Sunday, October 26, 2014
Hopi Pottery Colors
Weather: Sun angles have been changing. The light came into my eyes over a neighbor’s roof for the first time this fall Friday morning. A little rain fell Monday afternoon.
What’s blooming in the area: Sweet pea, chrysanthemums; corn stalks now tan, apple trees mottled.
Beyond the walls and fences: Goat’s head, chamisa, broom senecio, áñil del muerto, golden hairy and purple asters. Younger trees of heaven turning yellow; river visible as snaky line of yellow cottonwoods.
In my yard: Winecup mallow, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower. Leaves on sea lavender turned bright red; beauty bush turning coppery red; spirea turning orange.
Animal sightings: Goldfinches continue stripping seeds from the Maximilian sunflowers, cabbage butterflies, hornets, large and small black ants.
Weekly update: Technology is the mediator between perceptions of color and their reproduction. Whatever colors the Anasazi or Hopi used before 1300 are unknown. Water-based dyes don’t survive well on basketry, clothing and exposed rock walls.
Our knowledge of their color schemes begins with mineral-based pigments and pottery.
In the thirteenth century there were two southwestern centers for pottery, the Anasazi in the four corners area and the Mogollon to the south. Both used black decoration on fired, clay paste. The first lived in an area with gray clay, which was coated with a white clay slip. The other lived in an area with brown. The backgrounds may have been dictated by raw materials, but potters tried to alter them to fit aesthetic ideals.
When drought arrived, they moved with the rest.
Individuals living in today’s Hopi area already were adding black decorations to pottery made from an orange clay. Around 1315, craftsmen in the village of Awátovi on Antelope Mesa began producing yellow pottery with black decorations.
The innovation wasn’t the clay, but the methods for firing. Individuals already knew the coal that gave the Black Mesa its name would burn; they had been using it for heat. They were the only natives in North America to use coal.
Some one or some small group learned how to control the fire to make a thin, hard pottery that was good enough to trade.
Anna Shepard fire-tested clays she found near the Awátovi ruins in 1938 to replicate fourteenth century processes. She found two types of red clay and two of gray that fired properly. When the reds were heated with wood, one turned gray, the other pale red. When coal was used, both turned red.
When the grays were subjected to wood fire for three and three-quarter hours they turned white or light gray. When exposed to coal for two hours, they became pink or pale brown. When they were fired for more than nine hours, both turned light yellowish brown.
After examining sherds removed from the ruins, Watson Smith concluded craftsmen experimented for another generation after producing the Awátovi black-on-yellow before developing a clay paste that used little filler. Once perfected, Jeddito black-on-yellow became a standard formula that was produced uniformly on an industrial scale for both local use and export.
Trade follows technology, and brings with it more specialization and better quality choices.
Charles Adams’ team notes the hard yellow ware has been found in southern California and southern Utah, as well as in many Arizona and New Mexico sites. They believe much of the exchange with Homol’ovi "may have existed to compensate for ecological imbalances. The pueblos near modern-day Winslow lacked good quality clay. However, their soils supported the growth of cotton, which those of Awátovi did not.
Adams, E. Charles, Miriam T. Stark, and Deborah S. Dosh. "Ceramic Distribution and Exchange: Jeddito Yellow Ware and Implications for Social Complexity," Journal of Field Archaeology 20:3-21:1993.
Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery, 1996, on relationship between available clay and pottery color.
Shepard, Anna G. "Technological Note on Awatovi Pottery," in Smith, 1971.
Smith, Watson. Painted Ceramics of the Western Mound at Awatovi, 1971.
Shofer, Jeanne Stevens. "Awatovi Black on Yellow Information," Museum of Northern Arizona website. She suggests the 1315 date as a revision of Smith, 1971.
Photographs: Fall colors. Except where noted, all were taken 22 October 2014.
1. Goldfinch on Maximilian sunflower in my yard; its yellow coloring is camouflaged by the yellowing leaves; 10 October 2014.
2. Red amaranth after cold has killed many leaves; this is the plant that began the ruminations on the Hopi use of color.
3. Yellow cottonwoods and some lower growing, orange-red tree or shrubs that may be some kind of cherry; growing along an irrigation ditch.
4. Red Virginia creeping climbing through a piñon near the main road.
5. Yellow catalpa and red sand cherry along my gravel drive.
6. Unknown red tree and still green cottonwood along the village road; from its color, I would guess it’s some kind of maple.
7. Yellow cottonwoods along an arroyo; badlands and Jémez in back.
8. Two goldfinches, 10 October 2014.
9. One of the great mysteries is how goldfinches manage to keep attached to the narrow Maximilian sunflower stems when they turn upside down. It’s even more amazing when the wind is blowing as it was this day, 10 October 2014.