What I learned About Hopi Pottery and Navajo Jewelry

21 Mar

As part of our study of the Hopi and the Navajo cultures, we did not just go to museums, we also learned from people who live on the reservation.   Learning about the crafts of Hopi pottery and Navajo silversmithing increased our knowledge about how these crafts passed from generation to generation forming a bond that helped their families survive harsh times.

On the Hopi reservation we met and watched Dorothy Ami as she taught us the art of Hopi pottery. Although her first interest in pottery was just for enjoyment, she eventually apprenticed herself to her cousin, Mark Tahbo, who was a well-known Hopi potter. Both Dorothy and Mark were descendants of Grace Chapella, who learned her craft from one of the original Hopi women who re-introduced pottery to the Hopi Reservation, Nampeyo of Hano.

Our morning with Dorothy was inspiring as we watched her create a pottery bowl; viewed her finished items, and watched her finish painting another bowl.   She spoke to us as she worked explaining the history of Hopi Pottery, about her family, and the way the clay and sandstone come together to form a pot.

Hopi pottery is not spun on a wheel, instead it is made by free hand. She mixes the clay and sandstone, using different colored clay for different types of pottery. She knows when the mixture is ready by tasting it! To make a pot she first forms the first bowl.  She then makes coils of clay and builds the pot, which she then smooths and then burnishes with a river bed rock.

“I let the clay take over,” she told us.  “I cannot force it into a shape.”  After she burnishes a pot that is formed, she thinks about the design for that pot and draws it on a piece of paper.  She knows what each color clay turns when it is fired.  And what the different natural colors that she uses to paint turn as well.

Her pottery pieces were lovely.  To see them in each stage, being formed, burnishing, painting, painted but not fired and then fired, added to my appreciation of what she does and how her art has helped her family survive in a situation where many are unemployed. Hopi pottery making is a skill and a craft that spans generations.  Her children and grandchildren are also now making pots.  And one of her prized possessions is a pot that her grandmother made that she was able to purchase off of EBay!

img_2185

Dorothy’s grandmother’s pot.

Our guide, Azalia Begay, is also an artist.  A member of the Navajo Tribe, Azalia learned the craft of jewelry making from her grandfather who was also a silversmith.  Like those who learn Hopi pottery, the Navajo who learn silversmithing always have an opportunity to have an income in a tight economic situation as exists on the reservations.

For the Navajo people, the art of jewelry making came mainly after they were forced off their lands in the Canyon De Chelly and forced to walk to Fort Sumner in New Mexico.   Many learned the skills of blacksmithing while they were imprisoned for four years at the Fort.  When they returned to Arizona and their Reservation and lands, the skills they learned as blacksmiths became skills that could be used for silversmithing and jewelry making.

The use of turquoise came even later.  The color of turquoise represents the sky to Navajo and it is a symbol of good fortune.  In the late 1800s the Navajo artists combined their silversmithing with the turquoise and an art form was created.  Azalia told us the differences about natural, stabilized, re-constituted and block turquoise.  Don’t ask if it is real.  All of these are real to a degree.  Ask more detailed questions!!!

Azalia uses silver, turquoise and coral to make her lovely designs.  We had the opportunity to watch her make a piece of jewelry as she told us the story of how she learned to make jewelry from her grandfather and the story of the first pendant she made.

After her demonstration, she asked if we would like to see her work.  Of course we did!  There were three pieces that I fell in love with and would like to own.  That was a bit out of reach.  But one piece called my name, and since it was soon to be my wedding anniversary, I thought I needed it.  Azalia makes turquoise and coral into beads.  My necklace is a five-strand turquoise beaded gem!   The other two pieces I loved were also purchased by women on our trip.   We all were delighted with our new original and one of a kind Navajo jewelry.

An added bonus of buying the anniversary necklace was that Azalia helped me search for the perfect pair of earrings to wear with it. We found them from a jewelry vender at the stop in Monument Valley by the John Ford Point, which also has meaning in my life. ( See blog below.)

Learning about a culture includes learning about the crafts that they use to beautify the world around them.  Learning about Hopi pottery and Navajo jewelry enhanced my knowledge about life on the reservations.

 

 https://zicharonot.com/2019/03/16/monument-valley-invokes-images-of-my-dad/

https://www.adobegallery.com/artist/Mark_Tahbo7775040

https://www.adobegallery.com/artist/Dorothy_Ami196281153

http://aroundtherez.blogspot.com/p/navajo-artist-profile-azalea-begay.html

 

6 Responses to “What I learned About Hopi Pottery and Navajo Jewelry”

  1. Amy March 22, 2019 at 7:11 am #

    Where’s the photo of the necklace!? Sounds lovely, and happy anniversary! And thanks for describing how they made the pottery—really interesting.

    • zicharon March 22, 2019 at 7:25 am #

      It was so different then I thought! You would think they were thrown on a wheel. Seeing her do the different procedures was wonderful. (Will post photo on my page. )

      • Amy March 22, 2019 at 7:26 am #

        I also assumed they’d be made on a wheel. What an arduous process!

  2. Roseann Copeland March 27, 2019 at 8:26 am #

    You must show me your new necklace and we must make fried bread together. I have a receipe in my New Mexican cook book!🤗

  3. Roseann Copeland March 27, 2019 at 8:26 am #

    You must show me your new necklace and we must make fried bread together. I have a receipe in my New Mexican cook book!🤗

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