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A rare and excellent Hopi “Red Polychrome” pottery bowl by Nampeyo, c. 1898-1903
This marvelous piece is what happens when a brilliant modern-day artist with an incredibly rich centuries-old
cultural tradition behind her reaches back into her ancient tribal design vocabulary for an inspired inspiration
from the past. The modern-day Hopi people have an incredibly rich and deep artistic legacy to draw upon which has been variously expressed for hundreds of years in Kiva murals, rock art, Kachinas and most particularly and expressively
so in pottery. Broken pieces or “shards” of these ancient pottery vessels are thick upon the ground in the ancient
Hopi village ruins of Sikyatki, Awatovi, Bidahochi, Homolovi, Kokopynama, Kawaiika-a and others.
Nampeyo frequented these ancient village ruins picking up pottery shards for design inspiration and this is
precisely what occurred here. She has reached back over 500 years to the ancestral Hopi pottery types known
today as Bidahochi and Homolovi Polychrome seen below to create something new and absolutely stunning; Hopi
“Red Polychrome” pottery, as seen in this marvelous bowl.
At left, Homolovi Polychrome jar, c. 1375 A.D. At right, Bidahochi Polychrome bowl, c. 1400 A.D.
Right photo source and © Icollector
Take note of the large "Red Polychrome" jar to Nampeyo's right in this historic photograph entitled, “Mrs. Nampeyo, an acknowledged best Hopi Indian woman Pottery maker, 1st Mesa, Hopiland, Ariz. Sichomovi” by R. Raffius, 1905.
Photo source and © Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside
This new type she created from these ancient varieties draws upon the idea of a white paint outlining around the main design motifs against a darker-colored ground as seen in the ancient examples above. Nampeyo’s “Red Polychrome” uses a thick white Kaolin mineral paint to outline and accentuate the dark black designs against a beautiful deep reddish-orange background. This technique combined with Nampeyo’s extraordinary stylized abstract painted designs which are also drawn from ancient Hopi pottery makes for a completely wonderful graphic presentation.
This bowl is notable for its deep sumptuous red-orange color, its perfectly stone-polished surface texture and its unique painted design, a swirling abstracted and stylized bird with prominent tail feathers. Nampeyo’s characteristic forwards and backwards manipulation of the positive and negative spaces in the design give it a great energy and vitality almost thrusting the bird outwards and forwards away from the inner confines of the bowl, so to speak.
It looks as if the creature could fly off at a moment’s notice. There are no exterior designs anywhere on the bowl.
These “Red Polychrome” pieces made by Nampeyo (1858-1942) and also at times by her eldest daughter, Annie (1886-1968), are all fairly rare since they were only made for a very short time, starting around 1898 and ending for reasons known only to themselves around 1910-1915. In fact, in 35-plus years of enthusiastically buying and selling historic Hopi pottery, this is only the second Red Polychrome bowl of Nampeyo's we have ever had. After Nampeyo and Annie, only a very few other Hopi potters have ever been able to make such vessels, most notably Paqua Naha (1890-1955) and later Garnet Pavatea (1915-1981) and Lena Chio Charlie (1888-1978).
The bowl measures 7 3/4” in diameter and it is 3” in height. It is in excellent original condition with only a very small amount of age-appropriate abrasion wear mostly on the bottom and a couple small nicks and scratches here and there. A thorough examination of the bowl under Ultraviolet light reveals no evidence at all of restoration or overpainting. Overall, the vessel is in remarkable original condition considering its 120 or so years of age. The painted design is precisely and perfectly painted and the stone polishing on the vessel is simply fabulous.
This bowl is a century-old, superbly made, stunningly beautiful and unique piece of historic and modern ceramic art
in superb vintage condition by one of the greatest Native American artists in history, a striking combination of great ancient tradition and modern-day artistic brilliance finely informed by it. As such, it would be a significant and satisfying addition to any collection, anywhere, public or private.
“When I first began to paint, I used to go to 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 designs and I paint them.”
Ancient Hopi pottery bird designs.
Illustration source and © "Prehistoric Hopi Pottery Designs", Jesse Walter Fewkes, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1898 reprinted by Dover Publications, 1973, pp. 132