Archive for the 'Arizona' Category

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: Kachina Doll

Hopi, Arizona
Materials: Cotton Wood root, Horse Hair, Paint, Feathers

The Hopi live in what is now northeastern Arizona. Their reservation includes twelve villages on three mesas. Agriculture is one of the central aspects of Hopi life. Though they live in less then ideal conditions for farming, the Hopi have adapted to the arid climate by practicing agricultural methods such as dry farming and using irrigation. This does not mean, however, that rain is not an important part of Hopi life. It is in fact extremely important and something to be prayed for. One of the ways it is prayed for is through Kachina dances. Kachinas are spiritual beings that act as messengers for the Hopi, each one controlling a different aspect of the universe.

This carved figure is a Hopi kachina doll, created to represent a spiritual being in Hopi religion. There are over 400 kachina deities in Hopi religion. Traditional knowledge is an important part of Hopi culture. Hopi elders pass their knowledge on through the telling of stories. These stories include lessons on what it means to be Hopi. Kachina dolls are used to teach children about ritual knowledge. This kachina doll is a duck kachina, also known as the Pawikya kachina. It is believed to be a messenger to the rain gods for the Hopi people. This doll was created so that young Hopi children could learn about this deity’s role in the universe. Some kachinas teach children lessons on how to behave. When children misbehave, they are threatened by the idea of being taken away by the Soyoko kachina. This deity inspires good behavior in misbehaving children.

Hopi carvers produce kachina dolls using the root of a cottonwood tree. Traditionally, dolls are carved using a single piece of wood. First, the bark is removed to form a smooth surface. Several different tools are used in the carving process such as hammers, chisels, and knives. Once the carved surface is sanded smooth, the carver is ready to paint. Customarily, kachinas are painted using native mineral or vegetal pigments. However, kachina dolls made today for the open market are painted with modern dyes and paints. The duck kachina is decorated with clouds to represent its role as the rain messenger. Each doll is painted with its own unique symbols. Details are added last such as the red horsehair and feathers attached to the duck kachina. Other attachments include headpieces, weapons, and jewelry. For a closer look at the Kachina carving process watch this video.

Work Cited

2009. Agriculture. Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

2013. Reporter’s Notebook: Hopi Sacred Objects Returned Home. National Public Radio: All Things Considered.

Bohl Gerke, Sarah.
2008. Nature Culture and History at the Grand Canyon: Hopi Reservation. Arizona State University.

2010. Hopi Katsina Dolls: 100 Years of Carving. Heard Museum.

[Katherine Taylor]

Object: Hopi Figurine

Hopi: Kachina Figurine
20th century
Materials: Pottery, clay, paint

This ceramic figurine is a Hopi representation of a kachina, a spiritual being in Puebloan religions commonly referred to as kachina cults. Kachinas are messengers for the Hopi, delivering prayers and offerings to gods for fertility and health. There are several hundred different kachinas which can each be identified by their unique mask and costume. Every kachina has a specific purpose. The iconography providing evidence for the first kachinas is found in the archaeological record in northeastern Arizona, dating as far back as 1300 C.E.

Historically, kachina dolls were carved out of cottonwood by uncles in the Pueblo, to be given to their nieces during ceremonial dances. During these ceremonies, men of the pueblo wear kachina masks, fully embodying the kachina spirit itself rather than merely dressing as the kachina. The Powamuya, or Bean Dance, is an example of such a ceremony and serves as a rite of passage for young girls. The dance ensures good health for the girls and fertility for the bean seeds, which are then planted on the last day of the ceremony. For a period of sixteen days, the kachinas maintain a large fire to keep the seeds warm as they walk around inspecting, blessing and guarding the bean seeds. This continues until the sixteenth day, when the germinated seeds are distributed in a public ceremony and planted by participants, in hopes of a successful harvest.

Kachina dolls are still used today as an educational tool, telling stories to convey their role as messengers between the earth and the spirit world. Furthermore, it is now acceptable for men to give kachina dolls to children and adults alike, both male and female, and regardless of familial ties. Today, contemporary Hopi artists combine time-honored conventional techniques with personal creative license, creating modern interpretations of the tradition of crafting Hopi kachina dolls. Click here to watch a video about how kachina carving techniques have changed during the past century!

[Anna Rice]

Object: Navajo Blanket

Navajo: Saddleblanket
ca. 1875 – (transition period)
United States: Southwest
Materials: Wool, artificial and natural plant dyes

Navajo saddleblankets such as the woven one pictured above were commonly used among the Navajo people for every day use as well as for trading and selling. Navajo saddleblankets became popular in the late 1870s and early 1880s.  Each saddleblanket depicts a woven pattern of different colors, shapes, and figures.  This particular saddleblanket depicts a pattern of horizontal bands with alternating white bands.  Each colored band is composed of small diamonds woven of cream, dark brown, light brown, and some gray.  The saddleblanket is woven from wool.

The patterns found in the Navajo saddleblankets are unique to each family of weavers. The patterns on saddleblankets have specific meanings, and more often than not, they are selected by the weaver for a particular purpose.  The practice of weaving saddleblankets has grown throughout the Navajo nation during the past century. Traditionally, the saddleblankets are hand woven from Churro Sheep wool.  The Churro sheep were brought over to the United States by Spaniards roughly 400 years ago and the Navajo bred them for their wool.  The weaving proccess begins with the shearing of the sheep by hand and the collection of the wool.  Once the wool is sheared, it is hand carded and homespun.  The spun wool is collected on spools and then dyed using dyes from natural plants and artificial dyes.   It is then loaded onto the loom and woven into the chosen pattern.  Clara Sherman, a Navajo woman, explains in this video how each step in the weaving process is done.

Orignially considered a woman’s craft, the weaving of saddleblankets has since become a tradition of the family.  Today, men, women, and children weave and dye saddleblankets.  Weaving is not considered a chore but an honor.  The production of woven blankets are unique to families and the techniques are passed down through generations.  When a female is unable to continue or teach the family weaving, a male will step in to take her place.  Though the saddleblankets were originally woven for home use, the Navajo began selling and trading their blankets.  Now, these woven saddleblankets are sold all over the United States in Native American trading posts.  Despite the large demand for Navajo saddleblankets, saddleblankets continue to be produced in the traditional manner– handsheared, homespun, handcarded, handdyed and finally handwoven.

[Courtney Burggren]

Object: Tray

Hopi: Basket Tray
North America
c. 1930
Materials: Grasses, Yucca, Devil’s Claw

This object is a basket tray made by the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona. The Hopi people are considered coilone of the oldest indigenous tribes of North America. The term “Hopi” comes from the name Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, which means “The Peaceful People.” Hopi are known for their production of high-quality art such as dolls, jewelry, ceramic, and baskets. This basket tray is made of a primary coil of grasses and a secondary coil of yucca, willow, and devils claw. There is a small handle on the top of the tray for hanging the basket in a display or as a plaque on the wall. The design on the basket is a pictorial of a Kachina or Katsina figure woven in devil’s claw. The devil’s claw is an integral part of the artistic design.


Yellow-flowered perennial devil's claw blossom.

There are literally thousands of species of beautiful wildflowers in North America, but some of the loveliest and most interesting are called devil’s claws. They produce bizarre seed-pods that attach to the feet and legs of large animals, and include some of the largest hitchhiker fruits in the world.


Seed capsules - Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne.

The devil’s claw fruit is technically a drupaceous capsule with a woody inner part surrounded by a fleshy layer. The rather sinister common name of “devil’s claw” refers to the inner woody capsule that splits open at one end into two curved horns or claws. Each capsule contains about 40 black seeds that are gradually released when the claws split apart.


[Loree Mcdonald and Lauren Simons]

Object: Basket


Tohono O’odham: Coiled Basket
North America
19th Century
Materials: Grasses, Yucca, Devil’s Claw

This is a Tohono O’odham basket coiled in the shape of a duck. The Tohono O’odham currently reside in southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, though historically they occupied a much larger land base known as the Papagueria. For this reason, the Tohono O’odham were often referred to as “Papago” tribes by early European settlers.

This basket measures approximately 10 inches long and 4 inches high. It is constructed from grasses, yucca, and devil’s claw and features closed-coil stitching. In closed-coil stitching, the coiled grasses are completely covered by the outer stitch and are not visible through the stitching. Baskets made with closed-coil stitching require more time and detail than those bound together with open stitches. In this basket, strips of white yucca cover the coils of grasses that make up the body of the duck. Additionally, dark strips of devil’s claw are used to stitch a geometric design into the basket.

While Tohono O’odham baskets are used to carry things and prepare food, this basket was probably made for the tourist market. Basketmakers can spend days, if not weeks, on the production of a single basket. Common techniques used in Tohono O’odham basketmaking include stitching horizontal lines, parallel lines, and vertical frets as seen here. More baskets like this one are expected to be displayed at SNOMNH in the coming spring; plan a visit and enjoy getting to know the Story Behind the Object!

[Lauren Simons]

Object: Rug on loom

United States, Arizona
Materials: wool, wood

This partially complete weaving was made on an unknown Arizona reservation as a demonstration piece and was later donated to the museum. It is very likely that the Navajo learned to weave from neighboring Pueblo groups no later than the seventeenth century, though Navajo legends tell of how weaving was first taught to them by Spider Woman. Since then, they have become well known as masters of the craft and their pieces are still highly valued. Nearly all Navajo weavers are women, while men traditionally make the loom and tools.

Because this particular rug is only half-complete, it is easy to see many of the characteristics that distinguish Navajo weavings. All the yarn is handspun wool, as opposed to commercially made or cotton yarn. Germantown style rugs were woven with commercial yarn and occasionally cotton warp (the lengthwise threads), but this in an exception. This piece also has two shades of carded gray, made by blending white and black wool together. While some Navajo rugs, especially those in the “eye dazzler” style, incorporate several bright colors, most have a natural palette with one accent color, usually red. The Navajo maintain strong, straight edges by weaving in a selvage cord as they go, which is often of a contrasting color. Here, a two-ply black yarn is used for that purpose. The top and bottom edges of Navajo weavings are also flat and smooth, rather than fringed. This is due to the warp thread being set up on the loom in a continuous figure eight, eliminating loose ends and allowing the entire warp area to be filled.

A traditional element of Navajo weaving not present in this piece is a spirit line, though it is typically made just before the piece is finished. According to legend, when Spider Woman walked away from the tree where the gift of weaving came to her, she left a line behind her, a line that lead to new things. When Spider Woman shared her gift with the Navajo, she taught them to leave a line that ran out of the pattern and to the edge of the blanket. This was the line that she had left behind her, and it allowed the weaver’s mind to be released from the finished piece and move on to new things [Holly Thompson].

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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