Pottery by White Swann, Click or tap to see a larger version
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White Swann, Hopi, Sikyatki-style polychrome jar with bird element and geometric design
Artist: White Swann
Pueblo: Hopi
Dimensions: 11 in H by 16 3/4 in Dia
Item Number: xxhoh4240
Price: $ SOLD
Description: Sikyatki-style polychrome jar with bird element and geometric design
Condition: Excellent
Signature: White Swann
Date Created: 2014
Sale Price: $SOLD
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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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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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