Historic Zuni Pueblo Canteen with Nursing Heartline Deer


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Pueblo Potter Unknown
  • Category: Historic
  • Origin: Zuni Pueblo, SHE-WE-NA
  • Medium: clay, pigments
  • Size:
    7-⅝” height x 10-⅜” width x 9-⅞” depth
  • Item # C4654F
  • Price: $4000

Numbers seen on the bottom of this canteen are unidentified but may be inventory numbers from prior entities that owned the vessel.This historic pottery canteen was made by an unknown Zuni Pueblo artist. The vessel's form is what we'd expect for this type of piece, with a body that is round but not quite spherical, a pair of handles, and a small, flattened base to provide stability. This particular example is notably well balanced, with each side mirroring the other as closely as one could expect of a hand-coiled piece of pottery.

A wonderful design appears in a circle centered around the top of the canteen. Its primary element is a heartline deer that is nursing its young. The addition of the younger deer is unique and sweet; it will likely appeal to many who appreciate potters adding personalized touches to long-established symbols. Each nursing pair of animals appears below an archway made of traditional Zuni design elements. This composition is repeated twice, with rotational symmetry suiting the larger circular form.

Although the animals are routinely called "heartline deer", it is often that they represent elk or antelope. The antlers on these images appear to be of antelope. The red arrow has been described as follows: "The animals have a line (usually red) extending from mouth to the position of the heart, this organ being represented by an arrowhead or a swollen blob. This depiction is almost a trademark of Zuni Polychrome vessels, . . The line may also represent the sacred breath of life of the animal; in a Zuni legend, a young hunter is told to shoot an arrow at a stag and ‘should he fall, quickly go to him, throw your arms around him, put your lips close to his, breathe in his breath and say ‘Thanks, my father, this day I have drunken your sacred wind of life.'" [Harlow & Lanmon, 2008:257]

What is a Heartline?  The heartline is used primarily by Zuni Pueblo potters and can be seen in many animals – usually a deer (hence heartline deer).  The line from the mouth to the heart signifies the "breath of life."

Condition: light pigment abrasion, no restoration or repair

Provenance: this Historic Zuni Pueblo Canteen with Nursing Heartline Deer is from a private collection

Reference: The Pottery of Zuni Pueblo by Dwight P. Lanmon and Francis H. Harlow

TAGS: Zuni PuebloPueblo Pottery

Alternate view of this canteen.