Sunday, November 09, 2014

Recent Hopi Pigments I

Weather: Rain last Sunday, followed by frost on the car windows in the mornings.

What’s blooming: Tansy, purple asters; Siberian elm and beauty bush leaves turning yellow.

Animal sightings: Grasshoppers, large and small black ants.

Weekly update: Hopi ceramic craftsmanship declined after the Spanish introduced iron pots and, later, cheap china. They stopped burning the coal that had produced the hard pottery, and returned to wood. Some speculate the introduction of steel axes facilitated that change.

Alexander Stephen, a Scots trained in metallurgy at Edinburgh, was living near Walpi on First Mesa in the 1880s. Jesse Walter Fewkes, who led the southwestern archeological expedition sponsored by Mary Tileson Hemenway from 1889 to 1894, apparently suggested he keep notes. Stephen’s interest naturally included the use of minerals.

While he was in Arizona, archaeologists were reconstructing fourteenth-century pottery. Collectors, and later tourists, wanted pieces. This stimulated Hopi craftsmen to recreate the older designs, and in some cases, to replicate older processes. Stephen mentioned visiting the "old pottery fire pits" in 1893 with a potter and her husband. They asked him to identify useful lodes of coal.

The previous year he had watched pottery fired with sheep dung and corn cobs. They added bones of sheep, cattle or deer, which turned white when burned, to add "this quality of whiteness to the pottery" that high heat once had provided. "Bones of horse or burro are not used. These would darken the pottery."

He noted the paste was covered with a clay slip and decorated with red, brown, and yellow ochres. The brown turned maroon, the yellow a pale red when fired two to four hours.

He noted elsewhere, black came from black iron ore or tansy mustard. Barbara Freire-Marreco saw women at Hano, the Tewa-speaking pueblo on First Mesa, steam bundles of Descurainia pinnata in a pit oven in 1912, then press and dry the liquid for later use. She said, women used it as a trade good among themselves. Walter Hough said it was turned into an oily mixture that served as a binder with an iron pigment for pottery.

The primary uses for paint by men were for their bodies, prayer sticks, kachina masks, and other ceremonial objects. Most of the pigments were the same as those used in the kiva murals in the fifteenth century, but their sources may have changed.

With improved, though still rudimentary roads, they could obtain more from Grand Canyon. Their legends identified the plateau fissure as the place from whence they emerged onto the surface of the planet.

Ralph Cameron and Pete Berry claimed copper deposits along Horseshoe Canyon that were mined between 1890 and 1907. They exploited existing trails of the Havasupai, also known as the Ko’honino or Coconino, who lived on Cataract Creek. The company’s detritus may not have been commercial grade, but it still was rich in copper compounds.

Both blue and green were used by the Hopi. Stephen found men clearly recognized differences in hues, but their language combined them, leading to confusion. It may be because they still used forms of copper, which could vary from sample to sample. Azurite is unstable when exposed to air; water replaces some of its carbon dioxide, turning it into malachite. If the water or saliva used in Hopi pigments contained salt, it would have had the same effect on azurite.

In 1893, Stephen was told they gathered the blue and green malachite used on prayer sticks from the Ko’honino plateau.

They made a light blue for masks from copper carbonate, boiled piñon gum, and squash seeds. They did not use boiled binders for prayer sticks, only clear spring water or white bean meal and saliva. Both men and women used an easily ground, blue-green, copper-stained sandstone, mixed with water, on their bodies. He noted some were experimenting with adding a little aniline blue or green dye.

For weaving, which was the responsibility of men, they mixed indigo with warm, aged urine. For baskets, women used blue beans or Mexican indigo, according to Alfred Whiting.

Indigofera suffruticosa is native to the Mexican lowlands of Guerrero, and was being used as a colorant before Columbus. The Spanish developed an export industry in the 1500s, and it still was a major agricultural product in Chiapas, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Oaxaca in the 1890s.

Notes: Some information from Wikipedia.

Freire-Marreco, Barbara, William Wilfred Robbins, and John Peabody Harrington. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Hough, Walter. "The Hopi in Relation to the Plant Environment," The American Anthropologist 10:33-44:1897.

Stephen, Alexander. Notebooks, 1882-1894, edited as Hopi Journal, 1936, by Elsie Clews Parsons.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi (1939).

Photographs: The Hopi collected their pigments from great distances. Grand Canyon is at least 150 miles away. If one wanted to make pigments where I live, one would have to do the same. Sedimentary rocks were more likely to yield pigments, conglomerates the crystals and other gem stones used in rituals.

1. La Bajada Hill southwest of Santa Fé, 35 miles from my house; Chinle Formation red-brown sedimentary mudstone.

2. Red granite in driveway gravel taken from quarry west of Río Grande, maybe 8 miles away; stones originally came from Picuris area, 40 miles to the northeast. Granite often includes pink feldspar, white quartz, and black mica.

3. Rio Puerco west of Albuquerque, 136 miles away; redeposited grains of yellow sandstone from Navajo Draw Member, Arroyo Ojito Formation.

4. Yellow-stained stone, driveway gravel.

5. Los Barrancos west of Rte 285 and south of Española, 5 miles way; one of the white ash beds.

6. White quartz and a red/white/black piece of granite, driveway gravel.

7. Rio Oso northwest of Española, 14 miles away; first rains after Las Conchas Fire sent black water that covered the river bottom; photograph taken 28 August 2011.

8. No pure black or blue stones in driveway gravel, but many shades and types of gray; also see background stones in other drive pictures.

9. Deformed fault east of Dixon, less than 35 miles away; black shale hardened into slate.

10. White, yellow, and pink quartz, driveway gravel.

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