A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar
Lot 5189
A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar
Sold for US$ 86,500 inc. premium

Native American Art

3 Jun 2013, 12:00 PDT

San Francisco

Lot Details
A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar
A fine and rare Hopi polychrome storage jar
Nampeyo, decorated with three images of the eagle tail composition, marked by broad spirals and geometric complements, a neck band of repeated hooked wing motifs between multiple banding lines, an area of repair with minor restoration to the rim.
height 16 3/4in, diameter 17 1/2in


  • Provenance:
    Charles Benton Collection, Evanston, IL

    For another version of a Nampeyo storage jar of this size and type see American Indian Art Magazine, Autumn, 1985, p. 7: an advertisement by Dewey Galleries, Ltd., Santa Fe

    An expertise on this jar was written for the owner some years ago by Ed Wade, then Deputy Director of the Museum of Northern Arizona:

    "Within the field of Native American art and artists, the names Nampeyo and Maria Martinez are instantly and rightfully recognizable. The innovative genius of these two legendary artists is exhibited in the shape, form, and design of the 'new Indian ceramics' with which they captured the attention of both museum curators and the general American public. Both were expertly skilled at transcending the dictates of tradition and both willfully cast their aesthetic net into the fertile pool of world artistic inspiration. Unlike fellow craftsmen at the turn of the 20lh century, these two remarkable talents were risk takers and in line with the most noble heritage of the true artist pursued their own vision of self-expression and experimentation. Yet, it is surprising how much still remains to be discovered by scholars of the full breadth and complexity of their inquisitive explorations. This magnificent storage jar (16 1/2" H. x 17 1/2" D., ca. 1910) is a case in point. All publications on Nampeyo to date have concentrated upon limited collections and documentation. The consequence has been a skewing of our knowledge of her work as well as a distortion of what she did. Her saucer-shaped flat jars are justifiably famous, yet they are but one of many forms she favored. Also, it is true that she most commonly painted unbroken framing lines, hut enough documented examples exist to the contrary to disprove that this was not her universal style. This exceptional vase-shaped jar by Nampeyo is both rare and a consummation of her work, although a form unfamiliar to most.

    Other vase jars or 'high shouldered vessels' made by Nampeyo are known. However, your vessel is artistically far superior to any of those. Two of the most important and fully documented are in the collection of the Arizona State Museum (items ASM# GP52543 and GP62l5). Both were collected by the noted anthropologists and collectors Harold Gladwin and his wife in the early 1920s for exhibition in their Gila Pueblo Museum. The Gladwins were celebrated for their remarkable collection of fine art quality Native objects. dispersed upon their deaths to prominent American museums. GP52543 has a more exaggerated shoulder than your vessel and no secondary neck design (which, by the way, is a masterful touch on your piece). It has a slipped underbody. The ASM jar has a brown black matte underbody and is far less visually dramatic than the red stone-polished unslipped underbody on your jar. In common with your vessel, its base is flattened and its encircling framing bands have line breaks. Your jar, unlike either of those at ASM, which were wood and dung fired, however, exhibits a white kaolin slipped mid and upper body and was wood and coal fired. The reason you see the fire clouds on the underbody of your vessel is because the jar was fired upside-down because of size, and the firing mound slumped. GP52543 has a Fred Harvey Company tag attached which states 'Made by Nampeyo­ Hopi.' The fact that the Harvey Company had specially produced labels to proclaim the artistry of Narnpeyo attests to the importance both they and early collectors attached to her work.

    ASM#GP62IS is more similar in form to your vessel. It exhibits line breaks in the framing bands and has a flat bottom. It was purchased in 1928 from the Commercial Museum in Holbrook, Arizona, although the vessel was likely made around 1905-1910. Once again, even though this vessel is celebrated as one of Nampeyo's masterpieces, your jar is greatly superior.

    All three vessels are decorated with variants of the 'eagle tail' composition suspended from the encircling neck framing band. Only your vessel has a neck decoration. The complexity of the composition on your jar and the expert execution of the painted design is a testament to Nampeyo's genius: Encircling the neck is a brilliant adaptation of her familiar 'Migration' (or as occasionally referred to, 'Friendship') pattern. In this case she has created the motif in negative by painting offset bi-rotational upper and lower feather frets. She repeats the pattern in the top register of the pendant tail feather composition. The result is a beautiful design with powerful visual motion. One has the impression that the top of the jar is turning. Her classic black-lipped eagle tail feather is surmounted by two symmetrical blocks internally decorated with an offset red and stippled black composition of bird feathers derived from Payupki ceramics (c. 1700 AD). Finally the two dominant sweeping re-curved feathers framing either side of the pendant tail are genius strokes. She has thickened the otherwise black painted forms through the addition of a thin secondary defining line extending down from the tip of the feather to the mid-body framing band. In the interior of this curvilinear form she has deftly applied daub painting to create the impression of airiness. This is the thinking of a master artist.

    The rarity of these vase storage jars is somewhat self-explanatory. They were hard to make, time consuming, and had a limited market. The typical tourist to the Harvey Hopi House at the Grand Canyon was looking for a curio, not a massive vessel that would require special shipping. Yet, the Harvey Company was intimately linked to the production of such pieces. It is not surprising that the primary customers for such 'trophy' jars were museums and the wealthy. They were intended as presentation objects in foyers or the lobbies of museums proudly proclaiming to the visitor 'here is the American Southwest and the art of the American Indian.' Even the flat bottoms of the vessels point to this. They helped stabilize such large jars. but more importantly allowed an even arrangement of flowers and other decorative materials to be placed within the jar. A fast photographic review of turn of the century Harvey company hotels and similar cultural establishments will illustrate this function of these status objects."

    Edwin L. Wade
    29 April, 2003
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