I have seen thick, low-relief carved Navajo clay tiles, but never a Navajo tile like 2018-05 that is 1)this thin […]
The front-to-back width is 0.25″ narrower than the side-to-side width.
Bowl 2018-04 is unique in several ways: 1) this is the only Nampeyo bowl I know of with a maiden image; 2) this is the only instance I know of where she allowed her design to interrupt her framing lines; 3) this is the only Hopi or Hopi/Tewa pot I know of where the artist has deliberately created a flat surface on the exterior of a bowl in order to highlight a design; and finally 4) this is the only older Hopi or Hopi/Tewa pot I have seen that mixes a non-slipped surface with a kaolin-slipped section. Moreover, details of design allow me to suggest how Nampeyo created this bowl, thus allowing us a glimpse into her creative process. That’s a lot of uniqueness for a bowl not much larger than half a tennis ball. The day she made this pot Nampeyo was feeling exceptionally experimental.
This collection is fortunate to have a wide variety of pottery by Nampeyo that represent many facets of her creative career.. A full listing is available in the Artist Index and a comparative evaluation of the 50+ pots by her in the collection is available as Appendix D. Most impressive is the range of her work, from traditional Polacca ware (2009-17), to innovative (2006-11, 2012-02, and 2015-03), to elegant (2002-03, 2005-16 and 2014-07) to simply quirky (2014-17). Two pots stand out as having been painted in a folk art tradition, 2012-21 depicting a flock of hummingbirds and 2018-04, the small bowl that is discussed here. Given comments by Barbara Kramer and the Blairs, quoted below, I think pot 2018-04 was made between 1904 and 1907, a date from just before Nampeyo’s first visit to Hopi House and the date of her second visit.
Bowl 2018-04 is crudely formed. It is especially thick-walled, and flairs out from the base to a point about 0.75 inches below the rim where the walls become more vertical. The rim is uneven and the opening is not circular. The bowl does not sit flat on a table. Nampeyo is capable of making finely-shaped and thin-walled pots. That was not her interest here.
Barbara Kramer identifies the abstract painting on the rear of bowl 2018-04 as a “spider design” and writes that it was used as early as 1904 and appears most frequently on Nampeyo’s work during the first decade of the 20th century (1996:186). Kramer publishes a photograph of a large jar by Nampeyo with this design that is in the collection of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of New Mexico (1996:150, plate 8) and Marti Struever publishes photographs of two Nampeyo jars with the spider design (2001:102-103), both of which she dates as 1900 to 1915. All three of these jars are large, major works with detailed and finely-drawn polychromatic designs. Five generations later sisters Jean Sahme and Nyla Sahmie (Nampeyo) used detailed renditions of the spider design on two pots in this collection (1999-08 and 2006-14).
The Nampeyo examples published by Struever have at the center of the design three linear tails that point down. In contrast, the example published by Kramer uses three narrow, tall solid black triangles in this location and they point up. The design on bowl 2018-04 displays the variation published by Barbara Kramer and thus the Museum of New Mexico example can serve as a benchmark for the design on 2018-04. The exterior rim of bowl 2018-04 is painted with the thick-over-thin framing lines that generally characterize the interior rim of Nampeyo’s bowls. At the center of the spider design on the exterior of this bowl is a solid black crescent, like the cross-section of a bowl. As single line hovers over the edge of the bowl. Rising upward from this line are three tall, narrow-based solid black triangles, the one to the far right a bit thicker than the others. Flanking the triangles and also emerging from the single line are two curved horn-like elements with unpainted bases and solid black tips, the right rendition thicker than the same form to the left. At the base of the unpainted section there is a rust-red dot or “gumdrop” in each horn, the left dot squeezed in to the space and the right example freestanding and more distinct. These same elements are seen on the Museum of New Mexico jar, though far more detailed and carefully drawn. In this collection canteen 2012-13 by Nampeyo has a set of similar curved horn elements with black tips and a single element drawn interior to an otherwise unpainted base.
Flanking the central black bowl form are two broad and inverted “U” shapes about 1″ to 0.75″ wide, the ends separated by a narrow gap of only 0.125″. The bodies of these shapes are wide enough that the four sides are relatively thick and long. The are largely unpainted except that the right-most tip is painted black and the other three tips are filled in with the rusty red paint. These can be seen as simple renditions of the linear tails Nampeyo often used on her pots. At the apex of the “U” shapes, under the black section of the horns floating above, are painted a row of three “gumdrops” or hills, the left rendition clear and the right rendition with a ragged edge of three to five hills, depending on how you count. Finally, emerging from the outer edge of the apex of each inverted “U” is a second pair of horn-shaped elements curving downward to almost touch the tip of the outer “tail.” The left horn is thinner and more carefully shaped than the right, which seems stuck on like an afterthought. The left horn is solid black, the right done with that rust-red paint. On the Museum of New Mexico pot these flanking “U” forms present themselves as elegant wings. On pot 2018-04 they stubby and crudely-formed.
As detailed above, notice that several elements on the right side of the design are thicker, less graceful, and more casually-drawn than those on the left. I have no idea why, but I smile at the thought that a Nampeyo baby (Fannie, born 1900?) might have distracted her mother when she was painting that side.
The spider design on bowl 2018-04 is sufficiently like the design on the Museum of New Mexico Nampeyo pot to suggest that they were formed by the same person, but –to be honest– both the form of bowl 2018-04 and the painting we have discussed have little aesthetic value and are certainly far below the usual standards of Nampeyo. What is exceptional about this bow is the sweet image of a Hopi maiden drawn on the front.
Nampeyo used pieces of local sandstone to smooth the surface of her sun-dried pots. On pot 2018-04 she has further sanded away a section of the pot’s exterior curved surface to create a flat area about 1.5 inches square. This is the only example I know of where a Hopi or Hopi-Tewa potter intentionally created a flat area on the exterior of a bowl. Nampeyo then used a slip of white kaolin clay and water to cover the interior of the bowl, the flat outer surface and a 0.5-inch border around that flat surface. The kaolin slip seem to obliterate the thick-over-thin framing lines, but a careful examination suggests otherwise. The right end of the framing lines indeed disappears under the kaolin slip, but the left end of the framing line clearly stops just short of the flat slipped area. As I will discuss below, this small piece of evidence allows me to reconstruct the process Nampeyo used to form and paint this bowl. The flat area on the side of the bowl became a white canvass on which Nampeyo drew her maiden’s face.
The format and relative proportions of the maiden on bowl 2018-04 are similar to the Polik’Mana image Nampeyo drew on tile 2014-10 in this collection, though the tile image is much more detailed and carefully drawn. Both images have oversized heads and bent, upraised arms. For Nampeyo, framing lines are just that; they form a visual border below which her design is drawn. Uniquely, this is not the case on bowl 2018-04. The maiden’s head rises above the surrounding framing lines and touches the bowl’s edge. With a part in the middle, smooth bangs frame her face. Emerging from the side are two lobed hair whorls indicating her unmarried status, the lobe in her right whorl more definitive than that on her left (direction from her perspective). The eyebrows are formed from a row of four dots; the nose a thin flared “U” with two dots indicating the nostrils. Her mouth is a tiny, thin lozenge the upper edge a bit dimpled. Her lower face is indicated with a simple line. The young woman looks directly at the viewer, her face peaceful and confident.
Below her neck is encased in a wide necklace. The figure wears a simple manta which leaves her right shoulder bare. Her arms are bent at the elbows and are only outlined except for a solid square at the ends, indicating hands which are held even with the bottom of the hair whorls.. As with the Polik’Mana on the tile 2014-10, the figure is only drawn from the waist up. When viewed with the bowl on a flat surface, only the image from the shoulder up is visible. The bowl needs to be held at an angle to see the figure in its entirety. The paint is thin and somewhat scratched. At first glance the maiden figure seems monochromatic. A more careful examination under magnification suggest that the design was drawn and then (perhaps) the same rust red paint from the spider design was thinly painted over the hair whorls, the necklace and the manta dress. This effect is most evident on her right whorl and manta. With her face “back-lit” by the kaolin slip, her face is more dramatically visible than the rest of her body.
Forensic ceramics: How this pot was made,
a look inside Nampeyo’s mind:
Often a Hopi or Hopi-Tewa potter will make several vessels and polish their surface before she knows what design she will paint on the pots. Rachael Sahmie, for example, has told me that she often dreams of a design for a pot (she says the pot talks to her) and she will get up and paint a fully-formed and polished pot in the middle of the night before she forgets her dream image. On bowl 2018-04 I believe the sequence was different.
I think that Nampeyo knew she wanted to experiment with a maiden image while she was forming the bowl and before she began painting. Here’s my thinking. Nampeyo made the bowl particularly thick (especially at the inflection point below the rim) so that she would have sufficient thickness to be able to sand a portion of the exterior flat and still have a substantial thickness in that area. She created this flat space and then smoothed and polished the rest of the bowl in the conventional manner. She then painted the framing lines, but stopped them outside of the flat area. The spider design was then quickly painted below the framing lines on the rear of the bowl, but without a great deal of care because this design was not her primary interest. Nampeyo then applied the white kaolin slip to the interior of the bowl and the flat exterior area, unintentionally covering the right end of the preexisting framing line. Finally she painted the maiden image using the flat, white exterior surface as a canvass for the face.
In short, the form of the bowl and the fineness of design (except for the maiden) were relatively unimportant to Nampeyo. These steps were rather carelessly performed so she could move on to her primary interest, the painting of the maiden. If I am correct, then unlike the decorating process described by Rachael Sahmie above, Nampeyo had a clear idea of the experimental maiden design she wanted to paint on this bowl when she began its production. There is some historical evidence that Nampeyo sometimes focused on painting and subordinated other aspects of her craft.
The Blairs note that there was “a period when Nampeyo emphasized painted design over pottery structure “during the first decade of the 20th century and produced small pots that “can best be described as poorly formed…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 (1999:83).” Pot 2012-08 seems to be one of these pots. For bowl 2018-04 I would modify the Blair’s statement to add that Nampeyo was concerned with neither the form of the bowl nor the fineness of the spider design but rather she created bowl 2018-04 in order to play with the idea of a maiden image as an exterior design.
For an ancient example of a bowl with a maiden image painted on the interior, see Fewkes, 1898: plate CXXIX following page 670. While bowl 2018-04 is the only maiden bowl I know of by Nampeyo, she did draw maiden images on flat tiles. An example is published by Struever, 2001: 28, photo 31. I am charmed by my simple maiden, as was Marti Struever who kept this bowl in her private collection for many years.