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51. Bowl with impressed “basket” texture lower body exterior, yellow clay body

When people think of Hopi pottery, many images come to mind. Shades of orange and yellow on polished pots with abstract ceremonial designs are typical. Yet this bowl is quite different from those types. About the origins of Hopi pottery, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office official home page states the following:

The Hopi call their ancestors Hisatsinom, "People of Long Ago." The public and most anthropologists refer to these people as the "Anasazi," a word that has become popular in the general literature. Early Hisatsinom are called the Basketmaker people. The Basketmakers were a hunting and gathering people who became increasingly sedentary as their reliance on agriculture increased. As early as AD 700, the Basketmaker people began making plain pottery. ("History of Hopi Pottery" 2009)

The Hopi are known to have begun painting designs on their ceramics by AD 800. By the late 1800s, a full-fledged pottery revival, led by Nampeyo of Hano (Cats. 71, 72), was producing highly sophisticated and technically advanced wares both for private use and public sale ("History of Hopi Pottery" 2009). As a piece dated to the late 1800s or early 1920s, this unpainted, asymmetrical bowl appears at first glance to be a rather unusual specimen of Hopi pottery, resembling a millennium-old artifact more than the elegant, iconic forms of its period. In fact, this bowl may be a reference to ancient pottery, and as such has been described by Kent R. Olson as "a small revival at Hopi in the 1920s of the beginning of pottery traditions in the American Southwest (ca. AD 1-400)" (Olson 2002:63-256 HOP).
Probably the most interesting and distinctive feature of this object is its exterior texture. The bowl is hand coiled, and unlike most other Hopi pots, it is not entirely smooth. The texture becomes more intriguing towards the base of the bowl, and seems to be an intentional surface treatment.

Stewart Peckham has identified some of the earliest Southwest "protopottery" as basket liners, "pressed in coiling fashion into the interiors of shallow, coiled baskets" (Peckham and Peck 1990:24). Peckham states, "There is a remote possibility that, even before fired pottery was introduced into the Southwest, early sedentary Indians occasionally made what might be called ‘protopottery' or ‘pseudopottery.'" He adds, "A few early dwelling sites in the northern and southern Southwest have yielded the remains of thick, shallow, tray-like bowls crudely made of clay to which had been added a binder of shredded plant fiber" (Peckham and Peck 1990:24). This piece is not symmetrical or perfect in any way. Although it is taller than a tray shape, it may be similar to the pieces Peckham has described.

Peckham cites pottery examples that have a clear exterior impression of a basket, have no burnishing and seem to have been baked or fired, possibly in an open campfire (Peckham and Peck 1990:24). For this pot, it seems as if the damp clay vessel was pressed into a basket, and the imprint of the basket's texture remained. While Peckham supposes that the ancient basket liners might have been used as patches to extend the use of a worn basket, or as seed parching trays, he concludes, "Whatever their functions, the basket liners give the impression of being crude attempts to imitate the pottery that early Indians in the Southwest may have seen but did not know how to replicate" (Peckham and Peck 1990:24). As Kent R. Olson has suggested, this bowl may be a reference to some of the earliest Southwest Puebloan pottery (Olson 2002:63-256 HOP).

At Hopi, as in other pueblos of the Southwest, the ancient art of ceramic making has been passed down from one generation to the next. Although both men and women create ceramics today, for centuries the art of forming utilitarian pottery was exclusively the domain of Puebloan women (men made ritual objects for the kiva), and female potters continue to dominate the pottery market to this day (Vincentelli 2004:100). Therefore, although the identity of the artist who crafted this particular piece is not known, it may be assumed, as an older example in particular, that it was the creation of a Hopi woman.

Further consultation, via sending a photograph of this bowl to scholar Francis H. Harlow, directed more review as to whether there was a flexure in the side of the bowl where the clay would have bulged around a basket mold (Harlow 2009). Careful inspection of the bowl led to the conclusion that the texture imitates that of a basket, but was probably made by pressing on the clay with a tool. Harlow acknowledged that the bowl is hard to date because it does not have painted decoration, "but my impression is that a date in the late 1800s is more appropriate.... I base this mainly on the idea that after about 1900 most Hopi pottery was made in more showy styles for the collectors' market" (Harlow 2009). The basket-like texture may have some pinkish slip coating.

Puebloan pottery making already had been perfected long before the 20th century. Once Anglo-American metal, glass and china utilitarian wares were introduced, they became the preferred materials, and by the 1920s most Southwest Native Americans did not produce much utilitarian pottery (Peckham and Peck 1990:135). Thus this bowl may either have been made as an imitation of or a tribute to early pottery, or as a unique decorative object, or as a pre-1900 utilitarian item. While this bowl remains a curious object, it nonetheless tells us something about the origins of Hopi pottery.

-Nicola Trumbull (Augustana 2012) AR-343, and Sherry C. Maurer, director of the Augustana College Art Museum







Artist unknown (Hopi, Arizona), Bowl with impressed “basket” texture lower exterior, yellow clay body; uncertain date, first dated ca. early 1920s; may be as early as late 1800s, Ceramic, hand coiled and outdoor fired, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (63-256 HOP) 2005.1.65