March 17, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Sailmaking

1. Introduction and author bio
2. Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood

3. Roughing out the hull
4. Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
5. Stitch and glue
6. Sanding and gluing
7. Outrigger and booms

8. Cordage
9. Lashing the booms to the hull 
10. Lashing the booms to the float 

 

Pandanus plant
Pandanus growing in the village of Inarahan, Guam. The fruits of some species are edible.

Pacific Islanders didn’t have cloth as we know it—woven with threads of fabric. Sure, there was barkcloth (known as tapa or kapa in Hawai‘i), but this is closer to paper than to cloth. In fact, it’s made from the paper mulberry tree (wauke, in Hawaiian) by much the same method as traditional papermaking. It is felted rather than woven, and not strong enough for a sail. On top of that, on these remote islands there were no large mammals to provide hides. Besides, animal hide does not do well in water, and sails do get wet.

Things woven by Tan Floren
A small sample of the work of master pandanus weaver Tan Floren Meno Paulina. I am reliably told that making hats, far left, is the most difficult art of pandanus weaving.

The answer was truly ingenious: leaves. That is, leaves of the pandanus tree (hala), which are several feet long and very fibrous. Pandanus, sometimes called screwpine because of its corkscrew growing pattern, is one of the “canoe plants” that Pacific Islanders took with them on the canoes as they migrated across the ocean. Woven pandanus products are still used widely in the region, from small baskets and containers to large mats. And sails.

Tan Floren Meno Paulino (Tan is an honorific for female elders), a master pandanus weaver on Guam, explained to me the processing of pandanus. The hala leaves (lauhala) are picked and dried in the sun. Once a leaf is dry, a simple tool is used to strip off the thread of thorns that runs along each side. The leaf is then rolled into a coil, which sits for a while. When it is unrolled, you have a nice flattened strip of fiber. The leaf can then be pulled through a very simple gizmo that slices it into even widths for weaving. These can be very fine, for small or detailed projects, or wide for mats and sails.

Lourdes Yidwechog drying pandanus
Lourdes Yidwechog on Ulithi Atoll lays out pandanus leaves to dry.
Floren prepares fiber strips
Clockwise from upper left: Tan Floren uses a very simple knife to strip the thorny edge off the dried leaves. Then she rolls each dried leaf into a coil; when she unrolls it, she has a nice flattened strip of fiber. The leaf is pulled over a simple device that allows the user to space several blades evenly to cut lauhala into strips.
Tan Floren
Tan Floren, weaving.
Twill weave BPBM
Twill weaving on a sail in the collections of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Now pandanus mats are still pretty common throughout the Pacific. They are cheap and easy to make, last a long time, and are infinitely useful. But the standard over-and-under box weaving that is used to make mats is not the same as that used for sails. Samples in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu show that sail-weaving uses a twill pattern—over two and under two. This is said to provide more strength for flexing in heavy winds. One doesn’t see this much anymore.

Sails were apparently made from a series of mats stitched together. Here is a WWII-era photo from Ulithi Atoll taken by Marshall Paul Wees, a U.S. Navy doctor stationed there during the war. You can see that the men have staked out the sail pattern on the ground with pegs and string, and are then stitching together a series of strip-shaped mats into a sail.

Men stitching mats Ulithi Atoll
Men stitching mats together to make a sail. Ulithi Atoll, ca. 1944. Their pattern is outlined in stakes and string. Photo by Dr. Marshall Paul Wees.
Needles  Bishop Museum
Bone needles in the collection of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

Back in the old days, stitching would have been done with needles made from bone, usually bones of large sea birds. Here is an old image of bone needles from the Bishop Museum.

These days the process is more prosaic, since the fabrics and tools are available ready-made. Wharram’s Melanesia design uses what’s commonly called a crab claw sail, after its shape. This shape was common throughout much of the Pacific, though the sailor and scholar David Lewis speculated that it was replaced in central Polynesia by Micronesian-style sails like the one shown on the Carolinian-style canoe below.

Ulithian canoe under sail
A Carolinian-style canoe with a lovely pandanus sail, ca. 1944. Off Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands. Photo by Dr. Marshall Paul Wees.
Cut-out tarp
Blue tarp from the hardware store, with the sail shape cut out of it.

Because my canoe is a cheap do-it-yourself project, my sail is made from common blue tarpaulin from the hardware store. It doesn’t look fancy, and it won’t last a terribly long time since the plastic breaks down in sunlight, but it certainly is inexpensive!

I must admit, I thought making the sail for this boat would be the most boring part. A lot of stitching, stitching, and stitching. After hewing logs into outrigger and booms, the idea of such minute work had little appeal. I was so wrong!

Working on the sail on the floor
One edge done, almost. Note the rolled pandanus mat, right, and the giant clam shell, upper left.

Step one is to cut the sail shape out of the tarp. The instructions weren’t as clear on how to do this as I would have liked, but I managed. Here is the tarp after I had cut out the pattern.

Next you lay a rope along the two sides that attach to the mast and the spar (the luff and the foot, if you must), but not the curve (or leech). The edge of the tarp is then folded over, and you use a very simple large stitch to attach this rope inside the tarp. I used polyester thread intended for exterior usage.

So, on a hot summer day in Baltimore, with the giant windows in my lofty apartment open, I sat on the floor in my lavalava stitching this sail, listening to a CD of Micronesian songs and chants. It was easy to feel that I was in a canoe house somewhere in the Pacific, doing what men have done for millennia: making a sail. It was wonderful.

The next step is to lay a second rope alongside the outside of the edge you have just stitched, and to stitch it on heavily every six inches. Basically, you are attaching loops of rope on the outside of the sail to the rope stitched inside the edge of the sail. These loops are what will be used to attach the sail to the mast and boom. A whole lot of stitching. The top edge (or leech) of the sail is simply stitched for reinforcement, since it is not attached to anything.

Stitching the ropes to the sail
Half-inch stitches secure a rope into folds along the edges that attach to the mast and boom (left). A second rope stitched to the outside creates loops used for lashing (right).

Now you can see the edge of the sail where it is attached to the mast. Clearly visible are both the rope inside the material, and the rope stitched to the outside every six inches, creating loops. Another rope passes through these loops and around the mast and boom. It’s so easy my five-year-old son could help.

My son lashing the sail
My son helping to lash the sail.

And voilà! A sail! I painted a frigate bird on it, because I named this canoe Namaka‘iwa, “eyes of the frigate bird.”

Full sail with frigate bird
The finished sail lashed to mast and boom.

Now to the last step: rigging the canoe and getting ready to sail it. 

—Douglas Herman, NMAI


Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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March 02, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Lashing the booms to the float

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood
Part 3: Roughing out the hull
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
Part 5: Stitch and glue
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms
Part 8: Cordage

Part 9: Lashing the booms to the hull

 

1LashedcanoeThe hull, booms, and outrigger lashed together. I have added bamboo platforms on either side, for sitting out. At this stage, I was using commercial nylon rope for all the lashing.

Lashing the outrigger (ama or float) to the booms (‘iako) has a great deal of variations depending on the style of canoe. So much so, in fact, that when the authors of Canoes of Oceania began their study, the goal was to understanding just this facet of outrigger canoe design.

2 Hawaiian canoe at the museum
The nice, curved ‘iako of a Hawaiian canoe are typically made from hao. This canoe was built for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

For the Hawaiian canoe, the booms are curved downward to meet the ama near the water level. A peg is driven through each boom into the float, and then lashed. As you can see below, it’s pretty simple, using figure-eight lashing over and around the peg, then choking it and tying it off.

Carolinian-style canoes, on the other hand, have a complicated lashing system using Y-shaped sticks stuck into the float. The ama is much shorter, and the system of booms more complex, allowing the canoe to hold a platform for transporting goods. 

Lashing types
Lashing the 'iako to the ama. Upper left: A peg fixed into the ama allows for tight, secure lashing that won't slip. Upper right: Lashing on a Carolinian canoe, with the complex of pieces and holes through the ama itself. Lower: A Palauan canoe at the Etpison Museum in Koror shows a similar, elegant method for attaching the outrigger.

The canoe I am building, Wharram’s Melanesia design, uses a third method found around the Pacific, including in . . . Melanesia. It involves four sticks for each boom, bored into the outrigger at different angles and lashed to the ends of the booms. That the sticks are at different angles is supposed to provide the tension that keeps them from popping out. Variations on this method can be found all over the Pacific.

4 Fijian canoe at the Bishop
A Fijian canoe at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, showing a method similar to Wharram's.

I started out using commercial nylon rope, as seen in these photos, but then decided I wanted my canoe to look as traditional as possible. At the same time, I want it to be safe and functional. And I don’t have access to a lot of coconut sennit. So I used manila rope from the hardware store, which is the next best choice. Compared to the synthetic ropes used on today’s sailboats, manila rope is rough, less durable, and far less strong, but like sennit, it tends to swell up a bit when wet. I used it for lashing the booms to the outrigger, but not for lashing the booms to the hull. For that last part, I used a thinner synthetic rope that is strong, light, and easy to tie and untie. Wharram’s plans for this canoe didn’t include holes big enough for a larger, natural-fiber rope, so I needed something smaller, yet strong. 

Now the outrigger is a different story. The end of each boom sits in the top of two pairs of Xs formed by the crossed sticks. Then you lash over the top of each X and it holds the boom down. As I mentioned, the tension caused by the different angles of the four sticks is supposed to make them all stay put. Well, there I was out on the Chesapeake Bay in high winds when I noticed some of them had come out! If the entire outrigger fell off, I was done for. The hull will not stay upright without it. So I headed quickly back to shore, and reconsidered.

5 Xs
Left: I keep these Xs lashed together, even when they are not on the canoe. Saves one step in the whole lashing process. Right: The Xs, showing how they are at different angles. Here they are loosely lashed for demonstration purposes.

I thought about those Carolinian canoes in Micronesia, where the much smaller outrigger was attached by “sticks” (Y-shaped), but there were also holes that went through the outrigger itself to tie it securely to the booms. Not around and under the outrigger, because that would add drag. So I drilled holes through my own outrigger and lashed through those in addition to the lashing on the sticks. Now that I have ropes going through the outrigger and up and around each of the three booms, I feel oh-so-much more confident! That ama is on snug and tight. It has never since shown any sign of coming loose. A bit more work, but I think it looks pretty neat too!

6 Xs lashed through the outrigger
Note the rope going through the outrigger float itself, then up over the top of the boom. These pull the two tight together, so that even if the sticks of the Xs come loose, they will not come out.

Now you see lots and lots of lashing at the tops of the Xs (above right). This is because I had a handful of spare sections of manila rope left over from my first attempt at rigging this boat, and decided to use them for the lashing. They were significantly longer than needed, but I hate to cut ropes (or can’t be bothered to re-whip them) so I decided to make these decorative in their lashing. A bit over-the-top, but what the heck? Perhaps next summer I will reconsider. In another post, I will tell a story of how sturdy my new system proved to be.

Whipping rope? You’ve probably experienced the problem with any twisted rope—or even string—that when you cut it, the ends start to unravel. To stop this, you can “whip” the rope.

7 How to whip rope
Cut rope wants to untwist. “Whipping” the end with waxed thread stops this from happening.

This is an easy technique that I learned by chance on YouTube one day. Using two to three feet of waxed thread (you can buy waxed “whipping thread” at boating supply stores), you make a half loop and lay it against the end of the rope, the top of the loop away from the cut rope end and the tail of the loop extended a few inches beyond the cut end of the rope.

8 Whipping a cord
I have laid a loop of thread about an inch and a half along the rope. I will wrap for about an inch, leaving a nice big loop to stick the end of the thread through. I'm wrapping as tightly as possible and trying to keep it even. I’ve finished wrapping, and am about to stick the end of the thread through the loop. With one end of the thread through the loop, I pull the other end, bringing the loop (and the end of the thread) down tight behind all the wraps. Cut off the excess and you’re done!

Then, starting at the cut end of the rope (some people say the loop should be towards the cut end instead, but whatever), you wrap this thread tightly around, working your way towards the loop. When you have maybe a good inch wrapped like this, you put the thread through the loop and pull it tight. Then you grab the tail of the loop and pull the loop (and with it, the other end of the thread) through, under the coils you just wrapped. Voila! Cut off the excess threads, and your rope is whipped! For this project, I had to whip a lot of ends of ropes and got pretty efficient at it. It really doesn’t take long at all.

Next installment? Making and rigging the sail. 

Douglas Herman, NMAI


Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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March 02, 2016

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Lashing the booms to the hull

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood
Part 3: Roughing out the hull
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
Part 5: Stitch and glue
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms
Part 8: Cordage

 

Lashing1
The iako, or booms, lashed to the hull of my canoe. Where my hull has reinforcements around the holes that the ropes pass through, an old Hawaiian canoe would have pepeiao—ears—carved into the hull, to hold a cross brace called a wae.

 

Lashing this canoe together needs to be quick and efficient. I say this because I drive a VW golf. With my roof racks, I can strap all the canoe parts on the car and drive to the Chesapeake Bay in half an hour. It takes maybe another 30 to 45 minutes to unload it, lash the whole thing together, and rig it. I can sail for a few hours, come back, take it all apart, put it back on top of the car, and drive home. For two to three hours' sail, it's worth it. Ahhhhh. But it means that I'm always putting the canoe together and taking it apart.

The lashing of a canoe is both an art and a science. The lashing needs to be strong enough to hold the craft together in rough seas, it must be tight so the pieces can flex but don’t wobble, and it can be beautiful as well.

There are two sets of lashing required for a small canoe like this. The first is connecting the booms (‘iako) to the hull, and the second connects the other ends of the ‘iako to the ama, the outrigger float. How these connections are done depends on the configuration of the canoe. On the Hawaiian-style canoe, the ‘iako are lashed to the hull using two projections called pepeiao—ears—carved on the inside of the hull. These projections have holes through which the rope can pass and are used for anchoring U-shaped braces called wae that span the hull. By projecting, the pepeiao provide much more room to lash the ‘iako and give greater stability.

Lashing-earsLashing-brace

Left: Pepeiao on the Kapi‘olanio canoe, carved out of the hull itself. Right: The brace and lashing of the ‘iako on the museum's much more modern ‘Auhou canoe. Note how the U-shaped wae is lashed to the pepeiao.


Lashing my canoe did not involve these wae braces, so to better understand Hawaiian canoes, I went to my canoe-building friend Jay Dowsett of the Friends of Hōkūleʻa for a lesson.

Lashing4-JayDowsett
Jay Dowsett, a canoe-builder and member of Friends of Hōkūleʻa.

Jay demonstrated on a modern fiberglass canoe, using a block of wood in place of the ‘iako. This is based on examples of old canoes. It seems a little tricky, but Jay assures me that doing this repeatedly is what’s going to teach you. First time is a learning curve, second time you’re pretty much getting it down, and by the third time you’ll be teaching it. He explains while I assist him:

This length of line is a total of 12 fathoms, and we then split the difference, put a loop in the center, and then we feed the loop around the wae, and then the two ends that you actually use for lashing through this loop. Then you try to tighten it up so that the ropes are coming off the bottom of the wae.

Now most people are under the impression that you’re using cotton cord because cotton shrinks when you wash it, but it’s actually the opposite: Cotton swells and gets thicker. It’s the swelling action that makes this tighter and tighter. Yes, when we do the lashing, the lashing is going to be very tight, but once it gets wet and starts to swell, that’s what really makes it bulletproof.

Making the loop

To begin lashing an ‘iako (boom) to his modern canoe, Jay folds 12 fathoms (72 feet) of cotton rope in the middle, then pulls the two ends of the rope through the loop in its center. In this fiberglass canoe, the wae (cross brace) is built right into the hull, but the method and principle are the same.


Jay and I stood on opposite sides of the canoe worked one of the two ends of the rope. I followed what he was doing as he talked me through the steps:

We’re going to do a series of cross-overs to hold it down. The rope comes over the back and goes forward, then through that hole. I’ll do the same.

A lot of people, when they first start rigging, they want to pull as tight as they can on the very first time. You can’t. What’s going to happen is, when you pull, the whole ‘iako is going to get shoved backwards. So doing the first one is a little tough as far as getting it really tight.

Then you go underneath the ‘iako, over the top, and through the back hole.

Lashing

Still lashing Still more lashing
More lashing

 

 

 

 

Clockwise from upper left: Jay seats the knot of the loop at the bottom of the wae. We each bring an end of the rope over the ‘iako and thread it through a hole on our side of hull. Once outside the hole, we loop the rope around the ‘iako, then thread it through the other hole on our side of the hull. Then the rope loops back over the center of the wae and goes to the opposite side, and we follow the same steps again.


We’re going to repeat this whole process over and over again until we run out of line. Now the key here is that someone is going to be considered first, and someone is going to be considered second. That means someone has to start the lashing, and someone has to follow.

Every time I go, I’m going to go behind this loop that you first put in, and then you’re going to go behind the loop after me. Then you’re going to come across and you’re going to lock me in. Bang, bang, bang, bang—these keep locking each other in. This loop is going to keep the rope from getting pulled over to my side. Now, you’re going to do the same thing. Now you can pull it as tight as you can manage.

Now to make it look pretty, you see where it crosses over, you don’t want to do that haphazardly anywhere. You want to try to keep it looking good, and keep it in the center. So as you cross over, all of the cross bars will be in the center. And then there’s always the question of, are we lashing to the inside or to the outside? That is, every time we cross over, are we going to be on the inside of the rope or the outside of the rope? In this particular case, we’re going to the inside, so each time we do it, we’re going to be moving closer and closer to the center. And there is method to this madness—you’ll see why.”

We continue following the same pattern. For the sake of this example, we will go around four times, but seven or eight is normal. It’s all repetition up to this point, following the same pattern and keeping it neat. Then we switch to just wrapping it four times with each end of the rope.

Then we switch ropes and take them straight over the top, again wrapping it four times with each end of the rope. Normally we would be pulling it very tight each time. After the fourth cross-over, we switch ropes.

Lashing x 4

For this demonstration, Jay and I did four rounds of lashing, as opposed to the more typical seven or eight, then wrapped each end of the rope over the center of the wae and ‘iako four times.

Now we go through and around those vertical loops we just made. Each time, we switch and take each other’s rope, then do it again. We are just wrapping—frapping, it’s called—the binds to pull them tight together. That tightens it all up and draws the 'iako down tight.

At the end we pull against each other, and that tightens it all up and pulls it down. Now we tie it off with a regular square knot. Normally I would tie the square knot on the other side. We shove the ends through and tie the knot on the other side.

Frapping More frapping Square knot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clockwise from upper left: To “frap” means to “tighten the slack.” This is done by wrapping the rope around the previous loops and “choking” them very tight together. The lashing is tied off with a square knot.

 

 

 



Then the excess—if you want, you take it around a couple of times and bury it. Or we can attach a bailer to it with a slip loop, so the bailer is hanging right there handy.

Now with the bigger boats, you’d just go with a straight clamp down, just clamp it down as tight as you can, but do it in several spots. And the way the lines were run, you’d come across and do figure eights. You’re talking about 16 or 20 wraps each time, and then you start getting into a figure eight wrap. That frapping then takes that whole rope and turns it into something like a solid piece of wood. When you knock on it, it sounds like a piece of wood.

 

Starting figure 8s More figure 8s

Above, left and right: Jay demonstrates making figure-eight bundles.


You will notice that Jay’s lashing weaves an attractive geometric pattern where the ropes cross each other. This, it turns out, is not just for looks. It actually locks down the ropes each time, making for less chance of catastrophic failure. I witnessed this after riding on a contemporary outrigger with folks from Windward Community College on O‘ahu. As we were putting the canoe up, we noticed that someone had vandalized the lashing by slashing it. Nonetheless, it had held together. “I’d like to have met the people who figured out this geometric pattern over time,” Jay says, “because those guys were geniuses. It was probably guys, because canoes were a male-dominated activity.”

Booms of the Makali'i
Above: The lashing on the booms of the Makali‘i voyaging canoe. Right: This vandalized lashing still holds together thanks to the interlocking pattern.

Cut lashing

These drawings show how James Wharram, whose Polynesian design I've been following for my canoe, suggests lashing the booms. It’s a very simple, in-and-out, over-and-under kind of lashing, exactly as Jay demonstrated, but without the wae. The rope goes through a hole, loops around the boom, then through the other hole, then does the same on the other side. Then wrap it around the lashing to “choke” it tight, and tie it off with a square knot.

Wharram drawings horiz

 

 

 

 

 


Lashing instructions from plans for the Melanesia, courtesy of James Wharram and Hanneke Boon.

 

And here’s what it looks like, finished:

Doug's lashing

The booms lashed to Doug's canoe.


It was a little confusing at first, and once in a while I still make a mistake, but mostly it goes very quickly. Now attaching the outrigger to the other end of the booms is an entirely different story, and the subject of my next installment.

Douglas Herman, NMAI


Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian and a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai'i and the Pacific Islands, is curator of the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa, scheduled to visit Washington later this spring.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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Astonishing post on how you built and still you build those fantastic canoes. I recommend reading here. Greetings from one who is visiting Seville.

November 10, 2015

The Indian Arts & Crafts Board: Otellie Loloma

Cast in bronze and resting on a marble base, Hopi-Hoya by Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93) won two awards at the Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition in 1963—first prize in sculpture and wood carving and the Charles de Young Elkus Memorial Award for “the most outstanding piece of Indian arts and crafts which is new in material, technique, or design.”[1] 

261879 loloma hopi-hoya
Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Hopi–Hoya, 1963. Arizona. Cast bronze on a marble base; 47.7 x 11.7 x 10.1 cm. Purchased from the artist in 1963 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 26/1879

The juried competition received 372 entries that year, and the exhibition's chair, Paul Huldermann, noted that a number of artworks reflected new styles and techniques.[2] Hopi-Hoya, which was purchased directly from the artist by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, depicts a Hopi child with long hair leaning forward with arms crossed behind its back. Later that year, Loloma entered three bronze sculptures and one clay figure into the juried Indian Annual exhibition at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Muowi (Young Bride), Loloma's terra cotta of a Hopi bride draped in a cotton wedding robe, won first place in the sculpture category. The Philbrook purchased the work for its permanent collection.[3]

Otellie Pasiyava was born in 1921 at Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. As a child she created “doll-like sculptures out of clay” while spending time with her grandmother.[4] In about 1942 she married the painter Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921–91), who later became a celebrated jewelry artist. Otellie Loloma began formal training in ceramics in 1947 after she received a scholarship and Charles used the G.I. Bill to study at the new School for American Craftsmen, then part of Alfred University in western New York.[5] After finishing the two-year program, the couple returned to Arizona and in 1956 opened a pottery shop in Scottsdale where they marketed a line of ceramic dishes called Lolomaware.[6]

In 1959 Otellie Loloma became one of the first instructors for the Southwestern Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona at Tucson. That project led in 1962 to the establishment of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, where Loloma was again one of the first faculty members hired. She instructed students in ceramics and painting and occasionally taught dance with textile artist Josephine Myers Wapp (Comanche, 1912–2014).[7] 

Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, b. 1949), a ceramicist who is well known for her large, asymmetrical vessels, calls Loloma a mentor. Stevens enrolled at the IAIA as a museum studies student until a ceramics course from Loloma changed the direction of her education. She reflects:

It must have been fate that made me take a class taught by Otellie. It was like I returned home; clay became my expression. Otellie taught me that each pot has its own life, personality, character, and form—and that is what set me free. Pottery is like people, every one is different and not perfect. I thought about this and decided it was an important idea. So I developed a new way, an unconventional way, of looking at form.[8]  

Two ceramic artworks by Loloma are represented in the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection, both purchased in 1965.[9] Her figurative sculpture Desert Bird is both wheel-thrown and hand-built of stoneware. The sculpture is delightfully textural with marks from Loloma's fingers and palms forming the bird’s feathers and wings. She finished the piece by stringing clay and glass beads to its feathers. The other ceramic work, a cylindrical vase of glazed stoneware, was thrown on a wheel. Loloma then incised abstracted figures of people, plants, and rain clouds around the exterior.

259286 loloma—bird


Left: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), Desert Bird, 1965. Arizona. Stoneware; glass, shell, and stone beads; twine; 31.5 x 22.9 x 26.1 cm. NMAI 25/9286. Below: Otellie Loloma (Hopi, 1921–93), vase, 1964. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Incised, glazed stoneware, 16.9 x 15.7 cm. NMAI 25/9245.

259245 loloma

Both: Purchased in 1965 by representatives of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board  from the Department of the Interior Indian Craft Shop, Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.


While she acknowledged that Hopi cosmology influenced her work, Loloma revealed that “no one Hopi [person] would probably recognize that they are Hopi figures because I have done it all from my own imagination.”[10] Hopi stories provided inspiration for her work but never sources for duplication. Loloma felt at ease using several ceramic techniques and materials. During a 1968 exhibition of her work in Washington, D.C., actor and art collector Vincent Price noted that Loloma created “beautifully realized sculptures [that reflect] a great awareness of the techniques at her disposal today.”[11] 

A member of the IAIA faculty until her retirement in 1988, Loloma taught generations of Native American artists. Students of Loloma's whose work can be seen in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian include Peter B. Jones (Onondaga/Seneca, b. 1947), Dan Namingha (Hopi–Tewa, b. 1950), and Robert Tenorio (Santo Domingo, b. 1950). 

After her passing, fellow artist and IAIA instructor James McGrath dedicated a poem to Loloma, one verse of which reads,

I think of her pots,
    of the fullness inside 
    where treasures are held, 
    secure and loved in their silence.[12]

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum. 


[1] “Prizes and Awards,” Second Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition (Scottsdale AZ: Executive House, 1963), 3. The memorial award is named for Charles de Young Elkus (1881–1963), a San Francisco lawyer who was a Native rights advocate and a collector of Native arts.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Christina Burke, curator of Native American and non-Western art, Philbrook Museum of Art, email conversation with Anya Montiel, 5 November 2015.

[4] Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Women of Cedar, Sweetgrass, and Sage,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 15, no. 1/2 (Spring–Summer 1987), 41.

[5] Later Otellie Loloma also attended Northern Arizona University and the College of Santa Fe.

[6] The couple divorced in 1965.

[7] Loloma and Wapp performed at the White House and at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City with students from the IAIA.

[8] Susan Peterson, “The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by Contemporary American Indian Women,” in Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler ed. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 110.

[9] The National Museum of the American Indian has another work by Loloma in the collection, a watercolor painting that was donated by Charles and Ruth Elkus in the 1950s.

[10] Smith, 41.

[11] Vincent Price, “Introduction,” Three from Santa Fe (Washington DC: Center for Arts of Indian America, 1968).

[12] James McGrath, “A Song for Otellie,” At the Edgelessness of Light: Poems (Santa Fe NM: Sunstone Press, 2005), 38.

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July 17, 2015

The 6th annual Living Earth Festival is on!

YoughtanundThe group Youghtanund demonstrates women’s powwow-style dancing in the Potomac Atrium during the 2015 Living Earth Festival. Photo by Dennis Zotigh, NMAI.


It’s that time of year again: The Living Earth Festival—a signature program of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC—takes place today, Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19. This ecologically friendly family festival has something for every age group! This year’s highlights include a ladybug release in the garden outside the museum, Native dance performances, Native foods, artist demonstrations, a wine tasting, gardening workshops, an Indian Summer Showcase Concert by Quetzal Guerrero, a Native chef cooking competition, hands-on  bracelet-making, and a symposium titled On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future.

The events begin at 10 am each day and run until 5 pm. Native food chefs Julio and Heliodora Saqui create traditional Mayan dishes in the Akaloa fire pit outside the museum's first floor. Artist demonstrations are being offered by Janie Luster (Houma), who makes unique jewelry and other items from alligator gar scales found in her home state of Louisiana. Also taking part in the festival are artists Stephanie Madere Escude (Tunica–Biloxi); father and daughter artists Juan and Marta Chiac (Maya) from Belize; Peruvian jeweler Evelyn Brooks (Ashaninkas); and Guatemalan weaver Angelica Lopez (Maya).

Information booths have been set up by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Traditional American Indian Farmer’s Association, Native Seed/SEARCH, and Twisted Cedar Wines. Navajo Community Health Outreach has a poster exhibit of its work. These presentations take place in the Potomac Atrium and outside the Rasmussen Theater on the first floor. 

Visitors ages 5 and up are invited to make ti leaf lei bracelets in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3rd floor. This hands-on activity is first come, first served basis.

Music and dance take place in the Potomac Atrium on the first floor: The Youghtanund Drum Group from Richmond, Virginia, will perform powwow-style dances and songs each day at 11 am and 2 pm (2:30 on Friday). At 12:30 and 3:30 pm on Friday and Sunday, 12:30 only on Saturday, musicians from the Washington-area Central American group GuateMarimba join Grupo AWAL to present traditional Maya dances.

Each afternoon of the festival, the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians of Utah host a wine tasting of their tribally owned Twisted Cedar Wine. Times vary, but the wine tastings all take place in the Mitsitam Coffee Bar on the first floor. 

On Friday at 2 pm, the Living Earth symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Future features speakers Ricardo SalvadorClayton Brascoupe (Tesuque Pueblo), and Robin Kimmerer, and moderator Tim Johnson (Mohawk). The symposium—a lively discussion covering sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and traditional Indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest—takes place in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. If you can make it to the National Mall, you can watch the symposium live via webcast

On Saturday at 3 pm in the Potomac Atrium, the museum hosts the first of three Indian Summer Showcase concerts for 2015. Quetzal Guerrero and his band bridge Latino and American music styles, including blues, jazz, and hip-hop.

Sunday's highlights include a Native chef cooking competition between Hawaiian chefs Kiamana Chee and Robert Alcain, beginning at noon on the Welcome Plaza outside the museum's main entrance. This year's secret ingredient is cacao, but don't tell anyone. Beginning at 2:30 pm in the Rasmuson Theater, Navajo young people working with Navajo Community Health Outreach will share their tribe’s effort to improve health education and access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation. Come by and let them know you appreciate the important work they're doing.

—Dennis Zotigh

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Events from the Living Earth Festival are webcast live throughout the weekend. Take a look at what's on the schedule or go directly to the museum's Live Webcasts page.

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