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Title: Origin and Development of Form and Ornament in Ceramic Art. - Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the - Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1882-1883, - Government Printing Office, Washington, 1886, pages 437-466.
Author: Holmes, William Henry, 1846-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Origin and Development of Form and Ornament in Ceramic Art. - Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the - Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1882-1883, - Government Printing Office, Washington, 1886, pages 437-466." ***

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by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF/Gallica) at









Introductory                                    443
  Origin of form                                445
    By adventition                              445
    By imitation                                445
    By invention                                450
  Modification of form                          450
     By adventition                             450
     By intention                               452
  Origin of ornament                            453
    From natural objects                        454
    From artificial objects                     455
      Functional features                       455
      Constructional features                   456
    From accidents attending construction       457
    From ideographic and pictorial subjects     457
  Modification of ornament                      457
    Through material                            458
    Through form                                458
    Through methods of realization              459


FIG. 464.--Form derived from a gourd                            446
     465.--Form derived from a conch, shell                     447
     466.--Form derived from a stone pot                        448
     467.--Form derived from a wooden tray                      448
     468.--Form derived from a horn spoon                       448
     469.--Form derived from a bark vessel                      446
     470.--Form derived from basketry                           449
     471.--Form derived from basketry                           449
     472.--Form derived from a wooden vessel                    449
     473.--Coincident forms                                     451
     475.--Scroll derived from the spire of a conch shell       454
     476.--Theoretical development of current scroll            455
     477.--Ornament derived through modification of handles     455
     478.--Scroll derived from coil of clay                     456
     479.--Ornamental use of fillets of clay                    456
     480.--Variation through, the influence of form             459
     481.--Theoretical development of the current scroll        460
     482.--Forms of the same motive expressed in different arts 461
     483.--Forms of the same motive expressed in different arts 461
     484.--Forms of the same motive expressed in different arts 461
     485.--Geometric form of textile ornament                   462
     486.--Loss of geometric accuracy in painting               462
     487.--Design painted upon pottery                          463
     488.--Theoretical development of fret work                 464
     489.--Theoretical development of scroll work               465




For the investigation of art in its early stages and in its widest
sense--there is probably no fairer field than that afforded by
aboriginal America, ancient and modern.

At the period of discovery, art at a number of places on the American
continent seems to have been developing surely and steadily, through the
force of the innate genius of the race, and the more advanced nations
were already approaching the threshold of civilization; at the same time
their methods were characterized by great simplicity, and their art
products are, as a consequence, exceptionally homogeneous.

The advent of European civilization checked the current of growth, and
new and conflicting elements were introduced necessarily disastrous to
the native development.

There is much, however, in the art of living tribes, especially of those
least influenced by the whites, capable of throwing light upon the
obscure passages of precolumbian art. By supplementing the study of the
prehistoric by that of historic art, which is still in many cases in its
incipient stages, we may hope to penetrate deeply into the secrets of
the past.

The advantages of this field, as compared with Greece, Egypt, and the
Orient, will be apparent when we remember that the dawn of art in these
countries lies hidden in the shadow of unnumbered ages, while ours
stands out in the light of the very present. This is well illustrated by
a remark of Birch, who, in dwelling upon the antiquity of the fictile
art, says that "the existence of earthen vessels in Egypt was at least
coeval with the formation of a written language."[1] Beyond this there
is acknowledged chaos. In strong contrast with this, is the fact that
all precolumbian American pottery _precedes_ the acquisition of written
language, and this contrast is emphasized by the additional fact that it
also antedates the use of the wheel, that great perverter of the plastic
tendencies of clay.

[Footnote 1: Birch: History of Ancient Pottery, 1873, p. 8.]

The material presented in the following notes is derived chiefly from
the native ceramic art of the United States, but the principles involved
are applicable to all times and to all art, as they are based upon the
laws of nature.

Ceramic art presents two classes of phenomena of importance in the study
of the evolution of æsthetic culture. These relate, first, to _form_,
and second, to _ornament_.

_Form_, as embodied in clay vessels, embraces, 1st, _useful shapes_,
which may or may not be ornamental, and, 2d, _æsthetic shapes_, which
are ornamental and may be useful. There are also _grotesque_ and
_fanciful shapes_, which may or may not be either useful or ornamental.

No form or class of forms can be said to characterize a particular age
or stage of culture. In a general way, of course, the vessels of
primitive peoples will be simple in form, while those of more advanced
races will be more varied and highly specialized.

The shapes first assumed by vessels in clay depend upon the shape of the
vessels employed at the time of the introduction of the art, and these
depend, to a great extent, upon the kind and grade of culture of the
people acquiring the art and upon the resources of the country in which
they live. To illustrate: If, for instance, some of the highly advanced
Alaskan tribes which do not make pottery should migrate to another
habitat, less suitable to the practice of their old arts and well
adapted to art in clay, and should there acquire the art of pottery,
they would doubtless, to a great extent, copy their highly developed
utensils of wood, bone, ivory, and basketry, and thus reach a high grade
of ceramic achievement in the first century of the practice of the art;
but, on the other hand, if certain tribes, very low in intelligence and
having no vessel-making arts, should undergo a corresponding change of
habitat and acquire the art of pottery, they might not reach in a
thousand years, if left to themselves, a grade in the art equal to that
of the hypothetical Alaskan potters in the first decade. It is,
therefore, not the age of the art itself that determines its forms, but
the grade and kind of art with which it originates and coexists.

_Ornament_ is subject to similar laws. Where pottery is employed by
peoples in very low stages of culture, its ornamentation will be of the
simple archaic kind. Being a conservative art and much hampered by the
restraints of convention, the elementary forms of ornament are carried a
long way into the succeeding periods and have a very decided effect upon
the higher stages. Pottery brought into use for the first time by more
advanced races will never pass through the elementary stage of
decoration, but will take its ornament greatly from existing art and
carry this up in its own peculiar way through succeeding generations.
The character of the ornamentation does not therefore depend upon the
age of the art so much as upon the acquirements of the potter and his
people in other arts.


In order to convey a clear idea of the bearing of the preceding
statements upon the history of form and ornament, it will be necessary
to present a number of points in greater detail.

The following synopsis will give a connected view of various possible
origins of form.

                / By adventition.
Origin of form--| By imitation--------/ Of natural models.
                \ By invention.       \ Of artificial models


The suggestions of accident, especially in the early stages of art, are
often adopted, and become fruitful sources of improvement and progress.
By such means the use of clay was discovered and the ceramic art came
into existence. The accidental indentation of a mass of clay by the
foot, or hand, or by a fruit-shell, or stone, while serving as an
auxiliary in some simple art, may have suggested the making of a cup,
the simplest form of vessel.

The use of clay as a cement in repairing utensils, in protecting
combustible vessels from injury by fire, or in building up the walls of
shallow vessels, may also have led to the formation of disks or cups,
afterwards independently constructed. In any case the objects or
utensils with which the clay was associated in its earliest use would
impress their forms upon it. Thus, if clay were used in deepening or
mending vessels of stone by a given people, it would, when used
independently by that people, tend to assume shapes suggested by stone
vessels. The same may be said of its use in connection with wood and
wicker, or with vessels of other materials. Forms of vessels so derived
may be said to have an adventitious origin, yet they are essentially
copies, although not so by design, and may as readily be placed under
the succeeding head.


Clay has no inherent qualities of a nature to impose a given form or
class of forms upon its products, as have wood, bark, bone, or stone. It
is so mobile as to be quite free to take form from surroundings, and
where extensively used will record or echo a vast deal of nature and of
coexistent art.

In this observation we have a key that will unlock many of the mysteries
of form.

In the investigation of this point it will be necessary to consider the
processes by which an art inherits or acquires the forms of another art
or of nature, and how one material imposes its peculiarities upon
another material. In early stages of culture the processes of art are
closely akin to those of nature, the human agent hardly ranking as more
than a part of the environment. The primitive artist does not proceed
by methods identical with our own. He does not deliberately and freely
examine all departments of nature or art and select for models those
things most convenient or most agreeable to fancy; neither does he
experiment with the view of inventing new forms. What he attempts
depends almost absolutely upon what happens to be suggested by preceding
forms, and so narrow and so direct are the processes of his mind that,
knowing his resources, we could closely predict his results.

The range of models in the ceramic art is at first very limited, and
includes only those utensils devoted to the particular use to which the
clay vessels are to be applied; later, closely-associated objects and
utensils are copied. In the first stages of art, when the savage makes a
weapon, he modifies or copies a weapon; when he makes a vessel, he
modifies or copies a vessel.

This law holds good in an inverse ratio to culture, varying to a certain
extent with the character of the material used.

_Natural originals_.--Natural originals, both animal and vegetable,
necessarily differ with the country and the climate, thus giving rise to
individual characters in art forms often extremely persistent and
surviving decided changes of environment.

The gourd is probably the most varied and suggestive natural vessel. We
find that the primitive potter has often copied it in the most literal
manner. One example only, out of the many available ones, is necessary.
This is from a mound in southeastern Missouri.

In Fig. 464, _a_ illustrates a common form of the gourd, while _b_
represents the imitation in clay.

[Illustration: _a_, Gourd. _b_, Clay vessel. FIG. 464.--Form
derived from a gourd.]

All nations situated upon the sea or upon large rivers use shells of
mollusks, which, without modification, make excellent receptacles for
water and food. Imitations of these are often found among the products
of the potter's art. A good example from the Mississippi Valley is shown
in Fig. 465, _a_ being the original and _b_ the copy in clay.

In Africa, and in other countries, such natural objects as cocoanut
shells, and ostrich eggs are used in like manner.

Another class of vessels, those made from the skins, bladders, and
stomachs of animals, should also be mentioned in this connection, as it
is certain that their influence has frequently been felt in the
conformation of earthen utensils.

In searching nature, therefore, for originals of primitive ceramic forms
we have little need of going outside of objects that in their natural or
slightly altered state are available for vessels.

[Illustration: _a_, Shell. _b_, Clay. FIG. 465.--Form derived
from a conch shell.]

True, other objects have been copied. We find a multitude of the higher
natural forms, both animal and vegetable, embodied in vessels of clay,
but their presence is indicative of a somewhat advanced stage of art,
when the copying of vessels that were functionally proper antecedents
had given rise to a familiarity with the use of clay and a capacity in
handling it that, with advancing culture, brought all nature within the
reach of the potter and made it assist in the processes of variation and

_Artificial originals_.--There is no doubt that among most peoples art
had produced vessels in other materials antecedent to the utilization of
clay. These would be legitimate models for the potter and we may
therefore expect to find them repeated in earthenware. In this way the
art has acquired a multitude of new forms, some of which may be natural
forms at second hand, that is to say, with modifications imposed upon
them by the material in which they were first shaped. But all materials
other than clay are exceedingly intractable, and impress their own
characters so decidedly upon forms produced in them that ultimate
originals, where there are such, cannot often be traced through them.

It will be most interesting to note the influence of these peculiarities
of originals upon the ceramic art.

A nation having stone vessels, like those of California, on acquiring
the art of pottery would use the stone vessels as models, and such forms
as that given in Fig. 466 would arise, _a_ being in stone and _b_ in
clay, the former from California and the latter from Arizona.

Similar forms would just as readily come from gourds, baskets, or other
globular utensils.

Nations having wooden vessels would copy them in clay on acquiring the
art of pottery. This would give rise to a distinct group of forms, the
result primarily of the peculiarities of the woody structure. Thus in
Fig. 467, _a_, we have a form of wooden vessel, a sort of winged trough
that I have frequently found copied in clay. The earthen vessel given in
Fig. 467, _b_, was obtained from an ancient grave in Arkansas.

[Illustration: _a_, stone. _b_, clay. FIG. 466.--Form derived
from a stone pot.]

[Illustration: _a_, wood. _b_, clay. FIG. 467.--Form derived
from a wooden tray.]

[Illustration: _a_, Horn. _b_, Clay. FIG. 468.--Form derived
from a horn spoon.]

[Illustration: _a_, Bark. _b_, Clay. FIG. 469.--Form derived
from a bark vessel.]

The carapace of some species of turtles, and perhaps even the hard case
of the armadillo, could be utilized in a similar way. The shaping of a
knot of wood often gives rise to a dipper-shaped vessel, such as may be
found in use by many tribes, and is as likely an original for the dipper
form in clay as is the gourd or the conch shell; the familiar horn
vessel of the western tribes, Fig. 468, _a_, would have served equally
well. The specimen given in _b_ is from Arkansas. As a rule, however,
such vessels cannot be traced to their originals, since by copying and
recopying they have varied from the parent form, tending always toward
uniform conventional shapes.

A vessel of rectangular outline might originate in wood or bark. In Fig.
469, _a_, we have a usual form of bark tray, which is possibly the
prototype of the square-rimmed earthen vessel given in _b_.

[Illustration: _a_, Wicker. _b_, Clay. FIG. 470.--Form
originating in basketry.]

[Illustration: _a_, Wicker. _b_, Clay. FIG. 471.--Form
originating in basketry.]

[Illustration: _a_, Net. _b_, Clay. FIG. 472.--Form originating
in basketry.]

Basketry and other classes of woven vessels take a great variety of
forms and, being generally antecedent to the potter's art and constantly
present with it, have left an indelible impression upon ceramic forms.
This is traceable in the earthenware of nearly all nations. The clay
vessel is an intruder, and usurps the place and appropriates the dress
of its predecessor in wicker. The form illustrated in Fig. 470, _a_, is
a common one with the Pueblo peoples, and their earthen vessels often
resemble it very closely, as shown in _b_. Another variety is given in
Fig. 471, _a_ and _b_. These specimens are from southwestern Utah. Fig.
472, _b_, illustrates a form quite common in the Southern States, a
section in which pouch-like nets and baskets, _a_, were formerly in use
and in which the pots were often modeled.


In the early stages of art, forms are rarely invented outright and I
shall not stop to consider the subject here.


The acquisition of new materials, the development of new uses, the
employment of new processes of manufacture, and many other agencies lead
to the multiplication of forms through modification. The processes by
which highly differentiated forms are reached are interesting throughout
and repay the closest study.

A preliminary classification of the various causes that lead to
modification is given in the following synopsis:

                     /                /                        /To assume form.
                     |                |Incapacity of material--\To retain form.
                     |                |Incapacity of the artisan.
                     |                |Changes in method of manufacture.
                     |By adventition--|Changes in environment.
                                      |Changes of use.
Modification of form--|               |Lack of use.
                      |               \Influence of new or exotic forms, etc.
                      |              /To enhance usefulness.
                      |By intention--|
                      |              \To please fancy.--/For the beautiful.
                      \                                  \For the grotesque.


_Incapacity of material._--It is evident at a glance that clay lacks the
capacity to assume and to retain many of the details of form found in
antecedent vessels. This necessarily results in the alteration or
omission of these features, and hence arise many modifications of
original forms.

The simple lack of capacity on the part of the potter who undertook to
reproduce a model would lead to the modification of all but the most
simple shapes.

The acquisition of the art by a superior or an inferior race, or one of
different habits would lead to decided changes. A people accustomed to
carrying objects upon the head, on acquiring earthen vessels would shape
the bases and the handles to facilitate this use.

Improvements in the methods of manufacture are of the greatest
importance in the progress of an art. The introduction of the lathe, for
example, might almost revolutionize form in clay.

As arts multiply, clay is applied to new uses. Its employment in the
manufacture of lamps, whistles, or toys would lead to a multitude of
distinct and unique forms.

The acquisition of a new vessel-making material by a nation of potters
and the association of the forms developed through its inherent
qualities or structure would often lead ceramic shapes into new

[Illustration: _a_, wood. _b_, clay. FIG. 473.--Coincident forms.]

The contact of a nation of potters with a nation of carvers in wood
would tend very decidedly to modify the utensils of the former. One
example may be given which will illustrate the possibilities of such
exotic influences upon form. In Fig. 473, _a_, we have an Alaskan vessel
carved in wood. It represents a beaver grasping a stick in its hands and
teeth. The conception is so unusual and the style of vessel so
characteristic of the people that we should not expect to find it
repeated in other regions; but the ancient graves of the Middle
Mississippi Valley have furnished a number of very similar vessels in
clay, one of which is outlined in _b_. While this remarkable coincidence
is suggestive of ethnic relationships which do not call for attention
here, it serves to illustrate the possibilities of modification by
simple contact.

[Illustration: _a_ _b_ FIG. 471.--Form resulting from accident.]

A curious example illustrative of possible transformation by
adventitious circumstances is found in the collection from the province
of ancient Tusayan. A small vessel of sphynx-like appearance, possibly
derived more or less remotely from a skin vessel, has a noticeable
resemblance to some life form, Fig. 474, _a_. The fore-legs are
represented by two large bosses, the wide-open mouth takes the place of
the severed neck, and a handle connects the top of the rim with the back
of the vessel. The handle being broken off and the vessel inverted,
_b_, there is a decided change; we are struck by the resemblance to a
frog or toad. The original legs, having dark concentric lines painted
around them, look like large protruding eyes, and the mouth gapes in the
most realistic manner, while the two short broken ends of the handle
resemble legs and serve to support the vessel in an upright position,
completing the illusion. The fetich-hunting Pueblo Indian, picking up
this little vessel in its mutilated condition, would probably at once
give to it the sacred character of the water animal which it resembles,
and it might readily transmit its peculiarities of form to other
generations of vessels.

It is not necessary in this study to refer at length to the influence of
metallic vessels upon ceramic forms. They do not usually appear until
the ceramic art is far advanced and often receive a heritage of shape
from earthen forms. Afterwards, when the inherent qualities of the metal
have stamped their individuality upon utensils, the debt is paid back to
clay with interest, as will be seen by reference to later forms in many
parts of the world.


_To enhance usefulness._--There can be no doubt that the desire upon the
part of the archaic potter to increase the usefulness and convenience of
his utensils has been an important agent in the modification of form.
The earliest vessels employed were often clumsy and difficult to handle.
The favorite conch shell would hold water for him who wished to drink,
but the breaking away of spines and the extraction of the interior whorl
improved it immeasurably. The clumsy mortar of stone, with its thick
walls and great weight, served a useful purpose, but it needed a very
little intelligent thought to show that thin walls and neatly-trimmed
margins were much preferable.

Vessels of clay, aside from the forms imposed upon, them by their
antecedents and associates, would necessarily be subject to changes
suggested by the growing needs of man. These would be worked out with
ever-increasing ease by his unfolding genius for invention. Further
investigation of this phase of development would carry me beyond the
limits set for this paper.

_To please fancy._--The skill acquired by the handling of clay in
constructing vessels and in efforts to increase their usefulness would
open an expansive field for the play of fancy. The potter would no
sooner succeed in copying vessels having life form than he would be
placed in a position to realize his capacity to imitate forms not
peculiar to vessels. His ambition would in time lead him even beyond the
limits of nature and he would invade the realm of imagination, embodying
the conceptions of superstition in the plastic clay. This tendency would
be encouraged and perpetuated by the relegation of vessels of particular
forms to particular ceremonies.


The birth of the embellishing art must be sought in that stage of animal
development when instinct began to discover that certain attributes or
adornments increased attractiveness. When art in its human sense came
into existence ideas of embellishment soon extended from the _person_,
with, which they had been associated, to all things with which man had
to deal. The processes of the growth of the æsthetic idea are long and
obscure and cannot be taken up in this place.

The various elements of embellishment in which the ceramic art is
interested may be assigned to two great classes, based upon the
character of the conceptions associated with them. These are
_ideographic_ and _non-ideographic_. In the present paper I shall treat
chiefly of the non ideographic, reserving the ideographic for a second

Elements, non-ideographic from the start, are derived mainly from two
sources: 1st, from objects, natural or artificial, associated with the
arts; and, 2d, from the suggestions of accidents attending construction.
Natural objects abound in features highly suggestive of embellishment
and these are constantly employed in art. Artificial objects have two
classes of features capable of giving rise to ornament: these are
_constructional_ and _functional_. In a late stage of development all
things in nature and in art, however complex or foreign to the art in
its practice, are subject to decorative treatment. This latter is the
realistic pictorial stage, one of which the student of native American
culture needs to take little cognizance.

Elements of design are not invented outright: man modifies, combines,
and recombines elements or ideas already in existence, but does not

A classification of the sources of decorative motives employed in the
ceramic art is given in the following diagram:

                  /Suggestions of features of natural utensils or objects.
                  |                               /
                  |                               |           /Handles.
                  |                               |           |Legs
                  |                               | Functional|Bands
                  |                               |           \Perforations, etc.
                  |                               |
                  |Suggestions of features of     |
                  |artificial utensils or objects.|              /The coil.
                  |                               |              |The seam.
Origin of ornament|                               |Constructional|The stitch.
                  |                               |              |The plait.
                  |                               \              \The twist, etc.
                  |Suggestions from accidents     /Marks of fingers.
                  | attending construction.       |Marks of implements.
                  |                               \Marks of molds, etc.
                  \Suggestions of ideographic features or pictorial delineations.


The first articles used by men in their simple arts have in many cases
possessed features suggestive of decoration. Shells of mollusks are
exquisitely embellished with ribs, spines, nodes, and colors. The same
is true to a somewhat limited extent of the shells of the turtle and the
armadillo and of the hard cases of fruits.

These decorative features, though not essential to the utensil, are
nevertheless inseparable parts of it, and are cast or unconsciously
copied by a very primitive people when similar articles are artificially
produced in plastic material. In this way a utensil may acquire
ornamental characters long before the workman has learned to take
pleasure in such details or has conceived an idea beyond that of simple
utility. This may be called unconscious embellishment. In this
fortuitous fashion a ribbed variety of fruit shell would give rise to a
ribbed vessel in clay; one covered with spines would suggest a noded
vessel, etc. When taste came to be exercised upon such objects these
features would be retained and copied for the pleasure they afforded.

[Illustration: _a._--Shell vessel. _b._--Copy in clay. FIG. 475.--Scroll
derived from the spire of a conch shell.]

Passing by the many simple elements of decoration that by this
unconscious process could be derived from such sources, let me give a
single example by which it will be seen that not only elementary forms
but even so highly constituted an ornament as the scroll may have been
brought thus naturally into the realm of decorative art. The sea-shell
has always been intimately associated with the arts that utilize clay
and abounds in suggestions of embellishment. The _Busycon_ was almost
universally employed as a vessel by the tribes of the Atlantic drainage
of North America. Usually it was trimmed down and excavated until only
about three-fourths of the outer wall of the shell remained. At one end
was the long spike-like base which served as a handle, and at the other
the flat conical apex, with its very pronounced spiral line or ridge
expanding from the center to the circumference, as seen in Fig. 475 _a_.
This vessel was often copied in clay, as many good examples now in our
museums testify. The notable feature is that the shell has been copied
literally, the spiral appearing in its proper place. A specimen is
illustrated in Fig. 475 _b_ which, although simple and highly
conventionalized, still retains the spiral figure.

[Illustration: _a_ _b_ _c_ FIG. 476.--Possible derivation of the
current scroll.]

In another example we have four of the noded apexes placed about the rim
of the vessel, as shown in Fig. 476_a_, the conception being that of
four conch shells united in one vessel, the bases being turned inward
and the apexes outward. Now it is only necessary to suppose the addition
of the spiral lines, always associated with the nodes, to have the
result shown in _b_, and by a still higher degree of convention we have
the classic scroll ornament given in _c_. Of course, no such result as
this could come about adventitiously, as successful combination calls
for the exercise of judgment and taste; but the initiatory steps could
be taken--the motive could enter art--without the conscious supervision
of the human agent.


[Illustration: FIG. 477.--Ornament derived through the modification of

_Functional features_.--Functional features of art products liable to
influence ornament comprise handles, legs, feet, rims, bands, and other
peculiarities of shape originating in utility. Handles, for instance,
may have been indigenous to a number of arts; they are coeval and
coextensive with culture. The first load, weapon, or vessel transported
by man may have been suspended by a vine or filament. Such arts as have
fallen heir to handles have used them according to the capacities of the
material employed. Of all the materials stone is probably the least
suited to their successful use, while clay utilizes them in its own
peculiar way, giving to them a great variety of expression. They are
copied in clay from various models, but owing to the inadequate
capacities of the material, often lose their function and degenerate
into mere ornaments, which are modified as such to please the potter's
fancy. Thus, for example, the series of handles placed about the neck of
the vessel become, by modification in frequent copying, a mere band of
ornamental figures in relief, or even finally in engraved, punctured, or
painted lines, in the manner suggested in Fig. 477. Legs, pedestals,
spouts, and other features may in a like manner give rise to decoration.

[Illustration: _a._--Coiled fillet of clay. _b._--Double coil.
FIG. 478.--Scroll derived from coil of clay.]

_Constructional features._-Features of vessels resulting from
construction are infinitely varied and often highly suggestive of
decoration. Constructional peculiarities of the clay utensils themselves
are especially worthy of notice, and on account of their actual presence
in the art itself are more likely to be utilized or copied for ceramic
ornament than those of other materials. The coil, so universally
employed in construction, has had a decided influence upon the ceramic
decoration of certain peoples, as I have shown in a paper on ancient
Pueblo art. From it we have not only a great variety of surface
ornamentation produced by simple treatment of the coil in place, but
probably many forms suggested by the use of the coil in vessel building,
as, for instance, the spiral formed in beginning the base of a coiled
vessel, Fig. 478 _a_, from which the double scroll _b_, as a separate
feature, could readily be derived, and finally the chain of scrolls so
often seen in border and zone decoration. This familiarity with the use
of fillets or ropes of clay would also lead to a great variety of
applied ornament, examples of which, from Pueblo art, are given in Fig.
479. The sinuous forms assumed by a rope of clay so employed would
readily suggest to the Indian the form of the serpent and the means of
representing it, and might thus lead to the introduction of this much
revered creature into art.

[Illustration: FIG. 479.--Ornamental use of fillets.]

Of the various classes of utensils associated closely with the ceramic
art, there are none so characteristically marked by constructional
features as nets and wicker baskets. The twisting, interlacing,
knotting, and stitching of filaments give relieved figures that by
contact in manufacture impress themselves upon the plastic clay. Such
impressions come in time to be regarded as pleasing features, and when
free-hand methods of reproducing are finally acquired they and their
derivatives become essentials of decoration. At a later stage these
characters of basketry influence ceramic decoration in a somewhat
different way. By the use of variously-colored fillets the woven surface
displays figures in color corresponding to those in relief and varying
with every new combination. Many striking patterns are thus produced,
and the potter who has learned to decorate his wares by the stylus or
brush reproduces these patterns by free-hand methods. We find pottery in
all countries ornamented with patterns, painted, incised, stamped, and
relieved, certainly derived from this source. So well is this fact known
that I need hardly go into details.

In the higher stages of art the constructional characters of
architecture give rise to many notions of decoration which afterwards
descend to other arts, taking greatly divergent forms. Aboriginal
architecture in some parts of America had reached a development capable
of wielding a strong influence. This is not true, however, of any part
of the United States.


Besides the suggestions of surface features impressed in manufacture or
intentionally copied as indicated above, we have also those of
accidental imprints of implements or of the fingers in manufacture. From
this source there are necessarily many suggestions of ornament, at first
of indented figures, but later, after long employment, extending to the
other modes of representation.


Non-ideographic forms of ornament may originate in ideographic features,
mnemonic, demonstrative, or symbolic. Such significant figures are
borrowed by decorators from other branches of art. As time goes on they
lose their significance and are subsequently treated as purely
decorative elements. Subjects wholly pictorial in character, when such
come to be made, may also be used as simple decoration, and by long
processes of convention become geometric.

The exact amount of significance still attached to significant figures
after adoption into decoration cannot be determined except in cases of
actual identification by living peoples, and even when the signification
is known by the more learned individuals the decorator may be wholly
without knowledge of it.


There are comparatively few elementary ideas prominently and generally
employed in primitive decorative art. New ideas are acquired, as already
shown, all along the pathway of progress. None of these ideas retain a
uniform expression, however, as they are subject to modification by
environment just as are the forms of living organisms. A brief
classification of the causes of modification is given in the following

                              /Through material.
Modification of ornament------|Through form.
                              \Through, methods of realization.

_Through material._--It is evident at a glance that _material_ must have
a strong influence upon the forms assumed by the various decorative
motives, however derived. Thus stone, clay, wood, bone, and copper,
although they readily borrow from nature and from each other,
necessarily show different decorative results. Stone is massive and
takes form slowly and by peculiar processes. Clay is more versatile and
decoration may be scratched, incised, painted, or modeled in relief with
equal facility, while wood and metal engender details having characters
peculiar to themselves, producing different results from the same
motives or elements. Much of the diversity displayed by the art products
of different countries and climates is due to this cause.

Peoples dwelling in arctic climates are limited, by their materials, to
particular modes of expression. Bone and ivory as shaped for use in the
arts of subsistence afford facilities for the employment of a very
restricted class of linear decoration, such chiefly as could be
scratched with a hard point upon small irregular, often cylindrical,
implements. Skins and other animal tissues are not favorable to the
development of ornament, and the textile arts--the greatest agents of
convention--do not readily find suitable materials in which to work.

Decorative art carried to a high stage under arctic environment would be
more likely to achieve unconventional and realistic forms than if
developed in more highly favored countries. The accurate geometric and
linear patterns would hardly arise.

_Through form._--Forms of decorated objects exercise a strong influence
upon the decorative designs employed. It would be more difficult to
tattoo the human face or body with straight lines or rectilinear
patterns than with curved ones. An ornament applied originally to a
vessel of a given form would accommodate itself to that form pretty much
as costume becomes adjusted to the individual. When it came to be
required for another form of vessel, very decided changes might be

With the ancient Pueblo peoples rectilinear forms of meander patterns
were very much in favor and many earthen vessels are found in which
bands of beautiful angular geometric figures occupy the peripheral
zone, Fig. 480 _a_, but when the artist takes up a mug having a row of
hemispherical nodes about the body, _b_, he finds it very difficult to
apply his favorite forms and is almost compelled to run spiral curves
about the nodes in order to secure a neat adjustment.

[Illustration: FIG. 480.--Variations in a motive through the influence
of form.]

_Through methods of realisation_.--It will readily be seen that the
forms assumed by a motive depend greatly upon the character of the
mechanical devices employed. In the potter's art devices for holding and
turning the vessel under manipulation produce peculiar results.

In applying a given idea to clay much depends upon the method of
executing it. It will take widely differing forms when executed by
incising, by modeling, by painting, and by stamping.

Intimately associated with methods of execution are peculiarities of
construction, the two agencies working together in the processes of
modification and development of ornament.

I have previously shown how our favorite ornament, the scroll, in its
disconnected form may have originated in the copying of natural forms or
through the manipulation of coils of clay. I present here an example of
its possible origin through the modification of forms derived from
constructional features of basketry. An ornament known as the guilloche
is found in many countries. The combination of lines resembles that of
twisted or platted fillets of wood, cane, or rushes, as may be seen at a
glance, Fig. 481 _a_. An incised ornament of this character, possibly
derived from basketry by copying the twisted fillets or their
impressions in the clay, is very common on the pottery of the mounds of
the Mississippi Valley, and its variants form a most interesting study.
In applying this to a vessel the careless artist does not properly
connect the ends of the lines which pass beneath the intersecting
fillets, and the parts become disconnected, _b_. In many cases the ends
are turned in abruptly as seen in _c_, and only a slight further change
is necessary to lead to the result, _d_, the running scroll with
well-developed links. All of these steps may be observed in a single
group of vessels.

It may be thought by some that the processes of development indicated
above are insufficient and unsatisfactory. There are those who, seeing
these forms already endowed with symbolism, begin at what I conceive to
be the wrong end of the process. They derive the form of symbol directly
from the thing symbolized. Thus the current scroll is, with many races,
found to be a symbol of water, and its origin is attributed to a literal
rendition of the sweep and curl of the waves. It is more probable that
the scroll became the symbol of the sea long after its development
through agencies similar to those described above, and that the
association resulted from the observation of incidental resemblances.
This same figure, in use by the Indians of the interior of the
continent, is regarded as symbolic of the whirlwind, and it is probable
that any symbol-using people will find in the features and phenomena of
their environment, whatever it may be, sufficient resemblance to any of
their decorative devices to lead to a symbolic association.

[Illustration: FIG. 481.--Theoretical development of the current

One secret of modification is found in the use of a radical in more than
one art, owing to differences in constructional characters. For example,
the tendency of nearly all woven fabrics is to encourage, even to
compel, the use of straight lines in the decorative designs applied.
Thus the attempt to employ curved lines would lead to stepped or broken
lines. The curvilinear scroll coming from some other art would be forced
by the constructional character of the fabric into square forms, and the
rectilinear meander or fret would result, as shown in. Fig. 482, _a_
being the plain form, painted, engraved, or in relief, and _b_ the same
idea developed in a woven fabric. Stone or brick-work would lead to like
results, Fig. 483; but the modification could as readily move in the
other direction. If an ornament originating in the constructional
character of a woven fabric, or remodeled by it, and hence rectilinear,
should be desired for a smooth structureless or featureless surface, the
difficulties of drawing the angular forms would lead to the delineation
of curved forms, and we would have exactly the reverse of the order
shown in Figs. 482 and 483. The two forms given in Fig. 484 actually
occur in one and the same design painted upon an ancient Pueblo vase.
The curved form is apparently the result of careless or hurried work,
the original angular form, having come from, a textile source.

[Illustration: _a_, free-hand form. _b_, form imposed, by fabric.
FIG. 482.--Forms of the same motive expressed in different arts.]

[Illustration: _a_, free-hand form. _b_, form imposed by masonry.
FIG. 483.--Forms of the same motive expressed in different arts.]

[Illustration: _a_ _b_ FIG. 484.--Variations resulting from change
of method.]

Many excellent examples illustrative of this tendency to modification
are found in Pueblo art. Much of the ornament applied to pottery is
derived from the sister art, basketry. In the latter art the forms of
decorative figures are geometric and symmetrical to the highest degree,
as I have frequently pointed out. The rays of a radiating ornament,
worked with the texture of a shallow basket, spring from the center and
take uniform directions toward the margin, as shown in Fig. 485. But
when a similar idea derived from basketry (as it could have no other
origin) is executed in color upon an earthen vessel, we observe a
tendency to depart from symmetry as well as from consistency. I call
attention here to the arrangement of the parts merely, not to the
motives employed, as I happen to have no examples of identical figures
from the two arts.

[Illustration: FIG. 485.--Geometric form, of textile ornament.]

[Illustration: FIG. 486.--Loss of geometric accuracy in painting.]

It will be seen by reference to the design given in Fig. 486, taken from
the upper surface of an ancient vase, that although the spirit of the
decoration is wonderfully well preserved the idea of the origin of all
the rays in the center of the vessel is not kept in view, and that by
carelessness in the drawing two of the rays are crowded out and
terminate against the side of a neighboring ray. In copying and
recopying by free-hand methods, many curious modifications take place in
these designs, as, for example, the unconformity which occurs in one
place in the example given may occur at a number of places, and there
will be a series of independent sections, a small number only of the
bands of devices remaining true rays.

[Illustration: FIG. 487.--Design painted upon pottery.]

A characteristic painted design from the interior of an ancient bowl is
shown in Fig. 487, in which merely a suggestion of the radiation is
preserved, although the figure is still decorative and tasteful. This
process of modification goes on without end, and as the true geometric
textile forms recede from view innovation robs the design of all traces
of its original character, producing much that is incongruous and

The growth of decorative devices from the elementary to the highly
constituted and elegant is owing to a tendency of the human mind to
elaborate because it is pleasant to do so or because pleasure is taken
in the result, but there is still a directing and shaping agency to be
accounted for.

I have already shown that such figures as the scroll and the guilloche
are not _necessarily_ developed by processes of selection and
combination of simple elements, as many have thought, since they may
have come into art at a very early stage almost full-fledged; but there
is nothing in these facts to throw light upon the processes by which
ornament followed particular lines of development throughout endless
elaboration. In treating of this point, Prof. C.F. Hartt[2] maintained
that the development of ornamental designs took particular and uniform
directions owing to the structure of the eye, certain forms being chosen
and perpetuated because of the pleasure afforded by movements of the eye
in following them. In connection with this hypothesis, for it is nothing
more, Mr. Hartt advanced the additional idea, that in unison with
the general course of nature decorative forms began with simple
elements and developed by systematic methods to complex forms. Take for
example the series of designs shown in Fig. 488. The meander _a_ made up
of simple parts would, according to Mr. Hartt, by further elaboration
under the supervision of the muscles of the eye, develop into _b_. This,
in time, into _c_, and so on until the elegant anthemium was achieved.
The series shown in Fig. 489 would develop in a similar way, or
otherwise would be produced by modification in free-hand copying of the
rectilinear series. The processes here suggested, although to all
appearances reasonable enough, should not be passed over without careful

[Illustration: FIG. 488.--Theoretical development of fret-work.]

[Footnote 2: Hartt: Popular Science Monthly, Vol. VI, p. 266.]

Taking the first series, we observe that the ornaments are projected in
straight continuous lines or zones, which are filled in with more or
less complex parts, rectilinear and geometrically accurate. Still higher
forms are marvelously intricate and graceful, yet not less geometric and

[Illustration: FIG. 489.--Theoretical development of scroll work.]

Let us turn to the primitive artisan, and observe him at work with rude
brush and stylus upon the rounded and irregular forms of his
utensils and weapons, or upon skins, bark, and rock surfaces. Is it
probable that with his free hand directed by the eye alone he will be
able to achieve these rythmic geometric forms. It seems to me that the
whole tendency is in the opposite direction. I venture to surmise that
if there had been no other resources than those named above the typical
rectilinear fret would never have been known, at least to the primitive
world; for, notwithstanding the contrary statement by Professor Hartt,
the fret is in its more highly-developed forms extremely difficult to
follow with the eye and to delineate with the hand. Until arts,
geometric in their construction, arose to create and to combine
mechanically the necessary elements and motives, and lead the way by a
long series of object-lessons to ideas of geometric combination, our
typical border ornament would not be possible. Such arts are the textile
arts and architecture. These brought into existence forms and ideas not
met with in nature and not primarily thought of by man, and combined
them in defiance of human, conceptions of grace. Geometric ornament is
the offspring of technique.


Acquisition of new material modifies form in pottery 451
Adventition, a source of form 445, 450
America as a field for study of art 443
Basketry copied in pottery 449
Busycon shell copied as a vessel, The 454
California, Pottery from 447
Ceramic art, Origin and development of form and
 ornament in, W.H. Holmes 437-465
  form discussed 444
  ornament discussed 444
Coils suggesting spiral ornament 456
Decorative motive in pottery, Sources of 453
European civilization checked aboriginal American art 443
Fancy modifying form in pottery 452
Fictile art related to written language 443
Form modifies ornament in pottery 458
  of pottery modified by certain influences 450-452
Hartt, Prof. C.F., on form of designs as influenced by
 structure of the eye 463-464
Ideographic elements of decoration 453
Imitation, A source of form 445
Improvements in modes of manufacture modify forms in pottery 450
Intention a modifier of form in pottery 452
Modification of ornaments in pottery 458
Non-ideographic elements of decoration 453
Origin and development of form and ornament in
 ceramic art (W.H. Holmes) 437-465
Origin of ornament in pottery 453
Ornament in pottery, Origin of 453-457
Ornamental elements modified by invention 453
Pottery from California 447
  Tusayan 451
  Utah 449
Scroll, Possible origin of the 459
Shells copied in pottery 447
Skin vessels copied in pottery 447
Sources of decorative motive in ceramic art 453
Spiral ornament from coils 456
Stone vessels copied in pottery 447
Symbols adopted rather than invented 460
Utility modifies form in pottery 452
Wooden vessels copied in pottery 447, 451
Written language as related to fictile art 443

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Origin and Development of Form and Ornament in Ceramic Art. - Fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the - Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1882-1883, - Government Printing Office, Washington, 1886, pages 437-466." ***

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