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About This Artwork
Polychrome Jar, c. 1954
Ceramic and pigment
22.9 x 38.1 cm (9 x 15 in.)
Gift of David and Cindy Van Zelst, 2008.178
Arts of Africa and the Americas
Not on Display
This earthenware vessel has a flawless shape that gracefully curves from the upper rim to the swelling shoulder, with a long downard sweep to the foot; the smooth burnished surface displays a colorful pattern of symbolic motifs. Although made in the 1950s, the work belongs to a ceramic tradition that began in the greater Southwest almost two thousand years ago. In that remote archaeological past, pottery making spread throughout a region embracing southern Arizona and parts of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, and northward along the rugged Mogollon Rim and across the Colorado Plateau to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. Scores of individual and collective styles took form over the centuries, as potters from different communities created a diversity of revivals; mutations occurred; and old forms were displaced by new ones. Yet this ongoing process was always part and parcel of a widely shared artistic and cultural tradition.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a Hopi-Tewa lineage of artists began giving fresh impetus to this ancient legacy. The celebrated Nampeyo and her contemporaries were inspired by shapes and graphic forms on archaeological vessels and fragments being excavated from ruins near their desert mesa villages, or pueblos, of Hano, Sichomovi, and Walpi. This rediscovery sparked a revival, with the most imaginative artists using the ancient shapes and design motifs as points of departure for creating their own inventive forms.
By the 1950s, Frog Woman (Joy Navasie), a member of this lineage, had become an outstanidng potter. Her hallmark wares feature a background of white slip, or liquid clay, animated by asymmetrical patterns of wingline forms, stylized feathers, angular stepped motifs, and cosmological signs, all associatd with rain, fertility, and seasonal regenerations. Such themes also appear in the artistic vocabularies of many other Southwestern Pueblo potters. Today, more than a century after the revival began, Frog Woman is a respected elder among the younger artists who continue producing wares that are highly prized by museums and collectors. Yet the making of ceramics, like many other aspects of Pueblo Indian culture, remians deeply connected to ancient beliefs in a supernatural order. Clay itself has life, and a sacred relationship begins for the potter when the clay is taken from the earth and thanks are offered to Earth Clay Old Lady. From this perspective, the potter's work is seen as a reflection of life forces, and the vessels are reminders that every aspect of our existence is part of an interpenetrating cosmic system.
— Notable Acquisitions.2009, pg. 12.