Incised Seed Pot with Fish Finial

Wallace Nez


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One of the most extraordinary artists making pottery, today, and he is Navajo! That is unusual, and the fact that his incredibly intricate, incised and painted pots are made completely traditionally, is also unusual for a Navajo potter.

Much Navajo pottery of similar complexity is painted and/or incised on greenware.

Wallace collects, mixes, coils, smoothes, carves, incises and paints his pieces entirely by hand. His work is in countless collections, including museums, where it continually amazes.

This plump little seed pot is typical of his impeccable, astonishing, work.

Sporting a perky little finial, decorated with fish, the main painting depicts a large, lumbering bear about to swallow a salmon, in midstream.

The fish is carved in relief; the bear is partly in relief, and partly painted on the flat clay.

The stance, form, fur, and expression of the bear, and the foaming water, are all totally naturalistic.

His shape overruns the background designs, aiding the illusion of depth. A bold band of white angular cloud symbols partially covers his rump, also adding to the illusion.

As in most of the artist’s work, the bottom portion of the seed pot resembles a traditional, Navajo ceremonial basket. It is eerily realistic.

Rows of coils are rounded and incised, painted in traditional colors and designs.

Just above, and overlapping the highest coil, is a frieze of delicately painted eagles, wings outstretched.

A row of eagle feathers, which symbolize prayers, stand up above the birds, marking the waist of the pot.

All around the shoulder of the piece, on either side of, and beyond, the bear is a remarkable array of incised and painted designs, including a leaping fish in black and white with rain signs on its body.

It is surrounded by more minuscule feathers and wind, cloud and rain symbols. Opposite the bear painting are five different rows of black and white designs.

These start with tiny fine-line triangles, more stylized feathers, then a row of stylized, fetish-like bears with heart lines and stepped rain designs beneath their heads.

Above the bears is a row of tiny, angular cloud symbols, with practically microscopic stepped rain designs, etc. above that.

The clarity of each motif is remarkable. Finally, around the top of the pot, a rosette formed of oval fish within oval borders, leads up to more micro-miniature fine line designs, at the rim.

The densely arranged, varied designs give the piece the look of elaborate embroidery, yet there is a balance and harmony to the mix.

The workmanship is incredibly precise, whether incised, carved, or painted.

The artist has said that he sometimes uses one hair from his little daughter’s head as a brush.

Whatever he does, the three-dimensional quality of the painting is fabulous, as is everything about the pot’s designs and form

Wallace Nez creates collector’s gems that are the equal of any work of art.

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