Friday, June 24, 2011

Artist Profile- Ida Sahmie (Navajo)

Ida Sahmie and her mother- 2010

Ida Sahmie was born in 1960  near Pine Springs, Arizona and grew up in a traditional Navajo family. She learned to weave from her mother and grandmother but did not feel she had the patience required to take it up seriously. In the mid-1980’s she married Andrew “Louie” Sahmie who was Hopi and moved to the Hopi reservation. Her mother-in-law was Priscilla Namingha, a well-known potter and a descendant of the famous Hopi potter Nampeyo.  She watched her mother-in-law making pottery and was moved by how beautiful it was. She needed something to do with her hands and her mother-in-law encouraged her to try making pottery.  She made some small pots, which her mother-in-law helped her fire. Her designs were originally simple Hopi based patterns but as she progressed, she felt that she needed to make her own designs based on her Navajo heritage.  Ida recounted that Priscilla wanted to be taken to see Bruce McGee, who at that time owned McGee’s Indian Art Gallery at the historic Keams Canyon Trading Post on the Hopi reservation, to sell her pots one day and she suggested Ida bring her newly made pots as well and show them to him. He bought some and asked for more.  She says this event is what began her career. 

Ida first studied Navajo sand painting designs and was interested in using these images on her pots but she wasn’t sure if it was safe since these are sacred images. She asked her grandmother about it and her grandmother wasn’t sure either but suggested she not depict the designs exactly and that might be okay. A medicine man agreed so Ida started using sand painting designs as well as Navajo rug designs on her pots.  She was also interested in depicting Yei figures but was cautioned that she should have a Night Chant ceremony performed before it would be safe to depict these figures. She did have the ceremony performed.

While Ida’s designs are derived from her Navajo heritage, her pots are created using all Hopi techniques. She does prefer to dig the clay she needs on the Navajo reservation however. She uses a mix of natural white and yellow clays resulting in a peach colored body which she says shows off her design-work best.  She uses bee weed, a form of wild spinach for her dark black to brown color. She says she mixes a little of the white clay with the bee weed to soften the tone. For white, she uses the same paint/ whitewash that the Hopis paint on their bodies for their dances. 

Ida fires traditionally in a bowl shaped pit in the groud, which is filled with firing ash from previous firings mixed with sand to about 4 inches on the floor. A metal tray is under that to help radiate the heat of the fire back to the pots. The pottery (dried, polished and decorated) is placed in the center and then the pit is lined up the sides and mounded over with sheep manure, which is the preferred fuel because it reaches very hot temperature. The preparation, firing and cooling segments each take about 2 hours making for a full day of firing. A large piece may have to be fired alone but Ida will put several small pieces in together. Because the firing is done outside, she has to wait until the weather is good. Firing on a cold day will cause the pots to crack because they will cool too quickly. Ida says she probably fires about once a week.

Ida has been profiled in the books; Navajo Pottery, Navajo Folk Art and 14 Families in Pueblo Pottery.  At the 2010 Navajo Nation Fair, she won 2nd Place and Best in Class for her pottery. Her blending of Hopi techniques and Navajo designs makes her pottery truly unique.

Pottery Bowl with Yei Figures by Ida Sahmie (Navajo)

Pottery Bowl with Yeibichei dancers by Ida Sahmie (Navajo)

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