© 2010-2021 by Fine Arts of the Southwest, Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or use is strictly prohibited by law.
A historic Hopi polychrome pottery Sikyatki-style
low profile jar/bowl by Nampeyo, c.1904-1906
This extraordinary jar is the work of the renowned Hopi pottery Matriarch, Nampeyo of Hano at the very peak of her considerable artistic and technical abilities. Even though this vessel appears to be a bowl, in ceramic terms it is really considered to be a more of a jar as its top diameter is not its widest point as would generally be the case with a bowl. Although we will continue calling it a “jar”, but perhaps it should possibly be referred to as a “jar/bowl”.
The jar/bowl’s shape is extraordinary and unique, Nampeyo’s modern version of the low-profile Sikyatki Polychrome pottery jars made by ancient Hopi potters from the 14th through 17th centuries. Technically, Nampeyo has also borrowed a page from the ancients here bringing her early 20th century creation to life by forming it with Hopi Antelope mesa clay renowned for its fine even texture and beautiful color. Also, following the ancients she fired the jar with high-temperature burning Lignite coal also from the Hopi Antelope Mesa. Firing pottery with coal is an extremely difficult and painstaking process but when done correctly yields spectacular results as can be seen here, the jar has achieved a clear whitish yellow color and an almost porcelain smoothness and surface hardness.
The painted designs on the inside and outside of the jar are both classically ancient and starkly and refreshingly Modern at the same time. One of the most fascinating things about this particular jar/bowl pottery form is that the incurving rim of the jar allows the exterior painted designs to partially “frame” the interior design to dazzling effect and depth as Nampeyo masterfully did here. The interior design is a highly abstracted asymmetrical bird form with feather tips. Nampeyo has taken some of the visual vocabulary of Sikyatki pottery designs and put it through her own uniquely Modernist vision.
The jar’s bird design appears to float in the “sky” of the bowl’s light interior. The exterior design continues the bird theme with a horizontally opposed pair of very highly abstracted and elongated large red stylized bird forms. These are wonderfully done in such a way that the “negative” space in the design in just as important as the positive painted elements. The long bird forms are divided by an opposed pair of diagonal designs with geometric elements and cloud terraces. Again, the exterior design perfectly “frames” the interior design when one look directly into the bowl. Genius!
Pieces such as this reveal Nampeyo to be one of America’s earliest and most accomplished Modernist painters and her work was accomplished while sitting on a blanket in the dirt in front of her small stone home on a windblown dusty desert mesa in remote northern Arizona. No Paris art studios or New York lofts for her! Also no art stores to purchase materials, she made everything she used, clay, paint, brushes etc. entirely by hand.
The jar measures 9 1/2” in diameter and is 3 1/4” in height. The jar is in excellent, rather remarkable original condition for its well over a century in age. There are no cracks, no significant chips and a thorough examination of the vessel under Ultraviolet light reveals no evidence of restoration or overpainting at all. There is some degree of surface wear from abrasion on the interior design.
In a very rare and remarkable coincidence of history the jar retains its original historic turn of the century distinctive “Made By Nampeyo-Hopi” Fred Harvey Company paper label prominently affixed to the bottom. More commonly The Fred Harvey company affixed “made in the Hopi Villages” labels on the bottom of Nampeyo and other Hopi pottery pieces for sale in their trading posts. These very rare specific to Nampeyo only labels were only rarely used by The Fred Harvey Company in the earliest years of the 20th century to denote the more premier quality vessels made by the growing ever more famous by the minute celebrity potter Nampeyo whose work and personality they strongly promoted as a brand name.
For two or three summer seasons, 1904-1906 Nampeyo and her family were guests potters in residence at Fred Harvey’s famed Hopi House on the south rim of the grand canyon designed by Mary Jane Colter where they lived and worked and gave regular pottery making demonstrations. It is likely that this jar was one of the pieces either made at Hopi House or brought there by Nampeyo to sell. In the past 35 years we have been involved in the purchase and sale of maybe 150-175 or so Nampeyo pottery vessels and this is the only one we have ever seen with this rare label. It is a wonderful and significant historic artifact in its own right.
The wonderful historic made by Nampeyo label notwithstanding, the jar has also been definitively authenticated as Nampeyo’s work by the distinguished Hopi pottery authority, Edwin L. Wade, Ph.D. Dr. Wade is presently working on a scholarly essay regarding the jar and when it is completed the signed original copy of this essay on Dr. Wade’s letterhead will be included with the purchase of the jar to its next fortunate owner.
This is a rare and exceptional piece from the brilliant imagination and talented hands of one of America’s
and the world’s greatest ceramic artists.
Sikyatki Polychrome low-profile jar/bowl, c. 1500-1600 A.D.
Photo source and © Peabody Museum, Boston MA