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Old Traditions in New Pots: Silver Seed Pots from the Norman L. Sandfield Collection

on display through 2008


Norman L. Sandfield recently gifted the Heard Museum his collection of more than 240 miniature silver seed pots. This superlative collection is on exhibit in the Sandra Day O'Connor Gallery, at the Heard Museum. The collection, which Sandfield collected over a period of 28 years, ranges from traditional designs recreated in silver to a truly interstellar outlook with the Star Wars series created by L. Eugene Nelson, Navajo. Sandfield also commissioned works from jewelers who normally do not create containers, and the results are stunning. (left: Harvest Time)

Seed pots were originally pottery items and were created for a far different purpose than beauty: American Indian tribal communities relied on the small pots with tiny holes to safely store seeds for the following growing season. Naturally, as Indians do not recognize a discrete word for "art," these pots, which seldom exceeded about 2 inches in diameter, were festooned with carvings and designs.

Later, artists began casting these everyday pots from silver instead of throwing them on a pottery wheel. However, the artistry did not suffer; indeed, it's grown over the years as Native artists stretch their creativity to form ever more beautiful -- even whimsical -- pots from silver, gold and stones.


Collector's Statement

A long history of beautiful ceramic vessels inspires the American Indian artists who make silver seed pots. These miniature works of art incorporate design elements from traditional Navajo and Hopi pots, textiles, and baskets, as well as other sources. The artists who fashion them bring together the best of two worlds, taking designs that were previously in the domain of American Indian potters, weavers, and basket makers, and adding to them their modern talent for working with silver, gold, and stones. They bring their experience as designers and makers of fine jewelry to these jewelry-like miniature works of art. While not functional, the pots do contain the spirit of traditional vessels made by the artists' ancestors. The contemporary silver seed pots continue the ancient heritage of utilitarian storage pots. The miniature silver pots incorporate elegant silhouettes, precise exterior designs, and the occasional surprise of interior decoration or embellishment. (right: Havasupai Seed Corn)

In so many ways this collection is about the artists -- their cultures, their talents, and their heritage. My hope is that this exhibition of silver seed pots inspires future artists to create pots with their own stamp of individuality and creativity. May it also inspire future collectors to find some special niche that they can love, collect, document, and eventually share with the world.

--Norman L. Sandfield

Note: This exhibition does not include all of the silver seed pots in the Sandfield Collection or in the book about the collection. Some of the pots are now on long-term display at Heard Museum North Scottsdale, at Heard West in Surprise, and a few others are in the museum's collection, available for study and loan purposes.


Curator's Statement

Cultures throughout the world have held vessels in great esteem. Containers are known to hold visible items of value, but they also hold thoughts, prayers, and other forms of sustenance. On the spiritual level they relate to the human need to protect what is sacred, and as articles of everyday utility, they play an intimate and very personal role in our lives. (left: Silver Seed Pot)

The pots in the Sandfield Collection are inheritors of the ancestral traditions of both sacred and utilitarian vessels. In a sense the historic seed pot was both -- it was a useful object that held the gestational power of the next season's sustenance, and thus the life of the people. Corn, squash, and other seeds were stored in these clay pots with their characteristically small openings intended to keep their contents dry. At planting time the pots were shaken or broken to release the seeds.

The Sandfield Collection includes more than 240 miniature silver seed pots by some 70 artists, and the miniatures are in some way an essay on the life of the artists -- as the pots reveal their makers' insights and interests, their environments and experiences, as well as their knowledge of the ancient art of metalsmithing. The recent history of silver seed pots dates to approximately 1975, with the majority made since the 1980s. The silversmiths credited with making the first miniature silver pots are Norbert Peshlakai, Navajo, and White Buffalo, a.k.a. Mike Perez, Comanche/Mexican. As the artists drew upon the classic forms and designs, their work evolved through the art of silversmithing. As Sandfield describes it, "These artists are jewelers first, and the pots are an extension of that field."

The Sandfield Collection spans the "life" of an artform that continues to grow and delight with the impressive vision and talent of contemporary silversmiths.

--Tricia Loscher, Exhibit Curator


(above: L. Eugene Nelson, Navajo, Star Wars)


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