Pottery by Les Namingha, Click or tap to see a larger version
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Les Namingha, Hopi and Zuni, Polychrome Sikyatki reproduction jar with asymmetric bird element, shard and geometric design
Artist: Les Namingha
Pueblo: Hopi and Zuni
Dimensions: 8 in H by 14 1/2 in Dia
Item Number: xxhoe5310
Price: $ 6900
Description: Polychrome Sikyatki reproduction jar with asymmetric bird element, shard and geometric design
Condition: Excellent
Signature: LES NAMiNGHA 2015
Date Created: 2015
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Les Namingha

Hopi and Zuni
Bird element and geometric design on a black on yellow jar
 

Les Namingha was born in 1967 at Zuni Pueblo. His mother, Irene Vicenti, was Zuni and his father, Emerson Namingha, Jr. was Hopi-Tewa (the son of Rachel Namingha Nampeyo). Les learned early in life how to blend traditions and influences. At the age of eleven he went to live with a host family in Salt Lake City, UT, during the school year and spent the summers at his mother's home on Zuni. That continued until he finished high school in 1985. From high school he went to Brigham Young University and earned his BFA in Design in 1992.

While in college, Les spent summers at his aunt Dextra's at Hopi, learning the basic methods and cultural traditions of making Hopi pottery from her. What he learned in the academic setting combined with what he learned from Dextra has helped him to develop his own potting style with its unique blend of Hopi and Zuni shapes and designs. He began participating in Santa Fe Indian Market as a potter in 1992, winning Best of Division in both traditional and non-traditional pottery and a Best of Class award in pottery in 1997.

Though he's highly accomplished in traditional Hopi ceramics, Les continues to challenge himself in new directions of thought and expression. He plays at the intersection of traditional and contemporary in all his shapes and designs. With his pottery, this blend is manifest in the Hopi-Tewa and Zuni motifs and patterns that he renders in the prehistoric way through his contemporary eye.

Les signs his work: "LES NAMiNGHA" and sometimes adds the year.


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Hopi

Looking across Tewa Village to First Mesa
Tewa Village and First Mesa

The Hopi people live in villages on or around three primary mesas in northeast Arizona. Some of these communities have been continuously occupied since the 12th century. Because they lived in isolation longer than any other pueblo group, the Hopis retain much of their traditional religion, lifestyle and language. That said, the Hopi mesas have also long been sanctuaries for other tribes during times of great drought or great hardship (such as those brought on by the Spanish in the early years of their colonization of Nuevo Mexico). As a result, the landscape around First Mesa is littered with the remains of villages once founded by people speaking Keresan, Towa, Tewa and other languages.

The Hopi pottery tradition is quite varied with roots traced as far away as vitrified ceramics found in the environs of Valdivia, Ecuador, and produced between 1200 and 1500 BC. Archaeologists excavating in the ruins around First Mesa found shards of pottery styles and painted designs also found in the Rio Salado region and among the ancient Sinagua settlements in the Wupatki, Tuzigoot, Walnut Canyon and Homolovi areas (all abandoned between about 950 and 1200 AD).

The area around Jeddito was occupied by Towa-speaking people from the Four Corners region beginning around 1275. The Jeddito area is where Jeddito yellow is found, the clay that made the pottery shards of Sikyátki so spectacular. Beginning in the 1400's, Keres-speaking people arriving from the east began to build what became Awatovi, on Antelope Mesa between Jeddito and First Mesa. Sikyátki itself was also built by people from the east beginning in the early 1300's. At first Sikyátki was inhabited solely by the Kokop (Firewood) clan, then the Coyote clan came and grew to become the largest single clan in the village. Why the village was destroyed is shadowed in myth but Jesse Walter Fewkes (the first archaeologist to excavate in the Sikyátki area) felt the village was destroyed before the first Spanish visitor arrived in 1540. Oral history has it that Sikyátki and its people were wiped out but the clans that lived in the village have somehow continued to exist.

The Hopi Cultural Center from the parking lot
The Hopi Cultural Center

The ruins at Awatovi (on Antelope Mesa, east of Walpi and south of Keams Canyon) have yielded pottery shards in styles and with designs that were also prominent in the prehistoric village now known as Pottery Mound (in central New Mexico). Among the pot shards found at Pottery Mound are plain and decorated Hopi products, white clay products from the Acoma-Zuni area and red clay products from north-central New Mexico. Pottery Mound was abandoned a few decades before the Spanish arrived in New Mexico in 1540. It has been reported that the residents of Awatovi were Keres-speaking people from the Laguna-Acoma area (where Pottery Mound is) and, as such, were not as resistant as the Hopi themselves were to the Christianizing practices of the Spanish Franciscan monks when they came into the Hopi lands around 1609. As Awatovi was the only pueblo in the Hopi region to construct a Christian mission, most archaeologists attribute that to the reason why residents of Walpi and Old Oraibi destroyed the village and killed nearly all its residents in the fall of 1700. However, at the time of that destruction, Awatovi was the largest and most populous pueblo in the Hopi mesas. That was also shortly after Hopi recruiters went to the Rio Grande Pueblos for Tewa warriors to relocate near the Hopis. It was also around 1690 that the people of Walpi were relocating from their old pueblo at the foot of First Mesa to their new location atop the southernmost finger of First Mesa, a move made for defensive reasons.

Tewa warriors and their families began arriving in the area in 1696 and were steered to take up residence at the foot of First Mesa along the only route to the mesa top (in that location, the Tewas would be the first people to encounter incoming Spanish military - the Hopis atop First Mesa felt they would make a good first line of defense should the Spanish attempt to reconquer them). The Tewas were also good at repulsing Ute, Paiute and Navajo raiders. After they won a famous battle against the Utes they built Tewa Village (also known as Hano) at the foot of First Mesa. Some of the Tewa women were potters and in the ages-old way, they slowly shared what they knew with Hopi potters, and vice versa. That cross-pollination went on for years, and not just with pottery. Cross-cultural marriages happened, too, and today the people are known as Hopi, Hopi-Tewa and Tewa, depending on their ancestry. And while Tewa Village is completely surrounded by the Hopi Reservation, many of the residents are fluent in Tewa, Hopi and English. Some are fluent in Spanish and Navajo, too.

During those same troubled times Towa-speaking people from Jemez Pueblo migrated to Hopi and Navajo territory (in the Jeddito Wash area) to escape the violence of the Spanish reconquest. They established familial ties that are still in place today (which may explain why Jeddito Wash is a Navajo Reservation area surrounded by the Hopi Reservation). The village of Sichomovi on First Mesa was founded in the late 1700's by members of the Wild Mustard Clan, Roadrunner Clan and others who'd come to the area from east of Santa Fe (Pecos Pueblo and the pueblos of the Galisteo Basin). Around 1800 a long period of severe drought caused many Hopis to migrate to Zuni territory and once the drought had broken, most returned to their ancestral lands. While at Zuni many Hopi potters picked up the Zuni method of white-slipping their pottery and continued to produce white ware after returning to Hopi. However, their quality wasn't nearly as good as that of Hopi pottery produced pre-1700.

The quality, styles and designs of Sikyátki had lived on in Awatovi pottery, although the potters of Awatovi were also enamored of using a white slip on top of the Jeddito clay base. The potters of Awatovi also introduced some new designs (the "Awatovi star" being one) but after the village was destroyed, very little of their knowledge and practice passed on. Hopi ceramics entered a virtual Dark Age for almost 200 years.

By the mid-1800's the Hopi pottery tradition had been almost completely abandoned, its utilitarian purposes being taken over by cheap enamelware brought in by Anglo traders. Hopi pottery production sputtered along until the late 1800's when one woman, Nampeyo of Hano, almost single-handedly revived it. Nampeyo lived in Tewa Village on First Mesa and was inspired by pot shards found among the nearby ruins of the ancient village of Sikyátki. Today credit is given to Nampeyo for fully reviving the Sikyátki style. She was so good that Jesse Walter Fewkes, the first archaeologist to formally excavate Sikyátki, was concerned that her creations would shortly become confused with those made hundreds of years previously.

Sikyátki pottery shapes are very distinctive: flattened jars with wide shoulders; low, open bowls decorated inside; seed jars with small openings and flat tops; painting methods of splattering and stippling and very distinctive designs. The Sikyátki style originally evolved when Keres and Towa-speaking potters from New Mexico got together with Water Clan potters from the Hohokam areas of southern Arizona and northern Mexico and they began working with clays found in the Jeddito area. Over the years other clans came to the area and made their own contributions to what we now know as "Sikyátki Polychrome." Accoding to Jesse Walter Fewkes, that merging of styles, techniques and designs created some of the finest ceramics ever produced in prehistoric North America.

Today's Hopi pottery tends to be a white, yellow, orange or buff colored background decorated with designs in red and black mineral paints. Painted designs tend to fill the entire space, often with an asymmetrical and symmetrical design. Most of the symbology painted on Hopi pottery is themed with "bird elements:" eagle tails, feathers, bird wings and migration patterns. Many Hopi, Hopi-Tewa and Tewa potters are members of the Corn Clan and their annual religious cycle revolves around the seasons of corn. The vast majority of today's Hopi pottery shapes and the designs painted on them are obvious descendants of the work of Sikyátki and Awatovi potters.


Waiting for the Snake Dance to begin.  Mishongnovi Pueblo
Hopi, Arizona c. 1895

Mishongnovi Pueblo with Shipaulovi Pueblo in the distance.  
Hopi, Arizona, Feb. 1909

Nampeyo, potter, Hano Pueblo, Hopi, Arizona c. 1915

Map showing the location of the Hopi mesas


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Zuni Pueblo

A view of the Zuni Pueblo Welcome sign
Welcome sign at Zuni Pueblo

Archaeologists have dated some sites on the Zuni Reservation back to the Paleo-Indian Period, more than 4,500 years ago. During the Archaic Period (2,500 BC to 0 AD), the forebears of the Zuni were hunter-gatherers and just beginning to develop agriculture. The Basketmaker Period (0 AD to 700 AD) saw agriculture become more developed and the Zunis were making their first pottery. The Pueblo I Period (700 AD to 1100 AD) saw an expansion of the population and settlements in the Zuni River area along with the development of the first painted Zuni pottery.

The Pueblo III Period (from 1100 to 1300 AD) saw further population growth in the Zuni River area and a shift from small houses to larger, plaza-oriented villages. The Pueblo IV Period (1300 to 1500 AD) was the time of the great drought and migrations as many tribal groups abandoned the Four Corners area and moved to locations near the Rio Grande, Rio Puerco, Zuni River and Little Colorado River. The main Zuni Pueblo was founded during this time but there were several other large villages in the area, too.

In 1540 there was a major battle fought between the Zunis and the forces of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Coronado was almost killed but his soldiers did win the battle. As Coronado traveled with horses and sheep, they were probably the first such livestock the Zunis had ever seen.

In 1542 Coronado passed by Zuni again on his way back to Mexico. He left three Mexican Indians behind with the tribe and they most likely informed the tribal leaders of the extent of the Spanish domain in Mexico and the power they exercised there.

The Zunis were mostly left alone until a Catholic mission was built at Hawikku in 1629. At first the Zunis were friendly with the priests but that had changed drastically by the time of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The tribe built a village near their fortress at Dowa Yalanne and prepared to defend their people and way of life against the Spanish army. Don Diego de Vargas arrived in 1692 and was allowed to ascend to the top of Dowa Yalanne. He found many relics from the destroyed missions there and was able to arrange a peace between the Spanish and the tribe. Between 1693 and 1700 the tribe consolidated all their small villages into what is now the Pueblo of Zuni.

The railroads arrived in New Mexico in the 1880's and right behind them came the first Anglo traders. Over the next 50 years Zuni pottery turned more and more to what the traders wanted. With the push into mass production, the quality fell off. The end result was the value of Zuni pottery fell way off and the potters tired of what they were doing. Pottery making dropped off in the 1940's until only ceremonial vessels were being made. The Zuni pottery revival began after Daisy Hooee began teaching pottery making at Zuni High School in the 1960's and 1970's. Josephine Nahohai brought traditional Zuni pottery designs back into the community in the 1980's and Jennie Laate continued teaching pottery making at Zuni High School. Many of today's well known Zuni potters thank Jennie Laate for her teaching and inspiration. In the 1990's Noreen Simplicio taught pottery making at Zuni High School and for several years in a row, she had more than 100 students in her class.

Today, because so many Zuni potters learned their craft at Zuni High School, they mostly also use electric kilns for firing their works. Other than that, they all use the same traditional methods of gathering and processing the clay, making their pottery and painting their designs, traditional processes that are practiced in virtually the same way in all the pueblos.

Zuni Pueblo location map


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Sikyátki Revival

Hopi


The name "Nampeyo" has been associated with much of the pottery produced on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona since the late 1800's. The potter, Nampeyo of Hano, just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time. She re-interpreted and re-introduced various proto-historic forms, designs and color schemes, becoming the icon of a new/old approach to the making of pottery that was quickly adopted by other potters. This new style eventually came to be known as "Sikyátki Revival Ware", as it was associated with archaeological excavations that were conducted during the 1890s at the ruins of Sikyátki, the remains of a Hopi village which had existed between about 1375 and 1625 on the east flank of First Mesa. The ruins are about three miles north of Hano at First Mesa.

The common story is that Nampeyo's husband Lesou was hired by archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1895 to help in the excavation of Sikyátki. As Fewkes told it, Lesou told Nampeyo about the pottery he'd seen at the site and his descriptions sparked her interest. She visited the site and saw first-hand the finely made, impeccably decorated jars and bowls that were being discovered and removed. Supposedly influenced by what she saw, Nampeyo’s work began changing to emphasize highly stylized bird forms, especially macaws and eagles. She also drew inspiration from other ancestral Hopi pottery types such as Jeddito and Awatovi Black-on-Yellows.

In reality, Lesou never worked for Fewkes and Nampeyo was well known for producing high quality Sikyátki Revival ware before Fewkes ever arrived in the area. No one called it that back then but it was what local traders like Thomas Keam and Lorenzo Hubbell were asking for when potters would bring them pots for sale. They wanted shapes, colors and designs like those that littered many of the old ruins in the area. The mounds at what were Sikyátki, Awatovi and Jeddito yielded many distinctive shapes and designs, long before Fewkes arrived.

Describing Sikyátki Revival Ware (or "Hano Polychrome," to be more accurate) is difficult. The pots are uniformly polychrome, employing vegetal and mineral paints that fire to become the reds, browns, yellows and blacks that we associate with Hopi pottery these days. The designs employ graceful, curvilinear lines that are well balanced across the three-dimensional surface of the pot. The designs also frequently incorporate religious symbols. The shapes are distinctive: wide shouldered flattened jars, low bowls with decoration inside and seed jars with small openings in their centers and tops that seem to defy the laws of physics as dictated by the clay. The base clays polish and fire to an unusually smooth texture, with colors ranging from golden yellow to orange to light brown. Since the fired surface came out so smooth, no slip had to be applied to the overall surface prior to applying the designs.

The pueblos of Hopi and Zuni had developed a close relationship in the 1860's when many Hopis left the Hopi mesas during a drought and a smallpox epidemic and waited at Zuni for conditions to improve so they could return. This connection influenced Hopi potters when they saw the Zunis use a white slip under their decorations. That practice returned to Hopiland when the potters returned and it was used in the production of "Polacca Ware," the most common form of Hopi pottery being made until the late nineteenth century. Polacca Ware is characterized by a white background with a "crackled" surface.

At the encouragement of local traders Thomas Keam and Lorenzo Hubbell, some Hopis started recreating old styles and designs based on the shapes and designs implied by ancient pot shards they found among the ruins left by their ancestors. Nampeyo was among the potters who were making quantities of non-utilitarian pottery for trade purposes and she heard Keam's call. Her innovation was to abandon the use of the white slip and apply her decorations directly to the polished clay body, just as she'd observed on the ancient pots. (The Navasie/Naha families still make their pottery using the white slip but now it's called "Walpi Polychrome.")

Nampeyo was relatively prolific in her making of pots. She also had an excellent eye for design and a steady hand for painting her designs. She and her descendants have set the quality bar for Sikyátki Revival (Hano Polychrome) pottery very high and that level of quality continues to rise today.

The tremendous diversity of design and technique in modern Hopi pottery stands as testament to its long history and the care with which today's Hopi and Hopi-Tewa potters seek to preserve their heritage while continuing to innovate and evolve the medium.

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Pottery Care & Consideration

  • The most obvious tip: Yes, the pots will break if you drop them!
  • Do not expose pottery to water (Inside or outside). Do not wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Dust pottery only with a soft, smooth cloth (no terry cloth or textured fabric). A very soft paintbrush (sable or camel) can be used.
  • Always use two hands to carry your pot: one on top and one on the bottom, or one hand on each side. Be careful with handles, they can be fragile. Do not grip or lift pots by the rim. Take care when wearing jewelry, rings can scratch the finish.
  • Place a piece of felt or cloth between the pot and the shelf to protect the signature.
  • Avoid exposing pottery to extreme temperature changes.

For those who live in "earthquake country" (also good for mischievous pets):

  • Weigh pots down with a small zip lock bag containing sand, glass marbles, rice, etc. Do not fill the pot more than one third full as you want them bottom heavy. Remember to remove the weight before moving.
  • Secure your shelves; make sure they are well attached to the walls. Shelf brackets should be of sufficient length and strength to support the weight of your pottery.
  • Prevent pots from sliding. Consider attaching a small wooden molding to the front of shelves. Line shelves with non-slip material (a thin sheet of rubber foam, Styrofoam sheeting, etc.)
  • If you need assistance with special problems, major cleaning (your grandchild spills ice cream on your pot), restoration or repair (the cat breaks a pot), or replacement (irreparable damage), please feel free to call us.

We hope these ideas help you maintain the beauty and value of your pottery for years of enjoyment.

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