Begaye, Nathan – Polychrome Open Bowl with Butterfly Maiden (1990)
This is an exceptional polychrome open bowl by Nathan Begaye. He was a unique innovator among Pueblo and Navajo potters. His ethnic connection to both Hopi and Navajo let his clay art flow between the two distinctive styles and yet find its own unique space. His work used traditional designs, forms, and techniques, yet somehow appeared very modern. This open is rounded and has a handle or “lug” on the top. This is a form that was originated by Nampeyo of Hano. The entire surface is fully polished, even the back. Interestingly, the center of the bowl (where the face is painted), is pushed in from the bottom. The design is a Butterfly Maiden or Pahlik Mana. Who is the Butterfly Maiden?
The Butterfly Maiden (Polik-mana) is one of the Hopi katsinas. Every spring she dances from flower to flower, pollinating the fields and flowers and bringing life-giving rain to the Arizona desert. She is represented by a woman dancer at the yearly Butterfly Dance, a traditional initiation rite for Hopi girls. The rite takes place in late summer, before the harvest. She can be identified by the symbols she wears: the irregular edges of her tableta (headdress) represent rain clouds, the small wooden objects protruding from the top of her head symbolize flowers, and the rectangular design on her forehead represents an ear of corn.
The piece is painted on the inside of the bowl with bee-weed (black) and three other colors of clay. Around the inner edge of the bowl are dragonflies and tadpoles. The tablita is tightly painted and highlighted with the clay colors. The colorful areas are stone polished. The figure has a shawl with cloud designs. The open bowl was traditionally fired to create the blushes on the surface. The complex painted designs and the colorations are certainly Nathan at his very best. The piece is in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, restoration, or repair. It is signed on the back in the clay, “Nathan Begaye”. It is from 1990. The last photo is a picture I took of Nathan when he was living in Phoenix. He moved there for several years and I would go to his apartment and see what he was working on and hear the stories about his pottery, the clays, and his firings.