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A lovely small Hopi polychrome pottery

canteen by Nampeyo of Hano, c.1905-1910

This canteen is quite a small vessel to contain so many accumulated centuries of unique Southwestern history, culture and tradition. It’s an ancient form indeed, descended from the Kayenta Anasazi people of the remote Tsegi Canyon system, Marsh Pass and Monument Valley regions of what is today far Northern Arizona and Southern Utah in around 1000-1300 A.D.

Beginning in the mid-to-late13th Century, many of these people migrated south and helped settle and populate what are today known as the Hopi Villages on their various mesa tops. Naturally, they brought their ceramic traditions with them and over the centuries these mixed with other ceramic traditions there to create distinctly Hopi ceramic forms, one of the most important of which is the large-bellied or “snake” canteen the shape of which some scholars have likened to a woman’s breast or a pregnant woman’s belly in the way it holds the very essence of life itself in the desert, which, of course, is water.

Most of these canteens are much larger and usually made of unpainted plainware made to carry to the springs and fill with water to bring back to the village. Smaller, more portable canteens were made for men to carry with them to the fields while tending their corn. Some of these canteens were painted. Still smaller canteens were made for several purposes; to hold small amounts of sacred medicine water for ceremonies in the Kiva, to carry tobacco for rolling cigarettes and later to sell to the steady trickle of intrepid archeologists and tourists who began making their way to the dusty mesas in the last quarter of the 19th century.

This canteen is likely one of these latter and bears many distinctive identifying characteristics of the hand of the renowned Hopi potter, Nampeyo of Hano. Canteen making is extremely difficult and Nampeyo excelled at it; her forms are superbly designed, molded, polished and painted as this canteen is. The shape of the canteen has the characteristic, outward protruding belly, flat back and twin carrying “lugs” of the so-called “Snake” canteen in miniature. The painted design is also classic Nampeyo, beautifully and masterfully executed and featuring a “Sikyatki-Revival” style encircling bird tail and feather motifs with a marvelous use of positive and negative space, another telltale Nampeyo identifier.

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The legendary Hopi potter, Nampeyo, with a large “snake” canteen, c. 1900

“When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and

pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint.

But now I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.”

—Nampeyo, 1920s

The canteen measures 4 1/2” in height and 4 1/2” in width at its widest point and is 3” in depth. It is in extremely good original condition, especially for its age. There are some minor abrasions and a couple of surface slip cracks which do not go through the vessel wall. Notably, the canteen also bears a distinctive Fred Harvey Company “Hopi Villages” white paper label on the back further evidence of it being made by Nampeyo. Starting around 1895, The Harvey Company through its purchasing agents, trader Thomas Varker Keam, ethnologist Alexander MacGregor Stephen, trader Juan Lorenzo (J.L.) Hubbell and notably, Nampeyo’s younger brother, the Polacca village trader, Thomas Polacca ,supplied the Harvey Company with a steady stream of high-quality vintage and contemporary Hopi ceramics for sale in its growing network of Southwestern trading posts. Nampeyo was a very important part of this trading concern. The Harvey Company purchased her work and that of her eldest Daughter Annie extensively and regularly promoted Nampeyo and her family’s pottery-making skills through frequent personal appearances and pottery-making demonstrations at its various hotels at the Grand Canyon and elsewhere and at national exhibitions as far away as Chicago and San Diego. Most likely, this canteen was originally sold at one of these Harvey Company Trading posts, possibly Winslow, AZ’s La Posada or Albuquerque, NM’s Indian Building, somewhere along the Santa Fe Railroad network early in the 20th Century

This diminutive vessel contains hundreds of years of distilled Native and Southwestern history, culture and tradition in a small, beautiful package at a small, beautiful price.

Price $1,150

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A large Hopi plainware “snake” canteen, 11 1/2” width, c. 1900