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A superb Hopi polychrome pottery pitcher with two

large bird pictorials by Nampeyo of Hano, c.1900-1905

ANOTHER ASTONISHINGLY BEAUTIFUL pottery piece by the legendary Hopi potter, Nampeyo (1856-1942), this pitcher is a perfect example of what a brilliant, traditional Native American artist can do when asked to create a completely non-traditional, non-Native shape and form. Pitchers such as these as well as other tourist-oriented objects such as ashtrays, coin trays, salt and pepper shakers and picture frames have no place at all in the history of Hopi material culture, but were made by Hopi potters in the early part of the 20th Century to satisfy the desires of the increasing stream of American and European tourists visiting the Southwest to purchase small and easily-transportable objects to take back home with them on the railroad and/or the boat as souvenirs of their journeys.

As the pre-eminent Hopi potter of her era and a well-known, increasingly famous figure because of this, Nampeyo received a steady flow of visitors during this time period; various archaeologists, museum curators, artists, photographers, merchants and intrepid tourists came to watch her work and to purchase pieces of her pottery and naturally she also received a great many requests and special commissions from prominent local area Indian traders like Thomas Varker Keam, Juan Lorenzo Hubbell, her younger brother Thomas Polacca who ran the nearby Polacca Trading Post, and, of course, the mighty Fred Harvey Company to make tourist-oriented and other pottery vessels for their shops and exclusive clienteles.

An early black and white stereoview photograph of Nampeyo, c. 1900-1905, working on a variety of small tourist-oriented pottery vessels; canteens, effigies, ashtrays and pitchers. Note the similarly shaped and sized pitcher in the lower right foreground of the photo

Note the subtle differences in the depiction of the birds on both sides of this vessel. The bird at left has a slightly different neck treatment than the bird at right. Also, the tail feathers are in slightly different widths on both birds and the bird at right has two bars on its tail while the bird at left has one. These beautiful and subtle variances are products of Nampeyo’s fertile imagination. It is important to keep in mind that in creating her painted designs she used no preliminary sketches or studies, templates or tracings as Western/European trained artists commonly do, instead her designs came straight out of her imagination directly onto the pottery.

A Nampeyo pottery picture frame of this time period, c. 1900-1905

A large Nampeyo jar with similar bird pictorials, c. 1890

So prestigious was the name “Nampeyo” that the Harvey Company even had special paper labels made up to specially mark her pottery pieces. (The imprint of one of these labels remains visible on the bottom of this pitcher.) But, like everything else Nampeyo touched, her versions of these tourist forms are completely in another exalted realm of beauty and quality, head and shoulders above those of other Hopi potters. She essentially took something that was intended to be a curio and raised it into the exalted realm of fine art. This pitcher is simply sublime in every possible way; the extraordinary quality and exquisite detail in the design and painting of the birds, the graceful, smooth, perfectly-polished walls of the vessel, and of course the superbly-executed, extremely high temperature coal-firing which yields the almost-porcelain like whitish-yellow surface with its lighter firing “blushes”.

The pitcher measures 6 1/2” in height, 6 1/2” in width and is 4 1/4” in depth and it is in particularly excellent original condition and especially so considering its 110-115 years of age. There are a few age-appropriate nicks and scrapes and some very slight surface abrasions here and there. This pitcher is a true cross-cultural piece made for the white person’s world while radiating all the power, mystery, beauty and artistic integrity of the work of one of Native America’s most inspired and accomplished artists. This is a precious, lovely and rare historic object indeed.

Price $3,750

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