in the catalog entry for the bowl. I will not repeat that discussion here. This section will highlight the design strategies that the ancient Sikyatki bowl and bowl 1993-04 share. Both bowls have:
A tension of design, often between linear and curvilinear elements and often represented as a contrast between heavy and delicate elements.
The Sikyatki bowl: The upward movement of the five tadpoles, the boundary at the top of the lunette and the two sets of tails on the base above are linear, as is the “butterfly” element. The three dark tails at the end of the top arc are somewhat curved, but still add linearity to the design. In contrast, the multi-pronged curvilinear arch dominates the top portion of design. The small unpainted notch in the top arch forms a minor counter-moving element, adding additional design tension.
Bowl 1994-03: The upward flow of the tadpoles contradicts the crosswise thrust of the base of the body above. The sets of three linear tails on either side of the base and the “butterfly” element are in sharp contrast to the curvilinear wings. The unpainted space between curvilinear wings forms a residual unpainted arch whose direction runs contrary to the wings that flank it, adding tension. By enlarging the upper unpainted arch on her bowl, Nampeyo increased the visual impact of the neighboring residual arch beyond what is seen on the ancient bowl..
A deliberate asymmetry of design.
The Blairs (1999: 92) write: “…Nampeyo’s designs were often bold, and at times there was a suitable avoidance of symmetry… Often small, almost unobservable and apparently meaning-less design elements appear to have been added as an afterthought or changed with the apparent purpose of altering balance.” Their point is illustrated (Blairs, 1999: III, Fig 2.31, E ) with a bowl whose design includes “paint lines on the upper portion of the stem…This small touch seems to upset the balance deliberately.” Asymmetry is characteristic of both the ancient bowl and Nampeyo’s bowl discussed here.
For both bowls, the rectangular design at the core of the central body, the floating “butterfly” element and the elements at the “head” of the curved neck are symmetrical. However, the overall design image is dramatically asymmetrical.
The Sikyatki bowl: The base has three feathers on one side and two on the other. Except for its head, the great curving arch is asymmetric.
Bowl 1993-04: The base has three feathers on both sides, but the format of these feathers is different, creating asymmetry. The two great arcs taper evenly to their points, but neither is symmetric nor are they the same length.
The use of color to integrate design elements.
The Sikyatki bowl: The artist adds three areas of red scattered across the width of design above the red lunette so a viewer’s eye is drawn to the full range of decoration.
Bowl 1993-04: Nampeyo’s use of red is less inclusive than the ancient bowl, using the color red in only two areas. Instead she uses black to color the tadpoles, three sections of the base and the free-floating “butterfly”design, so black might be seen as an integrative color in the design. Later Nampeyo would regularly use red to integrate her designs, but that strategy is not strongly represented on this bowl.
The use of empty (negative) space to frame the painted image.
The Sikyatki bowl: The painter has left considerable unpainted areas on either side of the black area of the great arc and also around the “butterfly” element beneath.
Bowl 1993-04: By simplifying the form of both arcs, shortening the upper arc and leaving its core unpainted, Nampeyo has significantly increased the amount of unpainted space in her design compared to the Sikyatki bowl. Below the painted wing the “butterfly” element floats in its own space. Thus design elements are highlighted and have room to soar.
The use of a thick above a thin framing line on the interior rim of her bowls.
Both bowls have thick-over-thin framing lines
The painting is confident, bold and somewhat impulsive.
Of the six design strategies discussed, this is the most subjective.
On the Sikyatki bowl the curved lines are smooth and the parallel lines do not touch. Multiple design elements are arranged in a relatively small space, yet they are not crowded: confidence. The migrating tadpoles move up as the great bird above soars above: a bold design. Without holding the bowl in my hand, it is difficult to judge impulsivity; none is obvious.
Nampeyo’s rendition shares these same characteristics: confident, clean strokes with a yucca brush, a bold design (since it is following a model), but less “impulsive” painting than you find on most of her later work because here she was following the ancient design. While she confidently modified the curvilinear elements on the ancient jar, her detailed copying of those small added lines off the tips of two feathers in the base also indicate she was sometimes minutely copying the old design. On the other hand, she impulsively allowed the tip of the lower left feather of the base to intrude into the framing lines. Given these contrary tendencies, overall I judge her painting of bowl 1993-04 to be confident but not impulsive
In short, I believe that by closely copying the design of a great ancient bowl, Nampeyo absorbed its aesthetic. The idea of deliberately copying the work of a great master to perfect one’s own talent is not new: young painters and writers often copy their genre’s masters. The intent is to internalize mastery by training the mind, eye and hand to know greatness.
It is important to understand that as a collector I do not have the same perspective as a pottery maker. This typology of six Nampeyo’s Sikyatki Revival design strategies is a theory that I developed having thought about a large number of Nampeyo’s pots. The design process for a potter-artist is quite different.
During her 1924/1925 research at Hopi, Ruth Bunzel discussed a design with a Hopi potter. “We always do it that way,” the potter replied, “but I never thought about it before.” Bunzel then comments that a pueblo potter:
“probably never thought about the design, its structure, or its elements, at all. She has experienced it unanalytically as a configuration…(The artist has) a perceptual rather than an intellectual approach to the artistic problem…(S)ensation and intuition play a larger role than intellect in the creation of design…(A design) is always experienced as a sensual rather than an intellectual experience…Art, among the pueblo Indians, as among ourselves, is something felt rather than discussed (1929:53-54).”
Thus my analytic approach is far removed from that of the Nampeyo and it would be misleading to confound my understanding with the creative process of the maker. For a collector, the typology of design strategies has two uses. First, typically Nampeyo’s Sikyatki Revival pots operate within most these guidelines while other potters at Hopi do not. As a result, Nampeyo designs have a structure of interaction that is not seen in the pottery of other artists. Thus the six strategies are diagnostic markers that can help us distinguish Nampeyo’s pottery from the pottery of other First Mesa potters.
Second, the strategies are not a checklist that Nampeyo kept pined to her sleeve and mechanically used. Instead they are tools she could use if she felt the need. She adapted her designs to fit her intentions. By comparing a particular pot to this six-strategy norm, we might better understand Nampeyo’s creative process. “Hmmm,” we can ask, “Why did Nampeyo use this subset of strategies, but not that one?’ Such analysis is both analytic and post hoc based on supposition, but it may give us insight into Nampeyo’s genius. If we see the same patterns when examining different Nampeyo pots, we might have more confidence in these insights.
I discuss these design strategies in the catalog entry for many of the 60+ “Nampeyo” pots in this collection. I hope such discussions are useful to the reader. I also hope that these objective criteria allow others question my conclusions and suggest their own. [For my ranking of the Nampeyo pots in this collection, see “Appendix D.”]
It may be that when Nampeyo first saw Peabody Sikyatki bowl #44-13-10/27101, and copied a version of its sky band hanging bird design onto her own pottery, she did not intend to absorb the design lessons of a great ancient pot, but she did. An ancient gift that shaped the genius of a young Tewa woman.