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CHAPTER XVIII. Pueblo And Navaho Pottery And Silverware
Primitive Processes. The primitive industries of a primitive people are
always interesting to the student. They are more; they often reveal more
than appears at first sight. We, with our present knowledge of improved
mechanical methods, stand and watch an Indian silversmith or potter, and we
laugh at the crudity of the methods employed, naturally comparing them with
our own. But this is not the proper way to look upon the work of the
aborigine. Rather let the gazer imagine himself without any of his advanced
knowledge. Let him project himself into past ages, and find himself groping
his way out of the darkness of primitive ignorance. He will find himself
seeking for many centuries, ere he invents and discovers even the rude
processes used today by the Indian. As an inventor, the aborigine has laid
us under great obligation, for he discovered the first steps of mechanical
progress, without which all later steps would have been impossible.
Hopi Pottery. In the Hopi House, the processes of making pottery
and silverware by primitive methods may be seen in active operation, though
in the manufacture of silver, some modern appliances have taken the place
of the ancient ones. In the pottery, however, everything is exactly as it
used to be before the white race appeared on the American continent. The
Hopi woman brings her clay with her from some pit or quarry in Hopiland,
where experience has demonstrated a good pottery clay is found.
After thoroughly washing, pulverizing and crushing, it is ready to be
worked up into domestic and other utensils. Squatted upon the ground, the
potter places in her lap a small basket, wood, or pottery base, upon which
she places a "dab" of clay. This she thumbs and pats, until it forms the
basis of the new vessel. Then another piece of clay is rapidly rolled
between her hands, until it is in the form of along rope. This rope is then
coiled around the edge of the base already made, pressed well into it and
then smoothed down. After four or five coils of clay are thus added, the
potter takes a small "spat," generally a piece of dried gourd skin, dips
it into water, and proceeds to smooth out and make thin the clay coils. As
quickly and dexterously as can be, her hands and the spat manipulate the
vessel, until it has the desired shape. More coils of clay are then added,
and the shaping continues until the vessel is complete. Now it is put out
into the sun to dry, and when reasonably solid, it is ready for the
painting and decoration. With a rude brush made of horsehair or yucca
fibre, and paints gathered and ground by herself, she works out the design
that her imagination has already created and pictured upon her piece of
work. Some of these designs represent conventionalized objects of
nature--birds, clouds, mountains, rain, corn, lightning, tadpoles,
dragon-flies, horned toads, serpents and the like; others are purely
geometrical, and the variety and extent of them are more wonderful than any
except the experts realize. In a monograph upon the ancient pottery of
these people, Dr. Fewkes pictures every known geometrical figure of ancient
and modern times, all of which were copied by him from vessels that have
been excavated from ancient ruins and graves.
The Pottery of Nampeyo. Every village has its own style of pottery. Among
the Hopis, the finest potter is a resident of Tewa or Hano, Nampeyo by
name. Her ware is characterized by beauty of shape, perfection of form,
dignity and character in design, and a general appearance that is pleasing
and artistic. Zuni pottery is of a superior quality to that of Acoma,
Laguna, and the other villages near by, and often contains in its designs
the deer, with its peculiar red line of throat leading to the heart.
Black Pottery. At Santa Domingo and Santa Clara, pueblos on the Rio Grande,
a black ware is produced that is effective and strongly decorative in certain pieces.
Ancient Varieties. Ancient ware, dug from ruins and graves, is exceedingly
rare and commands a high price. There are three distinguishable varieties,
among others, that denote comparative age. The earliest type is of the
corrugated ware, in which the thumb and finger marks, denoting the pressure
of the coils, one upon another, are clearly in evidence. Some pottery was
made in basket matrices, and marks of the basket are clearly outlined upon
the outside of the vessels so made.
The second type is the plain black and white ware, and the third is the red
ware painted with black designs.
Both ancient and modern ware, the latter in large variety, may be seen and
purchased at the Hopi House.
Navaho Silverware. Of equal interest is the making of silverware by the
Navaho peshlikai, or silversmith, whose primitive forge is in the first
room entered at the Hopi House.
Fondness for Silver. The innate desire of a primitive people for personal
adornment early led the pueblo Indians to a use of metal. When the
Spaniards and Mexicans came among them, the iron, brass and copper of the
conquerors were soon added to the dried seeds, shell beads, pieces of
turquoise and coral they had hitherto used. But silver has ever been their
favorite metallic ornament. Long ago they formed an ideal in the Spanish
don or Mexican vaquero, with his personal apparel adorned with silver, his
horse's bridle trapped out with silver belts, buckles and buttons, and his
saddle and its equipment studded with silver nails and other fanciful
expressions of adornment. From the Mexican and the pueblo Indian he rapidly
picked up the necessary knowledge, and practice soon gave the skill to
fashion the silver into every desired shape.
Navahos Used Silver Three Centuries Ago. Cushing contends that the Zunis
knew how to smelt metals before the Spanish conquest, but the statement is
strongly disputed. There can be no question, however, but that the large
use of silver ornaments by both pueblo and Navaho Indians dates from three
hundred and fifty years ago, after Coronado's conquistadores had found out
that this was no land of gold and precious metals, as was Peru.
In almost every pueblo of Arizona and New Mexico, and in many a Navaho
hogan, one may find the primitive silversmith at work. There is no
silversmith's shop, but generally in a corner of the quaint pueblo house,
or in an adjunct to the Navaho hogan, the worker quietly pursues his
important avocation; for in a community whose members have no other
metallic arts, the silversmith is an important man, and sees to it that his
profession is regarded with the high dignity it deserves.
Method of Working. With a rude mud forge,--the bellows of which, though
primitive, is as ingenious as any patent bellows invented,--a hammer, a
piece of railroad steel for an anvil, a three-cornered file, one or two
punches, a crucible which he understands how to make as well as the best
metallurgist in the land, and a bit of solder, he goes to work. Sometimes
he runs his melted Mexican dollars into primitive moulds; again he hammers
the metal into the shape he requires. He creates rings, some of them
containing rude pieces of turquoise, garnet, etc., well designed bracelets,
belt-disks, large and small silver buttons (some of which are admirably
adapted for belt-buckles), earrings, necklaces, crosses, beads, bangles,
clasps of silver for bridles, etc.
Ornaments and jewelry. The two most cherished objects are the waist-belt
and the necklace, though far more rings and bracelets are to be found. But
this is on account of the great expense of the former. The waist belts
generally consist of eight moulded plates, either circular or oval, with
filleted border and scalloped edges, each plate weighing from two to four
ounces. These are punctured in the center, or a small band is soldered to
the back, to admit of their being threaded upon a long and narrow belt of
leather, the ends of which are fastened with a buckle. Both men and women
wear these, and they are highly prized as ornaments by both sexes. The
necklaces are equally in vogue, the designs being principally hollow beads,
crosses, and ornaments representing pomegranate blossoms. The silver bridle
is also an object of great esteem. It is made of curiously designed, heavy
clasps of silver, fastened upon leather, with numberless buttons shaped
from coins. Many of these weigh not less than fifteen ounces, and some as
high as forty, hence their value can be readily estimated.