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A very unusual historic Hopi polychrome

pictorial pottery bowl, possibly by Fannie Polacca Nampeyo, c.1915-1925



This unique small bowl beautifully showcases the striking originality of historic Hopi pottery imagery. The stylized bird figure or bird-human motif has its roots in the imagery of the ancient Sikyatki-period of Hopi pottery which stretched from 1375-1625 A.D. Also during this same general time period, elaborately painted wall murals were being done in a number of Hopi ceremonial kivas in the now-ruined villages of Awatovi and Kawaika-a which also contained striking and similar abstracted bird/human/supernatural images as well. 


This centuries-long lineage and continuity of design and cultural identification is what leads to a piece like this being done in the early part of the 20th Century by an obviously inspired potter, in this case we believe the great Fannie Polacca Nampeyo (1900-1986), reaching back to and calling upon her ancient roots for modern design inspiration as she had learned from her Mother, the renowned hopi pottery Matriarch, Nampeyo of Hano, many of whose own pottery designs were also drawn from her personal interpretations of the ancient Sikyatki designs.

Fannie Polacca Nampeyo painting pottery with Nampeyo, c. 1920’s

Photo source and © Frasher’s Fotos, Pasadena, CA

A variety of stylized bird designs on Hopi pottery bowls by Nampeyo

Detail of stylized bird designs in a painted kiva mural from the ancient, now ruined Hopi village of Awatovi, c. 1450 A.D. Mural recreation by Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie at the direction of Watson Smith, Director, Peabody Museum Awatovi Expedition, 1935-39.


Photo source and © “Canvas of Clay” by Edwin L. Wade, El Otro Lado, 2012

In addition to the identifying characteristics Dr. Wade mentions above, this bowl also has two further characteristics associated with the work of Nampeyo and her daughters; the presence of a double unbroken “framing” line around the design field and a superb overall stone polishing. Of course, the bowl is unsigned which is completely typical considering the time period in which it was made. Fannie Nampeyo was one of the earlier Hopi potters to start signing her pieces, but she didn’t begin doing so until around the early-to-mid1930’s.


The bowl measures 5 3/4” in diameter and is 1 1/2” in height and it is in excellent original condition and quite remarkably so considering its century or so of age. Interestingly, there appears to be an old surface slip crack which does not go through the vessel wall across the inner surface of the bowl, actually more like a very slight groove, running diagonally across the bowl at the upper left of the bird’s head, but there is no evidence at all of this having been repaired or overpainted under UV light examination which leads us to believe that this very slight surface crack might have occurred shortly after the bowl’s clay body was formed and had dried but had not yet been painted and fired and that the original potter simply re-slipped it over and  proceeded to paint and fire it. Otherwise, here are no cracks, no chips and no significant abrasions on the bowl. It appears to us as if the bowl was collected soon after it was made and has been very well preserved over the many decades which have passed since. A thorough examination of the vessel under Ultraviolet light reveals no evidence of restoration or over painting.


This bowl is a unique and precious little jewel of historic Hopi pottery, drawing upon the wealth of a noble and ancient cultural heritage in a magnificent modern-day artistic interpretation.



Price $975



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Note: The signed original copy of Dr. Edwin L. Wade’s written remarks regarding this bowl, which are

reproduced above in their entirety, on his personal letterhead will accompany the purchase of this bowl.

Fannie Polacca Nampeyo, the youngest of Nampeyo’s three daughters, was one of the very finest Hopi potters of the 20th century. Her potting skills, developed at her mother’s knee, and those of her older sisters, as a toddler, were superb as was her painting, learned again from Nampeyo and in periods when Nampeyo’s own eyesight faltered due to her recurrent bouts of the degenerative eye disease, trachoma, it was young Fannie along with her sisters Annie and Nellie who often painted the pots her Mother had formed as can be seen in the photo shown below. It is also a distinct possibility to consider that just as shown in the photo that Nampeyo might have made this small bowl herself and then given it to Fannie to paint.

"Certain traits in this painted composition suggest that the bowl might be an early Fannie Nampeyo, perhaps dating to the late ’teens or early 1920s. The massive motifs, deeply pigmented in glossy black and red, are one suggestive characteristic, as is the black daubing and red D-form of the wing, inset with a negative triangle. As for the bird’s head, however, it is a totally unique motif.”


-Historic Hopi pottery authority, Edwin l. Wade, Ph.D.