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A beautiful and extremely rare Hopi plainware pottery bowl by Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White), 1966



One of the most fascinating and influential figures in the long history of the American Southwest is the renowned Hopi teacher, author and extraordinary pottery artist, Polingaysi Qoyawayma (1892-1990) or Elizabeth Q. White,

as she was later known. Her given Hopi name means "butterfly sitting among the flowers in the breeze”.


Over the course of her extremely long life of 98 years, Polingaysi witnessed and was part of a massive cultural change at Hopi and across the greater Southwest. She herself lived astride two completely disparate cultures, that of the traditional Hopi and that of the Christian white American. Her Father worked for Mennonite missionary, Henry R. Voth, who built a mission school in Oraibi village on the Hopi Third Mesa in 1893 and attempted without a great deal of success to convert Hopis to Christianity. In 1906, Polingaysi was sent away from Hopi to be educated at The Sherman Institute in Riverside, California after which she went to live with a Mennonite family in Newton, Kansas and to receive missionary training at Bethel College. This is when her name was changed to “Elizabeth”,

a name which she retained for the rest of her life.

Polingaysi Qoyawayma documented her extraordinary life in a very interesting and powerful book, "No Turning Back”,

published by The University of New Mexico Press in 1964. It is the story of a young Hopi girl's struggle to bridge the

gap between the ancient traditional world of her people and the modern world of the white man.


Note: this First Edition book is pictured for demonstration purposes only and is not included in the sale of this bowl.

Polingaysi demonstrating pottery-making, c. 1957

Photo source and © University of New Mexico Press

Source and © of some descriptive information, Adobe Gallery, Santa Fe

Old Oraibi, Polingaysi’s native village, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the United States.

Photo copyright by Wikipedia

At left, the Old Oraibi Village Chief, Tawaquaptewa in front of his home, c. 1940. When Polingaysi returned to Hopi from

her years away at school and living with white Christian missionaries in Kansas, the Chief greeted her with these words:

“Polingaysi, you are the little one who wanted to be a white man.”

Photo © Denver Museum of Nature and Science

At center, Charles and Otellie Loloma in their pottery studio and showroom at The Kiva Craft Center, Scottsdale, AZ. , c. 1956.

At left and right, an incised “Lolomaware” pottery bowl, c. 1950’s.

Photo source and © Museum of Northern Arizona Photo Archives

After this, around 1914, she returned to Hopi to work as a teacher, a position in which she served with great distinction for the next four decades until she retired in 1954 at which point she became an artist and a uniquely skilled and creative potter. Polingaysi studied ceramics with the renowned Hopi ceramicist, painter and jeweler, Charles Loloma (1921-1991), who was then living in Scottsdale and teaching pottery making classes at Arizona State University in Phoenix and The University of Arizona in Tucson. Under Loloma’s tutelage and with his inspiration, Polingaysi developed an unusual and highly-distinctive style of plainware Hopi pottery sometimes using a pinkish clay and making wonderful organic forms which always have a distinctly spare Modern look and unique feel. The clay was always left unadorned, unpainted and mostly unslipped in her vessels, but she sometimes used corrugation and other surface texturing as on this bowl and she also occasionally added molded raised bas-relief designs such as ears of corn and Kokopelli figures on her pottery pieces.

Polingaysi’s pottery is extremely rare and difficult to come by due mainly to the fact that she made so very few vessels in her fairly short pottery-making career at the end of her life. Polingaysi’s natural clay forms and molded bas-relief pottery designs provided the inspiration for several later significant Hopi potters, most notably her nephew, Al Qoyawayma (b.1938), and Iris Youvella Nampeyo (1944-2018).



“I tell the young people this: Evaluate the best there is in your own culture and hang onto it, for it will be foremost in our life; but do not fail to take the best from other cultures to blend with what you already have. Don't set limitations on yourself. If you want more and still more education, reach out for it without fear. You have in you the qualities of persistence and endurance. Use them.”


-Polingaysi Qoyawayma



This large bowl is a modern-day personal homage to Polingaysi’s ancient and traditional Hopi heritage and culture if you will, it beautifully displays the simplicity and discipline of the Hopi lifeway. It is frugal and spare in its design—being perfectly plain and unadorned—with only the very subtly carved undulating clay surface and fire clouds visible. Although Polingaysi seemed to diverge from traditional Hopi customs as a girl, it seems that she always somehow retained the belief in their fundamental logic and rightness.



“We do not walk alone. Great being walks beside us. Know this and be grateful”


-Polingaysi Qoyawayma



The bowl measures an impressively-sized 10” in length by 7” in width at its widest point and it is 3” in depth. It is in outstanding original condition and it is very beautifully and properly signed “Polingaysi” in her customary, bold, incised signature on the bottom. The bowl has beautiful subtle fire clouding and a really marvelous and completely sensuous surface texture likely from subtly, carefully and artfully scraping the outer surface of the moist clay body with a gourd scraper to form a textural patterned surface before drying and firing the bowl. These textural ridges are completely evocative of the subtle shapes and contours of the landscape of the Hopi mesas with its windblown sand dunes, rock formations and the sculptured mud and stone walls of the Hopi villages themselves.


Also, Polingaysi applied a very fine reddish pottery clay slip with flecks of silvery mica, a clay variety indigenous to the Hopi mesas, to the interior of the bowl which gives a lovely color contrast between the inside smooth and outside textured surfaces. In this vessel, Polingaysi has taken here the somewhat rough, common, organic, earthy form of the traditional centuries-old Hopi utilitarian plainware dough or food bowl and transformed and re-shaped it into something exceptionally aesthetic and magical; at once light, delicate, feminine, assymetrical, streamlined and modern while retaining every bit of its essential strength, dignity, unique form and cultural integrity, which is quite an artistic accomplishment.

The exceptional beauty and uniqueness of this bowl was officially recognized by its inclusion in the prestigious Museum of Northern Arizona’s Hopi Crafstman Exhibition in 1966 and the original paper hang tag from the exhibition still proudly accompanies the bowl. Awarding such recondition to a piece of plainware pottery as opposed to painted pottery is a real testament to Polingaysi’s abilities and to the knowledge and taste of the exhibition judges as well in that it’s an official acknowledgment of the artistry involved in elevating what had previously always been viewed as a utilitarian form into the exalted realm of a distinguished work of art. 


In an interesting sidebar, Polingaysi was joined in this by her fellow, contemporary Hopi potters, the talented sisters, Garnet Pavatea (1915-1981) and Myrtle Young (1904-1984) who also achieved in their wonderful Hopi plainware “Piki” dough bowls a similar kind of kind of artistic refinement and recognition that Polingaysi achieved here with this superb bowl. As we previously mentioned, due to her brief career and tiny output, Polingaysi’s pottery pieces are among the rarest of the rare and are nearly impossible to come by. In fact, in our 35 years of buying and selling historic Pueblo and specifically Hopi pottery, this bowl is only the second piece of Polingaysi’s pottery that we have ever had. This exceedingly rare and lovely vessel is a very special and marvelous prize indeed, the product of the fertile mind and skilled hands of an extraordinary individual possessed with an incredible life story and a unique artistic and cultural sensibility.


In 1978, Polingaysi was awarded the Arizona Indian Living Treasure Tribute and also received the Heard Museum’s Gold Medal. In 1991, the year after her death she was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.



SOLD

“We, who are clay blended by the Master Potter,

come from the kiln of Creation in many hues.”

-Polingaysi Qoyawayma