May 2011 Artifact of the Month

Polychrome Jar


Hopi Pueblo


Clay, slip

Polychrome JarThis month's feature, a small Hopi polychrome jar, is the first artifact ever accessioned by the Schingoethe Museum.

Pottery in the Southwest has a long history with some pieces dating to A.D. 100.  There is archaeological evidence of ancestral Hopis trading their yellowware throughout the Southwest; however, pressure from the Spanish diminished trade.  As a result, pottery production almost entirely disappeared by 1800.  In 1896, archaeologists came across pieces of polychrome pottery from the abandoned pueblo of Sikyatki.  This resulted in a revival of traditional Hopi pottery known as the Sikyatki revival.

Hopi potters have faithfully kept to the traditional ways of pottery production in the face of commercial pressure.  It can take as many as 40 hours to create a piece of pottery.  The first step to creating a pot is to find and prepare the clay.  The clay is soaked and then cleaned by hand.  Hopi potters knead the clay on a flat stone and carefully remove any stones, sticks, or hairs from the clay.  After the clay is sufficiently prepared, the pot is started often using a basket called tabipi.  Hopi potters roll out the clay into long ropes and then coil the ropes to form the pot.  The coiling grooves are closed with a gourd smoother called tuhupbi.  Once the pots are dried and sanded they are polished using smooth river stones.  Sometimes these polishing stones are passed down from generation to generation.  Because the clay found in most parts of the Southwest is too gritty to use for a finished surface, a clay slip is often applied to the surface.  The pot is polished again with the polishing stone prior to being painted.  Hopi potters use pigments from boiled herbs, ground minerals, or colored clay.  Finally the pot is fired.

The tradition of making pottery is one that is handed down from generation to generation.  Within the Hopi pottery community there are families that have a long lineage of master potters.  One of the most famous Hopi potters is Nampeyo, whose descendants are still known for creating renowned pottery.  The Schingoethe Museum is proud to have pieces created by Nampeyo as part of its collection.