Archive for the 'ceramic' Category

Musha Ningyo: Japanese Warrior Dolls

The Sam Noble Ethnology collection has a set of Japanese Musha Ningyo (warrior) dolls that were created for Gogatsu, or “Boys’ Day” held annually on May 5th. Girls have Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, held on March 3rd. Unlike Hina Matsuri, a doll display is not required for Gogatsu. The most important festive item is a banner or windsock in the shape of a carp attached from a pole near the home (Figure 1). Traditionally, one fish is raised for each boy child, however since 1948, the Gogatsu holiday was rededicated by the Japanese government to include all children (Kodomo no hi). Ever since, families hoist a carp banner for each child. The carp symbolizes strength for its determination to swim upstream. Even though dolls are not required for Gogatsu, many dolls have been purchased and displayed for the occasion. The most popular are soldiers and infamous generals, legendary rules, and boy heroes. Tigers, representing Japan’s relationship with Korea, and a white horse, symbolizing the Emperor, are also common. A doll that represents an armed soldier or lord is a Musha ningyo. The five dolls described below are a mix of famous boy heroes, generals, and legendary rulers.

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Figure 1. Carp windsocks, courtesy of BBC Two YouTube video: Children’s Day Festival-Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands



Figure 2. Kintaro Doll

Kintaro (Golden Boy) is a popular young hero who is displayed during Gogatsu to inspire boys to have courage and bravery. He is known as the Japanese “Hercules” for his incredible strength. Kintaro was known to uproot trees to create bridges over torrential mountain streams. Kintaro was the son of an officer of the imperial guards who fell into disgrace and took his own life. His mother, Yaegiri, described as a beautiful courtesan, escaped to Mount Ashigara. Some accounts say that she raised Kintaro, while others suggest that she abandoned the infant and he was nursed by mountain witches, yama-uba. Kintaro’s first companions were the wild animals of the forest. There are stories of Kintaro racing against the animals and he is often depicted as either riding a bear, welding an ax, or judging a wrestling match between the animals. Most depictions of Kintaro have the character welding an ax, but this doll holds a rope (Figure 2). Unlike the other dolls, Kintaro’s skin has a reddish tone, indicating the character’s relationship with the natural elements. When he became an adult, Kintaro was approached by Raiko’s (legendary heroic leader) retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna. Tsuna recruited Kintaro to be one of the Four Guardian Kings, protectors of Raiko. Kintaro’s name was changed to Sakata no Kintoki and as one of the Four Guardian Kings, they are credited with exterminating all the monsters, ogres, and demons in Japan.


Figure 3. Momotaro, front side.


Figure 4. Momotaro, back side. 


Momotaro Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Other Metal

Momotaro is another highly popular boy hero. A childless old elderly couple found a the boy in a large peach. They name him Momotaro (Peach Boy). He becomes a valiant youth, and befriends a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant. Together, they traveled to Devil’s Island (Onigashimu) to slay the demons and bring home treasures. Here is a version of the story, written in 1908 by Y.T. Ozaki: Momotaro, or The Story of the Son of a Peach. Momotaro’s legend became an emblem of modern Japanese nationality in the late 19th and 20th centuries. According to Dr. Klaus Antoni, professor from the University of Tuebingen, Momotaro’s legend was used as war propaganda for young school pupils. Devil’s Island is alluded to be Hawaii and the devils to be the American soldiers. There were also two animated films Momotaro’s Sea Eagles in 1943 and Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors in 1945 (Figure 5), which was also the first full-length Japanese animation film. Both were directed by Mitsuyo Seo, who was ordered by the Japanese Naval Ministry to make these propaganda films. Both films are available on YouTube. Click on the film titles above to watch the films.

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Figure 5. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, photo courtesy of Crunchyroll. 

After WWII, Momotaro’s status as war propaganda diminished and the legendary character remains as a popular model for courage and bravery. This Momotaro doll (Figure 3) holds a standard in his left hand with Japanese Hirigana characters for Nihon ichi, meaning “Japan #1.” There is a peach on the end of the standard, and a symbol of a peach on the back of his vest (Figure 4). He wears a bright orange samurai outfit and a Kabuto helmet. Underneath his helmet, Momotaro’s hairstyle is a chonmage (topknot), often associated with the Edo period. Unlike Kintaro, this Momotaro doll has pale white skin, indicating youth and purity.


Figure 6. Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll


Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll

Asia: Japan

Paper, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur

Like the Momotaro doll, the Yoshitsune doll is wearing a bright orange samurai outfit and has a similar Kabuto helmet (Figure 6). However, Yoshitsune is wearing more armor and is holding a tassel in his left hand. Minamoto no Yoshisune was a great young general of the late 12th century. When Yoshisune’s father, Minamoto Yoshitomo, was killed in the Heiji Distrubance (1159), Yoshisune was raised in a Buddhist monastery. According to a popular legend, he encountered Benkei, a warrior monk on a bridge.  They crossed swords. Benkei was defeated by Yoshisune and became his retainer (Figure 7). When Yoshisune was 15, he left the monastery to join his older brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo. Yoshisune became a general quickly due to his talent of military leadership in the Genki and Heike wars between the Minamoto and Taira clans. Thus, he became popular in the Emperor’s court. Yoritomo became jealous of Yoshitsune’s popularity and branded Yoshisune as a traitor. Yoshitsune tried to raise a rebellion against his brother. When he failed, he wandered Japan for several years as a fugitive before his forced suicide. Yoritomo brought Japan under his control and became the first Shogun.

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Figure 7. Yoshisune and Benkei Japanese Print, courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art


Figure 8. Jimmu Tenno Doll


Jimmu Tenno Doll

Asia: Japan

Porcelain, Textile, Hair/Fur, Wood, Plastic

Jimmu Tenno is known as the first emperor of Japan (Figure 9). He is the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Not much is told of this quasi-historical figure. As told in the Kojiki, “Records of Ancient Matters,” the oldest accounts of the myths surrounding the origins of Japan, one of Jimmu’s retainers dreamt of a magic sword, sent by Amaterasu, to give to Jimmu. The retainer woke up, located the sword, and presented it to Jimmu. Jimmu used the blade to pacify the central Land of the Reed Plain (Yamato), built a palace there, and married a local princess of divine ancestry.

The Jimmu Tenno doll wears two of the Sacred Treasures of Japan around his neck: The Divine Mirror and the Yasakani no Magatama jewels (Figure 8). The sword on his back might be the third treasure, the Kusanagi sword. These treasures are signs of his divine ancestry. This doll is noticeably more realistic than the others. Also, instead of samurai armor, he is wearing brocaded clothing in an ancient Chinese style, another indication of his legendary status. The bird next to Jimmu’s foot, a kite, was originally on his hand.

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Figure 9. Jimmu Tenno Japanese Print, courtesy of Toshidama Galley. 


Figure 10. Toyomi Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa Dolls. 


Toyomi Hideyoshi Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Metal, Paper

Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590-98 was a general of peasant birth, not of samurai descent (Figure 11). He completed the 16th century unification of Japan after more than two centuries of feudal warfare. He prohibited the use of swords by farmers, merchants, and monks and introduced the shi-nō-kō-shō which froze class distinctions by separating warriors, farmers, artisans, and tradesmen. Each class lived in different areas of a town or village. The purpose was to promote order in a feudal society. Since he was originally a peasant, Hideyoshi was illiterate and considered uncultured. He secretly educated himself, wrote poetry, and learned the intricate rituals of the tea ceremony. He fought in numerous battles, and invaded Korea twice, until his death at the age of 62, but he did not ever proclaim himself as Shogun.

The Hideyoshi doll (sitting on the horse) has a helmet with a metal sunburst fanning out from the back (Figure 9). Much like the Jimmu Tenno doll, Hideyoshi and the second man, who is probably Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general, look realistic, including flesh-tone skin rather than the distinctive white pale completion of Momotaro and Yoshisune.  Kato Kiyomasa is from the same town and not from samurai descent. He was a formidable fighter and leader, and aided in the invasion of Korea. The prints of Kiyomasa show him with a long, thick beard, and wearing a distinctive silver conical helmet with antlers (Figure 12).

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Figure 11. Toyomi Hideyoshi Japanese Print, courtesy of thinklink. 

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Figure 12. Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general Japanese Print, courtesy of The British Museum 

(Caitlin Severs)

References/Further Readings

Antoni, Klaus. 1991. “Momotaro (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Showa Age.” Asian Folklore Studies. 50.1: 155-188.

Barbanson, Adrienne. 1961. Fables in Ivory: Japanese Netsuke and Their Legends. Tuttle: North Clarendon, Vermont. Pg. 76.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Kigawa, Michiyo. “Kodomo no hi: Children’s Day Celebration,”

Kuwata, Tadachika. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “Gogatsu or ‘Boys’ Day’: Hero Dolls,”

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “The Uses of Japanese Dolls,”

Willis, Roy G. Ed. 1993. World Mythology. Henry Holt and Company: New York. Pg. 121-122.




Object: Ceramic Bird House

Figure 1 Ceramic bird house from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Ceramic bird house from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Catawaba Valley
North Carolina
Catawba Valley pottery tradition, North Carolina
Material: Unglazed ceramic

This ceramic bird house was made by Burlon B. Craig (1914-2002) in 1987. Craig was famous as a potter in the Catawba Valley tradition of rural Lincoln and Catawba Counties in western North Carolina. He began training as a potter under his neighbor Jim Lynn at the age of fourteen. He also learned from local potters Enoch and Harvey Reinhardt as well as from master potter Ernest Auburn Hilton. Craig served in the Navy during World War II and worked in a furniture factory upon his return, making pottery on the side. By the late 1950’s, he was the only traditional potter left in the Catawba Valley area.

Craig primarily made utilitarian wares until academic and collector interest in folk art arose in the 1970’s. Gaining national attention for his work, he transitioned to more decorative pieces. The worth placed on Catawba Valley pottery rose dramatically. Craig gained apprentices such as Charlie Lisk (b.1952) and Kim Ellington (b.1954), who in turn have passed down the Catawba pottery tradition to others. The tradition is once again vibrant in the area, with a network of potters who host kiln openings, participate in local arts festivals, and continue to teach others the craft.

The Catawba Valley tradition itself entails hand-digging clay from Catawba Valley sources, creating traditional vessel forms, using an alkaline glaze, and firing the vessels in a wood-fueled groundhog kiln. The first potters in the area used a lead-based glaze in the late 18th century but switched to an alkaline glaze, first created in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, around 1830. Craig’s line of tradition can be traced directly back to one of the early potters active in the Catawba Valley, Daniel Seagle (1805-1867). Historically, Catawba Valley ceramic forms have been utilitarian with only some decoration. The decoration varied from melted glass in the glaze to, later, swirls made from different colored clays. The face jugs and other decorated vessels now so popular with collectors were only created beginning in the 20th century, specifically to sell to tourists and others who see the pottery as art rather than as functional pieces.

Figure 2 An example of an alkaline-glazed face jug, created by Charlie Lisk; "Lisk facejug" by Dfuse180 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Figure 2 An example of an alkaline-glazed face jug, created by Charlie Lisk; “Lisk facejug” by Dfuse180 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –


The video below provides a demonstration of the Catawba Valley technique of throwing a pot given by Mike Ball, who apprenticed under Kim Ellington.

[Susanna Pyatt]



Betts, Leonidas

1994    Burlon Craig: An Open Window into the Past, April 15, 1994 – July 8, 1994.

Visual Arts Center, North Carolina State University.

Harpe, Jason and Brian Dedmond

2012    Valley Ablaze: Pottery Tradition in the Catawba Valley. Conover, NC: Lincoln

County Historical Association by Goosepen Studio & Press.

Zug, Charles G. III

1986    Turners & Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University

of North Carolina Press.

Object: Aryballos

Figure 1    Arybollas with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette
Greece: Corinth
Unknown Date, Late Corinthian
Materials: Terracotta

This jar, or aryballos, from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History measures 2 5/16” high with a circumference of 6 1/2”, the lip of the vessel is 1 1/4” wide while the handle is 1” L X 1/8” wide. The images on this vase include (from left to right) a lion, a bird (perhaps a goose or swan), and rosettes (flower shapes).

An aryballos is an oil jar used by Greek athletes during bathing. This type of jar could be carried on the wrist using a string looped through the small handle.[i] This usually spherically-shaped vessel originated in Corinth, Greece. However, other aryballoi jar shapes include oval, animal or even human-shaped vessels.[ii]

Corinth became the leading center for ceramic production in Greece during the Orientalizing period of the 7th century BCE. The term “Orientalizing” refers to the spread of Near Eastern or Egyptian themes to Greece during a time of intensive trade. The Near East and Egypt inspired both the shapes and designs of this type of pottery as well as the images painted on the vessels. Corinth experienced great success in the production of containers and through the invention of the black-figure firing technique. In this technique, incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes of figures.[iii]

Corinthian style vessels may be recognized by their yellow or beige-colored clay as well as by their decorations. Orientalizing period vessels, such as this aryballos, display floral decorations along with images of animals surrounding the body of the jar. Images of vegetation and animals spread from the Near East and Egypt, most likely through trade, and heavily influenced the themes of Greek vase decoration.[iv]

The aryballos from the Classics Collection, is an example of a Late Corinthian vessel style and most likely dates to around 600 BCE. The date may be assumed to be around this time because earlier vessels tended to be more precisely painted, sometimes with miniature figures. Because this aryballos does not appear as detailed, it was most likely created towards the end of the Corinthian period. Earlier Corinthian aryballos often featured one large figure, while animal images and small fillers like the rosettes are seen in later examples. [v] This aryballos therefore presents an interesting example of a Corinthian oil jar used by Greek athletes that was heavily influenced by Near Eastern and Egyptian design elements.

[Cacie Thomas]


[i] Clark, Andrew J., and Maya Elston. 2002. Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Harvard Art Museum Aryballos Collection., accessed February 14, 2015.

[iv] Boardman, John. 1998. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC : A Handbook. New York City: Thames and Hudson.

[v] Boardman, John. 1974. Athenian Black Figure Vases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Object: Creek Pottery Jar

Figure 1  Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Pottery Jar
Creek (Muskogee)
North America: Southeast
Mid 1800’s
Materials: Clay

This Creek clay pot is almost entirely undecorated except for a few minor incisions along the mouth. Approximately 10 inches high, and 8.5 inches in diameter, the jar has a globular body with a relatively short neck upon which are 46 incisions, slightly marred by a broken shard on one portion of the neck. The mouth of the pot is 5.88 inches wide. The pot is predominately brownish-gray with a large number “3” painted in red on the outside, most likely by the donor rather than the original potter. The pot has striations all along the outside, suggesting that it was roughened in the traditional Creek style, most likely accomplished through brushing with grass or corn cobs[1]. The pot was likely made in the mid-19th century, somewhere around the 1840’s.

Donated as part of an extensive collection upon the death of Robert B. Selvidge, a translator for the Muskogee Creeks and a long-time resident of Oklahoma, this pot and its sister piece were acquired in 1948 by the University of Oklahoma. Selvidge himself claimed to have moved to what was then Indian Territory in 1882 with his parents when he was young and wrote that they “settled among the full-blood Muskogee Indians…I was nine or ten years old before I can remember playing with a white child outside of my own brothers and sisters” thus having the opportunity to learn “the Indian language right along with the English language.”[2] Due to his interactions with numerous Native Americans during his job as a court translator for the Creeks, Selvidge acquired his extensive collection of Native American objects.


Figure 2   Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt's article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Figure 2 Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt’s article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Selvidge claimed that this pot was made in Alabama in the late 1830s or early 1840s and brought to Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, by the Creeks during the Indian Removal. While it is quite common to hear claims of objects being brought to Oklahoma during the Indian Removal of the late 1836-1837, these claims are nearly impossible to verify. Despite Selvidge’s assertion about this pot, it seems more likely that it was created in Oklahoma after the Removal. Making this distinction can be complex, as, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the types of Creek pottery made in Oklahoma, in general, “are indistinguishable from Okmulgree Fields Plain and Chattahoochee Brushed”, the two categories of pottery found in the historic Georgia homeland of the Creeks before the 1830s.[3] Despite this complexity in identification, an early analysis by Karl Schmitt of the particular Creek pots acquired by OU suggests similarities with two categories of Chickasaw pottery from south-central Oklahoma, developed in the 1840s and 1850s.[4] These two categories, Rock Creek Brushed and White Brushed, have similar tempers to that of this Creek pot, consisting of sandstone and fine-grained sand, and possess similar brushed surfaces to the two pots in the Selvidge collection. It is significantly more likely that the Selvidge pot was created in Oklahoma by Creeks who had traveled from Alabama and Georgia and thereafter intermingled with the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes, learning some of their pottery-making techniques.

While the Creeks understand themselves to be the descendants of a culture which spanned across almost the entire Southeastern United States before 1500 A.D. and the arrival of European settlers, their traditional homeland lies primarily along the river banks of parts of Alabama, George, Florida, and South Carolina.[5] The Creek are often mistakenly considered to be a single, unified tribe, when in fact they can be better understood as a union of several different tribes, a confederacy of sorts, in which each town, or talwa in Muscogee[6], consisted of members of similar kinship and cultural backgrounds which exercised relatively autonomous political authority[7]. Adding to European misconceptions, the very name “Creek” was given to the confederacy by English traders as a convenient label for the residents of the various towns.[8]

Figure 3    Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

Figure 3 Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

The Indian Removal Act of Andrew Jackson was enforced for the Creeks through a removal treaty, signed in 1832, which moved approximately 20,000 Creek Indians between 1836 and 1837 from their historic homelands in Georgia and Alabama to the newly established Indian Territory in what would become Oklahoma.[9] During this forced migration, the tribes known as the Lower Creeks, who had been significantly more Europeanized due to their proximity to English peoples, established farms and plantations along the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers while the two provincial groups known as the Upper Creeks established smaller towns along the Canadian River and its northern branches, most prominently along the Deep Fork area.[10]

For Native Americans during the Removal period, pottery was a dying art, but there remains evidence that the Creeks were among the only three tribes in Oklahoma which continued to make pottery in what is known as the “historic period”, after the arrival of the Europeans: the Chickasaw, Creek, and the Choctaw.[11] These three tribes continue to make pottery today. The pot from the Selvidge collection was, almost certainly, used for cooking and food storage rather than artifice or sale, considering its lack of decoration. While it is almost impossible to know the definite origin of the Selvidge pot, the most likely explanation is that it was created in the 1840s after the Creek’s arrival in Oklahoma. Despite the lack of decoration on the pot, it remains a fascinating piece in the collection due to its age and obviously utility.

[Sarah Miles]


[1] Karl Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

[2] Robert B. Selvidge, Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

[3] Marshall Gettys, “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Accessed March 20, 2015.

[4] Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma”: 6.

[5] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

[6] Steven C. Hahn “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007, Accessed March 22, 2015.

[7] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[8] Hahn “Creeks in Alabama.”

[9] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[10] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[11] Gettys “Pottery, American Indian.”


Works Consulted:

1. “Ceramics” Mississippi Archeology Trails, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Accessed March 5, 2015.

2.  Foster II, H. Thomas. “Evidence of Historic Creek Indian Migration from a Regional and Direct Historic Analysis of Ceramic Types” Southeastern Archaeology 23, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 65.

3.  Gettys, Marshall. “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Accessed March 20, 2015.

4. Hahn, Steven C. “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007,    Accessed March 22, 2015.

5. Hopper, E.C. E.C. Hopper to J. Willis Stovall, Eufala, OK, April 8, 1948.

6. “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

7. “Oklahoma Lakes, Rivers, and Water Resources,” published by Accessed March 20, 2015.

8. “Our Nation: Geographic Information” Chickasaw Nation Official Website, updated February 10, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.

9. Quimby, George I. and Alexander Spoehr “Historic Creek Pottery from Oklahoma” American Antiquity 15, no. 3 (January 1950): 249

10. Selvidge, Robert B. Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

11. Schmitt, Karl. “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

12. Stovall, J. Willis. J. Willis Stovall to E. C. Hopper, Norman, OK, February 25, 1947.

Object: Hopi Jar

Hopi, Arizona, United States of America
ca. 1900
Materials: Clay, Mineral Pigment

This Hopi wide mouth, square shouldered jar is produced in the Nampeyo  style. Fish, rain, feathers, and other geometric designs are depicted on the outside surface. It has a red bottom, thick red rim band, and red horizontal dividing lines that are often seen in late 1800s Hopi pottery.

The Anasazi, possibly though as yet not definitively proven, were the ancestors of the Hopi people. They began making pottery around A.D. 700 due to successful agricultural practices, ending the need for a nomadic life. They lived in an area of the American Southwest known as the “Four Corners” region. Modern Hopi lands encompass a much smaller area of northeastern Arizona that sit in the middle of the Navajo Nation. Twelve villages are located in three regions called First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa. The villagers of the Hopi town of Walpi still live a traditional lifestyle without electricity or running water.

Hopi potter Iris Nampeyo (1860 – 1942) revived the ancient style of Sikyatki pottery through potshard studies conducted with her husband, Lesou. Sikyatki was a large, ancient Hopi village abandoned around A.D. 1500. The wide red and black lines found on the jar in this blog, based on Nampeyo’s revitalization of ancient motifs, tell a dramatic story of the challenges of desert living and Hopi beliefs. Water is the most precious commodity in this area, so water creatures are believed to possess great power. Many symbols are used to represent various  forms of rain, and therefore water, in Hopi pottery. The framed stair pattern in the lower half of this jar symbolizes rain.

Members of the Hopi villages in northeastern Arizona have created beautiful pottery for generations using clay dug from tribal lands. Hopi potters begin with a base then employ a symmetrical hand-coiling method to build the walls of the vessel. A gourd scraper is used to smooth the sides. The traditional designs are applied with yucca fiber brushes using mineral pigments. Items believed to be important for survival, like water, food, prey, and spirituality, are the most common symbols found on Southwestern pottery. To learn a bit more about Hopi pottery check out this video.

Work Cited

Cole, Sally J.
1994   Roots of Anasazi and Pueblo Imagery in Basketmaker II Rock Art and Material Culture. Kiva 60(2): 289-311.

Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip.
2003   Signs in Place: Native American Perspectives of the Past in the San Pedro Valley of Southeastern Arizona. Kiva 69(1): 5-29.

Frank, Ross H.
1991   The Changing Pueblo Indian Pottery Tradition- The Underside of Economic Development in Late Colonial New Mexico, 1750-1820. Journal of the Southwest 33(3): 282-321.

Honea, Kenneth.
1973   The Technology of Eastern Puebloan Pottery on the Llano Estacado. Plains Anthropologist 18(59): 73-88.

Jett, Stephen C., and Peter B. Moyle.
1986   The Exotic Origins of Fishes Depicted on Prehistoric Mimbres Pottery from New Mexico. American Antiquity 51(4): 688-720.

Smith, Alexa M.
2000   Zoomorphic Iconography on Preclassic Hohokam Red-on-Buff Pottery: A Whole Vessel Study from the Gila River Basin. Kiva 66(2): 223-247.

Zaslow, Bert.
1986   Symmetry and Contemporary Hopi Art. Kiva 51(4): 233-253.

[Astrud Reed]

Object: Porcelain Dish

Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000. china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000.

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Spindle and Spindle Whorl

Spindle with Spindle Whorl Weight
Mazatec – Popoloca Indians
Central America: Mexico
Unknown age
Materials: Wood and Clay

This object is a spindle and spindle whorl weight that was used either by the Mazatec or Popoloca Indians from southern Mexico. It is small, only 12 inches long by 1.25 inches in diameter at its largest point. The spindle, or the long thin shaft, is made of wood while the round spindle whorl weight is made of clay. The spindle is tapered on both ends to a narrow point, and the dark brown wood is polished from much use. The clay weight was either molded or machine drilled and also has a polished surface.

Figure 2    Image of a woman spinning painted on a Greek vase
Figure 2 Image of a woman spinning painted on an ancient Greek vase

The history of spindles and spinning is a fascinating one, beginning at least 10,000 years ago. All around the world, as long as people have been able to spin plant fibers such as wool, flax and cotton, they have been able to create a wide range of useful and decorative textiles such as clothing, blankets, rugs, bags, etc. Hand spindles, such as this one from the Ethnology Department, have been used since ancient times to twist fibers into yarn that can then be woven, knitted, sewn or otherwise turned into a useful object. This type of spindle is known as a support spindle because it is set on a flat surface and spun like a top. Thread is created by pulling the fibers away from the spinning object and then letting the thread gradually wind onto the spindle.

Spindles have been used for thousands of years all around the world from places like Africa and Asia to Europe, North America and South America (among many others). This includes the Popoloca and Mazatec Indians of southern Mexico. The Popoloca Indians reside in the state of Puebla while the Mazatec Indians reside in the nearby state of Oaxaca. Both the Popoloca and the Mazatec are predominately agricultural peoples, relying on crops like maize (corn), beans, squash, and chilies, supplemented by grains and fruit. Settlements are loosely organized around village centers. Rectangular houses are typically built of vertically placed poles covered with thatched roofs, although sometimes mud bricks are also used. Crafts such as weaving and pottery were once much more common among these people, but such traditional crafts are becoming scarce, with their products replaced by commercially-made goods. Using objects such as this spindle and spindle whorl weight to spin thread and yarn is increasingly becoming a thing of the past for many indigenous cultures of Central America.

To see an example of how a supported spindle works, take a look at this useful video:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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