There are comparatively few Navajo potters, mainly due to geography (clay needs water, which is scarce on the rez), and of those few, those who decorate their pots with intricate carved, incised and painted designs are even fewer.
Wallace Nez, Jr is probably alone among those, in creating his pottery entirely by hand, the traditional way, from gathering the clays to mixing the natural colors.
The black comes from steeping wild spinach leaves to form a paint; the other colors are natural clay slips.
His exquisite pieces have brought him many awards and much deserved recognition.
This superb plate exhibits all the complexity, accuracy, and incredible artistry of his renowned seed pots.
A finely shaded portrait of an elk is featured in the center, surrounded by a succession of borders – seven in all – so intricate that they look like embroidery.
The rim is decorated with a frieze of eagles, wings outspread, hovering over a band of fine lines.
The elk is not only realistic in every detail, he seems to be three-dimensional: notice how the rack of antlers on the left overlaps the decorative borders and seems to be coming out of the center.
Every element of every design on this plate is delineated and painted with breathtaking precision and delicacy.
Look closely at the feathered wings of the eagles, their realistic heads, and the fine lines in the many borders, and be awed.
The design of pattern against pattern against pattern is handled with superb artistry.
Repeated horizontals and related motifs create richness; instead of chaos there is harmony.
The elk is painted as if on canvas; fully dimensional, with subtle shading.
The individual lines of the intricate borders are amazingly slender, and impressively precise.
The artist says that he often uses just one of his young daughter’s hairs, for a brush fine enough to capture all that detail!
But wait, there’s more – look at the back of the plate.
It looks and feels just like a Navajo ceremonial basket in every detail: color, design and raised texture!
The piece is thoroughly reversible. Display it on a table easel, and switch sides as you like.
We could go on and on, marveling at the skill, finesse and astounding quality of this artist’s achievement, but eyes can comprehend all this better than words.
This is an incomparable work of art that will be marveled at and treasured, for generations.