An important Hopi polychrome jar, Nampeyo
Lot 5069
An important Hopi polychrome jar
height 12 3/4in, diameter 21 1/2in
Sold for US$ 53,775 inc. premium

Lot Details
Property of various owners
An important Hopi polychrome jar
Nampeyo, on a rounded base, the enormous vessel with high sloping shoulder, tapering neck and slightly flared rim, painted with a single design band showing the migration pattern of opposing wing motifs on a cross-hatched ground, thick framing bands above and below, minor overpaint.
height 12 3/4in, diameter 21 1/2in


  • Provenance:
    Nedra Matteucci, Santa Fe

    The attribution to Nampeyo is made by Edwin Wade in an expertise (abridged here) that accompanies this lot.

    A Masterwork by Nampeyo of Hano c. 1915

    Among the most celebrated objects within Native American art are two ceramic master styles perfected by the Hopi potter Nampeyo (AD. 1860-1942), the flat-topped, saucer-shaped jar with a pendant four-panel eagle-tail motif, and, as expressed in this magnificent jar, the high-shoulder bulbous storage vessel with an undulating migration pattern.

    The recurved serially repeated S-fret or “migration pattern” was an original adaptation by Nampeyo from similar designs common to prehistoric Black-on-white ceramics. By the turn of the 20th century, this feather motif was already common to the interior of her bowls and she had modified it into various forms now romantically referred to as “spider design,” “batwings,” and “wingtips. ”

    Both Nampeyo and her eldest daughter Annie (1884-1968) favored the composition. Contrary to Kramer’s assertion that “Nampeyo rarely painted the complete migration design on her jars, showing an impatience to embellish the rigid pattern,” a number of documented pieces by Nampeyo exist in which she excelled in its execution. The supposed “rigid pattern” of the “migration” only became so after succeeding generations of Nampeyo’s relatives exhausted the composition, but during the early 20th century it was a dynamic visual form requiring the consummate skills of an impresario...

    The magisterial form of this exquisite jar and its grand scale (12 3/4” H., x 21 1/2” W.) reveal the hand of a master potter familiar with the delicate tapering of thin clay walls prone to collapsing under the accumulated weight of the peaking upper-body and neck. The beauty of this vessel’s sculpted form and the remarkable quality of its stone polishing speak clearly of the work of Nampeyo...

    Prior to its current ownership, when the jar was in the personal collection of Nedra Matteucci, it was featured in the publication and exhibition by Susan Peterson Pottery by American Indian Women. Pictured on page 115 of the catalogue, it is identified as the work of Fannie Nampeyo and dated to 1950. There is absolutely no substantiation, either in the manufacture and decoration of the vessel or the history of Hopi ceramics, for this designation. Instead, the jar’s qualities point to its origin around 1910 to 1915 as the consummate expression of the genius of both Nampeyo and her eldest daughter Annie.

    Fannie, though a talented potter, was nevertheless a commercial artist who occasionally matched her mother’s skills and those of her elder sister Annie. When opportunity allowed, however, Fanny cut corners in a pot’s production.

    This jar is kaolin-slipped, and all parts are meticulously polished, including the painted design. The encircling black framing bands are unbroken. The lip of the jar is slightly beveled and out-flaring. It is coal-fired. All these traits speak the hand of Nampeyo. After her mother’s passing, Fannie increasingly abandoned such time-consuming decorative steps. Her paints become matte and fugitive, and the surface color of her vessels took on the blushed reds and yellows that resulted from dung and wood firing.

    This vessel also differs from the work of Fannie stylistically. Many traits, such as the thinness of linework, the perfectly counterbalanced mirror symmetry of the negative-positive triangular feather tips, and the general shape of the vessel are Nampeyo. Most telling is the signature secondary neckband of finely drawn encircling lines internally accentuated by diagonal rectangular blocks. This aspect of the vessel is Annie, as documented on scores of her painted compositions.

    However, there is one irrefutable bit of evidence that tells us this is not the work of Fannie but of Nampeyo and Annie. There is no signature.

    Fannie and her brokers well understood the economic advantage of name association with Indian art. Anonymous tribal art was more aligned to anthropology and artifacts than to fine art by named artists. Unlike her mother, Fannie was English literate and was already signing her pottery by the 1930s. As early as 1935, a jar with the migration pattern was made and signed by Fannie. It now resides in the collections of the Museum of Northern Arizona.

    Fannie signed everything, from ashtrays, candlesticks, and miniatures to large storage jars. So why, in 1950, at the ascendancy of her career, when she was featured in national exhibitions and sales shows, would she leave a definitive masterwork undocumented? Anyone who knew Fannie, as I did, can assuredly say that she would not have done so. It is inconceivable. The unsigned jars were those by Nampeyo and Annie—and this one is a classic product of their genius dating to the first two decades of the 20th century.

    Edwin L. Wade, PHD
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