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An exceptional, large and rare signed
historic Hopi polychrome pottery jar by Nampeyo
and Fannie Nampeyo, c. 1920-25
Give this one a 12 out of 10 on the masterpiece meter. This jar is an all-time great piece in our considered opinions and
we have owned and sold some extraordinarily fine Nampeyo pottery jars over the years, a number of which are now in the permanent collections of museums such as The Art Institute of Chicago and The Scottsdale, Arizona Museum of the West. We firmly believe that this fantastic jar is on a par with any one of these exalted top-level pieces. Simply put, this jar is
a true “trophy” piece in every sense of the word made to impress and to proudly display as an art prize.
Let’s start at the beginning here. This jar is the rare and unusual product of an unusual time and confluence of events. The great Hopi pottery Matriarch, Nampeyo of Hano (1858-1942) suffered from a rare eye disease called trachoma which caused her to have periodic episodes of diminished sight and blindness. In the early to mid-1920’s she suffered an extended bout of trachoma and her youngest daughter, the soon to be world-renowned potter in her own right, Fannie Polacca Nampeyo (1900-1986) became her Mother’s close pottery-making colleague and collaborator. Nampeyo would form and polish the vessel and Fannie would apply the painted design in close collaboration and consultation with Nampeyo.
Fannie would subsequently sign these particular pieces of her Mother’s pottery “Nampeyo/Fannie” in all capital letters
with Nampeyo’s name on top as seen here. This is one of the extremely rare instances of Nampeyo’s pottery actually
being signed, as Nampeyo herself could neither read nor write in English and never signed her pottery pieces.
Note the very strong similarities in the painted designs on these two jars. The jar on the left was made by Nampeyo herself around 1910. The jar on the right was made some ten to fifteen years later by Nampeyo and painted by Fannie Nampeyo with strong artisitc direction from her mother, in our opinions.
Left photo source and © Arizona State Museum, Tucson, AZ
On to the particulars of this amazing jar; the semi-globular shape is simply sublime and voluptuous, large and just beautifully balanced, like a delicious big bubble. The stone polishing is almost otherworldly in its quality and beauty
and the painted design in a word is explosive and incredibly vibrant; a typical Nampeyo-type arrangement consisting of
a perfectly-balanced symmetrical, four-part bi-laterally opposed arrangement of stylized bird, feather and arrow motifs, very reminiscent of some of the designs on ancient Hopi Sikyatki-Period (1375-1625 A.D.) pottery and also of designs which would soon be discovered by Archaeologists in the 1930’s on the walls of the ancient Hopi Kivas in the ruined Hopi villages of Awatovi and Kawaiika-a which were contemporaneous with Sikyatki Pottery. These designs and symbols are deeply rooted in the Hopi’s history and tradition. Some of these designs have a distinctly Meso-American feel and symbolism as there is
a longstanding centuries-old cultural connection between the ancient Meso-American world and that of Hopi including
a certain commonality of language.
Nampeyo and Fannie Nampeyo forming and painting pottery at Hopi, c. 1920's.
Note the distinct similarities in size, shape and design in the two large globular jars pictured on the blanket at the lower right in the photo above with this jar.
Photo source and © Frasher's Fotos, Pasadena, CA
The painted designs of arrows, spirals, geometric elements and various feather motifs are absolutely everywhere on
the jar here, covering virtually every square inch of the vessel going all the way up the neck and down almost to the bottom where there is a characteristic Nampeyo double unbroken framing line. On this jar the designs are most richly, boldly and precisely rendered and as an additional and very attractive design element there are the numerous lovely white-ish-yellow-ish-orange-ish firing clouds or “blushes” on the vessel’s surface from its high-temperature firing in ultra-hot burning Lignite coal. These blushes beautifully intermingle with the painted elements becoming in effect an additional layer of design themselves. The overall result here is absolutely dazzling, one of the finest, most vivid and striking Nampeyo jars we have ever had the pleasure of having. And how about yet another few words of admiration about the absolutely remarkable all-over stone polishing by Nampeyo, it’s so well done that the jar just absolutely glows.
Hopi Awatovi-style Kiva mural drawing by modern-day Hopi artist, Michael Kabotie (Lomawywesa), 2005.
The jar measures a very impressively-sized 13 3/4” in diameter and is 9” in height. It is in remarkably excellent original condition and particularly so for its century or so of age with a few very small nicks and abrasions around the shoulder and on the bottom. There is also a slight amount of “lean” when the jar is viewed form certain angles, but this is a completely normal and natural occurence for a large, completely handmade Pueblo pottery jar. The use of a round acrylic or other type of display base or stand would be a simple and easy way to even things out completely, if desired. In our view, this wonderful, almost hard to believe condition indicates to us that the jar was very likely collected early and directly either from Nampeyo herself or from an early trading company which purchased it from Nampeyo such as J.L. Hubbell or
The Fred Harvey Company. This is precisely the kind of exceptional “Trophy” type piece The Harvey Company liked to display in the grand lobbies and public rooms of its important Southwest Hotels such as The El Tovar at The Grand Canyon, The La Posada in Winslow, AZ or The El Navajo, Castaneda and La Fonda Hotels in Gallup, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In any case, the jar has clearly been carefully safeguarded in its near-new condition for the entire past century which is truly amazing, like a time warp right back to the 1920’s! A thorough examination under ultraviolet light reveals no evidence of any restoration or overpainting. The jar is properly signed “NAMPEYO FANNIE” in all capital letters in Fannie Nampeyo’s hand on the bottom as shown here. There is also an old collection number and an old paper price sticker of $15,000 on the bottom of the jar.
This spectacular jar is a remarkable Nampeyo and Fannie Nampeyo Mother-Daughter masterpiece collaboration,
a true world art and cultural treasure worthy of any great museum or top-tier private collection anywhere.
Fannie Polacca Nampeyo, 1968
Photo by Byron Hunter. Photo source and © Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ