Historic San Ildefonso Pueblo Stirrup Canteen ca. 1890s


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Potter Once Known

This pottery canteen was made by a San Ildefonso Pueblo artist. Adobe Gallery has handled a few double chamber stirrup canteens in the past. We have investigated their possible functions, and we've been unable to find any concrete information. Some have suggested that they were used for ceremonial occasions, such as baptisms or weddings, but we have not found reference to that in any published document.

There are two bulbous forms, and they're linked together by two separate channels. One moves directly between the two, and the other forms a dramatic arch up above. An open spout appears at the peak of the arch.

This piece was completed in the San Ildefonso Polychrome style, which was the aesthetic of preference from 1880 to 1920. It appears to date to around the earlier time of the period-circa 1890s, most likely. The potter used black and red over cream slip, which is to be expected of works from this period. Her designs are an absolute delight, with recognizable traditional motifs sitting comfortably alongside several elements of the artist's own invention.

A friend of the gallery who has studied San Ildefonso pottery extensively described this form as representative of "the binaries of the Tewa world—up and down, black and white, male and female...The male/female is part of the world's balance and the continual seeking of balance. The canteen makes explicit balance, and by drinking from one spout the becoming of balance."

Francis Harlow stated that there began to appear pseudo-ceremonial ceramics at San Ildefonso in the early 1900s, being made at the request of anthropologists. They are identified as pseudo-ceremonial by their sharp departure from the prevailing design styles of true ceremonial ceramics and the lack of wear from use in pueblo ceremonies. [Harlow, 1965:20] Harlow further states that "The early nineteenth century saw some exotic ceremonial jar forms suggesting ancestry to the modern wedding jar." [ibid:18]

We are left to accept the double lobe stirrup canteen as a mystery. It may have been ceremonial or maybe pseudo-ceremonial. It may have been ancestral to the wedding vase or not. Regardless, it is an intriguing vessel shape, and its mystery adds to its interest. There is no evidence of prior use.

Condition: excellent condition, no restoration or repair

Provenance: this Historic San Ildefonso Pueblo Stirrup Canteen ca. 1890s is from a private collection

Reference: Harlow, Francis H. "Tewa Indian Ceremonial Pottery" in El Palacio, Vol. 72, No. 4, Winter 1965.

TAGS: Southwest Indian PotterySan Ildefonso PuebloHistoric Pottery

Alternate view of this amazing canteen.

Potter Once Known
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