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A fascinating and unique Historic Hopi polychrome

pottery serving dish with a chicken or rooster effigy figural handle by Nampeyo of Hano, possibly made at The Hopi House,

Grand Canyon, c. 1907-1910

A Fred Harvey Company promotional panoramic postcard promoting the new Hotel El Tovar, c. 1905

At left, a modern-day egg breakfast being served in The El Tovar Hotel’s dining room. A very similar egg breakfast might very well have been served to former President Theodore Roosevelt duding his 1911 or 1913 visits in this very same dining room in this very same Nampeyo pottery dish. It’s a truly  fascinating possibility to contemplate indeed! At right, President Theodore Roosevelt (third from right) at the South Rim of The Grand Canyon, 1903.

As an important element of The Fred Harvey Company’s various tourist and cultural attractions at this exotic

far-flung destination was the already renowned Hopi pottery maker, Nampeyo of Hano (1858-1942). Nampeyo and

her family were commissioned to live as artists in residence at The Hopi House during the summers of 1905 through 1910 where Nampeyo made pottery and she and her young daughters Annie and Nellie gave pottery making demonstrations to Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad tourists and guests who were staying at the nearby El Tovar Hotel just steps across from The Hopi House. At this time, the El Tovar was the very epitome of luxurious rustic lodging in the wilds of the American Southwest offering a very civilized lodging and dining experience to those intrepid travelers who wanted to experience the untamed wonders of the Southwest in utmost style and comfort. When we showed this pottery dish to the distinguished historic Hopi pottery scholar and author and former longtime Museum curator, Edwin L. Wade Ph.D., he immediately identified it as definitively being a piece of Nampeyo’s work and additionally had this to say regarding when and where it was made:

“1907-1910, made for The Hopi House”

-Hopi pottery scholar, Edwin L. Wade, Ph.D.

This is quite an exciting moment for us, with this new and wonderfully unprecedented historic discovery.

We’ve been enthusiastically buying, selling and collecting Nampeyo’s pottery for over 35 years now and we have NEVER EVER seen the likes of this piece. It is totally and completely unique in our experience. And while we were initially trying to figure out how it might have been made and why and for whom, we showed it to one of our most experienced and knowledgable longtime Native Art colleagues and he said that to him the point of this amazing pottery piece was completely and immediately apparent:

“It’s obvious...made to serve scrambled eggs

at El Tovar for Thomas Moran.”

Now to some extent, this is a somewhat tongue in cheek and humorous response regarding the prominent American landscape painter who frequented the Grand Canyon regularly in the early years of the 20th Century to make commissioned paintings for the Santa Fe Railroad and The Fred Harvey Company, but there are more than a few grains of solid and highly-plausible historic truth to the possibility of a situation very much like this one having been precisely the case here. It ties together many of the seemingly separate elements of the emerging early Southwestern tourism industry at the turn of the 20th Century and the existing Southwestern Native cultures

in the region, especially the Hopi at the same time and in the same place.

In 1905, The Fred Harvey Company almost simultaneously opened both the luxurious 95-room El Tovar Hotel designed by Charles Whittlesey and The Hopi House designed by Mary E.J. Colter as important parts of expanding their tourist presence at The Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The El Tovar provided lodging and fine dining while The Hopi House was envisioned as a living museum paying tribute to the Hopi culture and souvenir sales shop where Native artisans created local arts and crafts which were in turn then sold in the gift shop alongside other historic Native American and other Southwestern pieces. Visitors and guests to the South Rim were ferried up to the so called “Grand Canyon Village” from the main Santa Fe Railroad line at Williams, Arizona on the Grand Canyon Railway, a 64-mile long narrow-gauge spur railroad from Williams to the Grand Canyon completed in 1901 by

The Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

So it seems that we have some independent and highly-authoritative agreement by three very qualified experts (including ourselves) on the possible creation story and intended purpose of this pottery vessel. Since this chicken-themed serving dish is obviously an Anglo commissioned and completely non-traditional-Hopi form of pottery piece it is entirely within reason that some enterprising Fred Harvey restaurant or Hotel Manager came up with the fascinating notion of commissioning the great Native American pottery matriarch Nampeyo who happened to be in temporary residence just across the way to make one or a few elaborate chicken-themed serving dishes for important patrons or possibly for the pending arrival of a very special individual visitor.

At that time, The El Tovar featured an elaborate menu on which chicken and egg preparations figured prominently, using chickens and eggs from The El Tovar’s own private poultry farm for dishes such as "Scrambled Eggs with Diced Ham, Country Style”, “Cheese and Parsley Omelette”, “Chicken Soup with rice, Oriental”, “Chicken Livers and Mushrooms”, “Breast of Chicken El Tovar in Sherry-Cream Sauce” and “Chicken Leg Fricasee with Noodles, Paprika Sauce”, any of which could have been beautifully presented and served in this covered pottery “chicken” dish as it is precisely the perfect size for an individual portion.

American presidential visits were also a regular occurrence at the El Tovar in the early 20th Century, including those of former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 and again in 1913 and subsequent Presidents William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. The Grand Canyon was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite places and he returned there regularly throughout his life both during his Presidency and afterwards. Other famous personages patronizing The El Tovar during this same general time period were noted physicist Albert Einstein, playwright George Bernard Shaw and Western author Zane Grey. Also, there is the possibility that this dish could have been specially commissioned from Nampeyo for the occasion of a special visit to El Tovar by a President of a different sort, perhaps a Chief Executive of The Fred Harvey Company or of The Santa Fe Railroad. Might there also originally have been more than one of these serving pieces made? It’s certainly within the realm of possibility, time may eventually reveal the answer.

The lower oval-shaped section of the serving bowl features in its center a marvelous and intricately painted central design in the form of a large stylized bird’s body filled with repeating geometric and stylized feather motifs, many such as the “Clown” or “Kilroy” face, characteristic to Nampeyo’s personal design repertoire and based at least in part on ancient Hopi Sikyatki-style pottery designs. The selection and use of a stylized bird and feather design by Nampeyo for the interior decoration of this dish is particularly interesting and not just a little ironic given this dishes’ obvious intention and function as a service dish for a cooked bird or bird’s eggs. Around the rim of the bowl surrounding the covered lid is another elaborately painted panel of repeating geometric and feather designs.

The quality of the designs and painting here is simply remarkable.

The lid’s design is equally remarkable with an encircling painted band composed of repeating polychrome clown faces and feather designs. Atop the lid is a masterfully formed and very finely-painted chicken or rooster effigy handle complete with big red wattles and red cockscomb fully demonstrating the ability of this incredibly talented artist at perfectly making something she had very possibly never made before. The overall quality of the potting, design and painting throughout this vessel are all quite noteworthy; the vessel walls are thin and beautifully formed, the painting is most precisely done and the firing with high temperature Lignite coal, a difficult process which Nampeyo had mastered, perfectly achieved.

The lower part of the serving dish measures 9 1/2” in length and 7 1/4” in width and all together the assembled

two-piece dish measures 5” in height. The bottom section of the dish is in broken and glued condition, having been broken into six pieces and glued back together in a somewhat amateurish fashion. Virtually all the pieces are there in their entirety with perhaps a couple very small fragments missing along the edges of a couple of the breaks.

The top section of the dish is essentially intact with some abrasion wear to the painted designs and a small portion of the Rooster’s beak having been broken off. A thorough ultraviolet light examination reveals no added plaster or overpainting anywhere on the vessel. The entire bottom of the vessel does appear to have been varnished, possibly to help hold it together after it was broken and glued. If desired, a qualified professional pottery restorer could quite readily restore this piece beautifully to its near original condition. We can recommend a qualified restorer.

Exceptional beauty, extraordinary rarity, a product of an esteemed world-famous maker likely for an equally

well-known patron at a famous, iconic place at an important and unique juncture in American history. Here’s your chance to make all the museums and other Pueblo pottery collectors jealous as hell. Owning and interpreting

the passage through time of a unique piece such as this one is an unprecedented personal opportunity to touch

the past in a meaningful and immediate way.

Price $3,900

Inquire                                                            Purchase

At left, a modern day view of Hopi House. At right, Nampeyo and her family at Hopi House c 1907. In the photo are Nampeyo, her husband Lesou,

their eldest daughter Annie, their second daughter Nellie, their son William, their third daughter Fannie and possibly Annie’s infant daughter, Rachel.

A brief note on pottery restoration:

At left, a Hopi cylinder jar by Nampeyo before professional restoration. This jar was broken

into several pieces like the dish above. At right, the cylinder jar after professional restoration.