Brown jar with spiral ribs, fire clouds and pine pitch coating 
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Samuel Manymules, Navajo, Brown jar with spiral ribs, fire clouds and pine pitch coating
Artist: Samuel Manymules
Pueblo: Navajo
Dimensions: 10 1/4 in H by 12 1/2 in Dia
Item Number: bunvm7186
Price: $ 3600
Description: Brown jar with spiral ribs, fire clouds and pine pitch coating
Condition: Excellent
Signature: SM Dine

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Samuel Manymules

Navajo
Swirl melon design on a brown jar with fire clouds
 

Samuel Manymules was born into the Bitterwater Clan of the Red Horse Nakai Diné Clan in August, 1963. For many years Samuel did what he needed to get along. Jobs that still stick out in his mind were jewelry making, driving a tow truck and working at an auto dealership trying to make ends meet. Then he started finding pot shards on the ground in the area around where he lived. They intrigued him enough that he taught himself how to make pottery the traditional way. He says he got his inspiration in the early days by looking at the pottery of Christine McHorse and Joseph Lonewolf. After ten years of dabbling with clay, he perfected a thin wall version of Navajo pottery and with his typical high fire practice, he's since elevated Navajo pottery to a whole new level.

Samuel has a long list of accomplishments and awards in the pottery world, the basics of the list cover most of a printed page as he has won many prominent awards from some of the most distinguished juried competitions in the southwestern United States. Samuel took home the ribbon for Best in Pottery from the Heard Museum Indian Fair Market in 2002 and Best of Classification at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2006. He also won the Judges' Choice Award at the Heard in 2008, a 1st Place ribbon at the 2009 SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market and then the 2010 Best of Division ribbon at Santa Fe. In 2005 and again in 2006 he won Best of Pottery at the Southwest Museum Indian Marketplace in Los Angeles. In 2013 he won 1st Place-Pottery-Division B-Traditional at the Heard, again. He also earned 1st, 2nd and Best in Category ribbons at Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013 after only winning 1st and 2nd the year before.

Samuel tells us he builds his pots in his mind before he ever puts his hands in the clay. "I spend most of my days envisioning the shapes, planning how to make a vision a reality, and imagining how the completed pot will look," he says. In keeping with Navajo tradition Samuel neither paints nor carves his pieces. He knows his clay so well he pushes and presses it into the forms he wants, creating the architectural angles of a master and decorating without actually decorating: he leaves the making of color variations to the firing process where he says the Hand of the Creator makes its mark.


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Navajo Nation

A view in Monument Valley
A view in Monument Valley

Historical and archaeological evidence points to the Navajo people entering the Southwest around 1400 AD. Their oral history still contains stories of that migration as the journey began in eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada centuries after their ancestors made the journey across the Bering Land Bridge from central Asia about 10,000 years ago. They were primarily hunter-gatherers until they came into contact with the Pueblo peoples and learned the basics of survival in this drier climate. Navajo oral history points to a long relationship between the Navajo and the Puebloans as they learned from and traded with each other.

When the Spanish first arrived, the Navajo occupied much of the area between the San Francisco Peaks (in Arizona), Hesperus Mountain and Blanca Peak (in Colorado) and Mount Taylor (in New Mexico). Spanish records indicate the Navajo traded bison meat, hides and stone to the Puebloans in exchange for maize and woven cotton goods. It was the Spanish who brought sheep to the New World and the Navajo took to sheep-herding quickly with sheep becoming a form of currency and sign of wealth.

When the Americans arrived in 1846, things began to change. The first fifteen years were marked by broken treaties and increasing raids and animosities on both sides. Finally, Brigadier General James H. Carleton ordered Colonel Kit Carson to round up the Navajo and transport them to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico for internment. Carson succeeded only by engaging in a scorched earth campaign in which his troops swept through Navajo country killing anyone carrying a weapon and destroying any crops, livestock and dwellings they found. Facing starvation and death, the last band of Navajo surrendered at Canyon de Chelly.

Carson's campaign then led straight into "the Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo, a 300-mile trek during which at least 10% of the people died along the way. At Bosque Redondo they discovered the government had not allocated an adequate supply of water, livestock, provisions or firewood to support the 4,000-5,000 people interned there. The Army also did little to protect the Navajo from raids by other tribes or by Anglo citizens. The failure was such that the Federal government and the Navajo negotiated a treaty that allowed the people to return to a reservation that was only a shadow of their former territory little more than a couple years after they had left. However, succeeding years have seen additions to the reservation until today it is the largest Native American Reservation in the 48 contiguous states.

Large deposits of uranium were discovered on the Navajo Nation after World War II but the mining that followed ignored basic environmental protection for the workers, waterways and land. The Navajo have made claims of high rates of cancer and lung disease from the environmental contamination but the Federal government has yet to offer comprehensive compensation.

As a semi-nomadic tribe, the Navajo never made much pottery, preferring to use baskets for most storage purposes. They did produce a small amount of pottery for ceremonial uses. Once they were settled on a reservation, pottery began to make more sense. After 1950 Cow Springs brownware began to appear on the market. A trader named Bill Beaver was in Shonto back then, encouraging local potters to "make something different" and the market in the outside world responded positively to those different creations.

Rose Williams is considered the matriarch of modern Navajo pottery. She learned from Grace Barlow (her aunt) and passed her knowledge and experience on to her daughters and many others. Today, most Navajo pottery is heavy, thick-walled and coated with pine pitch (a sealer they also use on many of their baskets). Most Navajo pottery has little in the way of decoration but many pieces have a biyo' (a traditional decorative fillet) around the rim. Unlike Puebloan potters Navajo potters do not grind up old pot shards and use them for temper in creating new pottery. Their religion says those pot shards are filled with the spirits of their ancestors and forbids the reuse of the material. Similarly, Navajo religion limits Navajo potters to using primarily Navajo carpet designs in the decoration of their pots.

Navajo potters have also created a panoply of folk art, including unfired clay creations called "mud toys." Other Navajo potters, like Christine McHorse, have graduated into the mainstream of American Ceramic Art and easily compete among the finest ceramic artists on Earth.

Location map for the Navajo Nation


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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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