Clay2: Southwest Indian Pottery Tiles
A new exhibition at Arizona State Museum March 16–October 14, 2007
Date of Release: February 16, 2007
Hopi tile from the Nelle Dermont Collection, c. 1900. Arizona State Museum 8342. Depicts two katsina maidens grinding corn at a mealing bin.
The maidens are flanked by Heheya-aumutaqua (uncle) katsinam.
Hopi tile by Sadie Adams, 1960. Arizona State Museum E-4521.
Santo Domingo tile by Victoria Calabaza, 2002. Arizona State Museum 2002-171-1.
(Tucson, AZ) Worldwide, tile making goes back to the earliest days of the ceramic medium. Functional, decorative—here in the Southwest we probably think mainly of Mexican ceramic floor tile. But what about Indian tile making? Arizona State Museum presents an exhibition highlighting the exquisite tile-making traditions among the Puebloan peoples of the
Southwest: Clay2: Southwest Indian Pottery Tiles, March 16 - October 14, 2007.
Hopis have been particularly prolific tile makers since the late 19th century. About 1885, Hopi potters began to produce pocket-sized, decorated flat tiles to sell to visitors who were arriving in increasing numbers via the Santa Fe Railroad. The success of this market, no doubt influenced by the portability factor and sustained by the affordability factor, inspired potters from the Rio Grande Pueblos of New Mexico to experiment with their own interpretations of the form. By 1902, the Fred Harvey Company began selling tiles in its curio shops all along the Santa Fe Trail.
"Historically, not only were tiles portable, they were also affordable relative to other Hopi art forms," explains Arizona State Museum Director Hartman H. Lomawaima, himself a member of the Hopi tribe. "School teachers were among an appreciative and ready-made consumer audience for tiles. In the early days, teachers were recruited by the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the East and deep South. They purchased tiles for gift-giving occasions and many used them to decorate their fireplaces. A fireplace accented with Hopi tiles is beautiful thing to behold!"
The pocket-friendly portability and wallet-friendly affordability of the tile genre are still strong selling points to this day, as artist Jean Sahme points out, "I usually sell out of tiles on the first day of Indian Market because they are easy for tourists to carry home."
Through the 1930s and '40s, Hopi potters Fannie Nampeyo and Sadie Adams; and Harvianna Toribio from Zia Pueblo were particularly notable tile artists.
Sadie Adams' daughter, Lorna Lomakema, recalls, "My earliest recollection of my mother and tiles was when the Coltons at the Museum of Northern Arizona asked her to make the tiles framing the announcement boards at the entrance."
Over the past 60 years, Native artists from many Southwest communities have continued to craft a great variety of tile styles and decorations. As with all of the dynamic Native artistic traditions, tile making can reflect traditional approaches, materials, techniques and designs, but it can also express modern inventiveness and contemporary motifs.
Each one is a wonderful little self-contained story. Lomawaima characterizes tiles as "snapshots" and "Native Polaroids." " The majority of tiles I have seen are flat, rectangular and about the same dimensions of a photo taken with a Polaroid," he explains. "Potters use tiles to depict their favorite katsina friend while others have used the "ceramic canvas" to depict elaborate ceremonies that take place in the Kivas during the winter months.
Hopi law ordinances forbid photography of ceremonies, so Hopi artists who wish to document certain katsina figures or events, use paintings. Clan symbols and geometrics are experimented with on tiles and some ultimately are transferred to decorate whole vessels."
The delightful exhibition Clay2: Southwest Indian Pottery Tiles includes specimens from Arizona State Museum's own collection as well as several on loan from Pat and Kim Messier, co-authors of a book entitled Hopi and Pueblo Tiles, scheduled to be published in the spring by Rio Nuevo Publishers.
For interviews with guest curators Kim and Pat Messier, contact them at
For interviews with ASM staff curator Diane Dittemore, contact her by email or at 520-621-2079.
Arizona State Museum is located inside the University of Arizona's Main Gate at Park Avenue and University Boulevard in Tucson. 520-621-6302
KUAT Video - Arizona Illustrated Clay2 Segment