We have a number of Hopi pottery pieces in our home, gifts we received during the year we lived and worked on the Hopi Reservation, so I was pleased that on our visit to the Heard Museum in Phoenix they had a whole gallery called Elegance From Earth dedicated to Hopi pottery.
A time line illustrated with actual pieces of pottery shows how the art of making pottery has evolved among the Hopi. I believe pottery creation used to be primarily the domain of women but now many male potters are making and selling pottery too. Skills are passed on from one generation to another. A grade one student of mine in the Hopi community of Kykostmovi wrote a story in class about how she and her mother and grandmother made pottery. The lessons start at an early age.
This is one of Nampeyo’s signature pieces- a low pot with a spherical shape. Many other kinds of objects are fashioned by Hopi potters.
A series of photos in the Heard exhibit showed how the pottery is made.
Clay is collected from places on the Hopi lands. The location of certain clay deposits are well kept family secrets. The clay is cleaned of all impurities, soaked in water and then kneaded for a long time. The artist does not use a potter’s wheel but rolls the clay into long coils which are fashioned into the vessel.
The clay is coiled up from the bottom. A scraping tool is used to smooth out the coils until they become one solid wall.
The potter creates a design using yucca leaves as a paint brush and pigments from plants and minerals. The piece is then polished and fired. Sheep and cow manure is used for fuel and large broken shards of pottery are placed down to protect the piece from too intense a flame. The vessel remains on the fire for several hours.
Making Hopi pottery is a very labor intensive process. During the year I lived on the Hopi Reservation I was fortunate enough to watch several times while women made and fired pottery. That was over twenty years ago however and so it was great to revisit that experience at the Heard Museum.
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