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A remarkable historic Hopi polychrome pottery
bowl by Nampeyo of Hano with the possible assistance of Annie Nampeyo, c.1905-1915
Talk about extraordinary, this piece is out of this world great and quite literally so, there is so much dynamic motion, energy and movement in this bowl that it looks like a whirling spaceship about to take off for another galaxy. As we have often humorously but somewhat truthfully said, Nampeyo (1859-1942) might have invented the propeller years before the Wright Brothers invented the airplane.
This bowl bears a distinct resemblance to another very famous Nampeyo pottery bowl originally collected from Nampeyo in 1904 by the great Fred Harvey Company/Santa Fe railway architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869-1958) which is now in the collection of the National Park Service at The Chapin Archeological Museum at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. This Nampeyo bowl was an icon of sorts for the Harvey Company appearing on the cover of several of their promotional brochures and business cards as can be seen below. As can also be clearly seen in comparison with the photo below, this bowl has the same exact rotating painted red propeller-like motif executed by the exact same hand using the exact same red paint.
At center, a Nampeyo pottery bowl, purchased directly from Nampeyo in 1904 by Fred Harvey Company/Santa Fe Railway Architect, Mary E.J. Colter. This bowl's unique image was subsequently used on Fred Harvey Company business cards and promotional brochures. The bowl is now in the collection of The Chapin Archaeological Museum at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, donated by Mary Colter.
Center photo source and © "Inventing the Southwest", The Heard Museum, Northland Publishing, 1996.
Whether or not Nampeyo had any or much assistance making this particular vessel, possibly from her eldest Daughter, Annie (1884-1968) with whom she often worked during this time period, one thing is absolutely and abundantly clear and that is that Nampeyo strongly "art-directed" and orchestrated the design and painting, if she didn’t do it all herself which she certainly could have and particularly so given the slightly “looser” nature of the painting. The overall design scheme here is pure vintage Nampeyo in every respect, four distinct but closely-related pairs of symmetrical, horizontally-opposed paired design motifs, eight in all.
The juxtaposition of the positive and negative spaces in all of these designs is almost electric, possessing extraordinary energy, synthesis and vitality. Numerous other telltale Nampeyo characteristics are also present
here as well including her famous “Kilroy” or clown face design element and her signature “streaky” textured red paint and stippled black paint. Interestingly, the bowl appears to be double-slipped, another thing Nampeyo did occasionally, the inner slip is a light to medium yellow while the exterior slip is a distinct orange-red very closely matching the streaky red designs on the bowl's interior. In this way, the interior and exterior designs achieve a wonderful visual interplay and harmony.
The overall design has that distinctive abstract modernist quality that Nampeyo so often achieved particularly in this time period, combining Nampeyo's own stylized interpretations of ancient Hopi Sikyatki period (1375-1625 A.D.) pottery designs with her own uinque ideas to form a beautifully cohesive whole.
The bowl measures a very nicely sized 9 3/4" in diameter and is 2 3/4" in depth. It is in remarkably excellent original condition for its century-plus of age with no cracks and no significant chips or abrasions. A thorough examination
of the bowl under Ultraviolet light reveals no evidence of restoration or over painting anywhere on the vessel. There is an unidentified circular stain on the bowl's bottom which possibly looks like water damage, but there is no indication of this on the bowl's interior.
This bowl is an absolutely outstanding example of Nampeyo pottery, exceptionally well potted and painted with
a fresh dynamic design and a beautifully energetic and completely captivating visual power and appeal.
Did Nampeyo invent the propeller before the Wright Brothers invented the airplane?