The picture above is a macro shot of a piece of pottery I received as a gift some months ago. When I was given it, I was told that the mark on the bottom “Nemadji” was the name of a Native American tribe. Of course I immediately Googled that and found out these pots have been mistakenly attributed to a Minnesotan tribe since the company who actually made it started. The term “Nemadji pottery” has come to mean smaller clay items, decorated with swirling primary colors with un-glazed exteriors.
The Nemadji Tile and Pottery Company took its name from the Nemadji river where they harvested their clay. It opened in 1923 after The Northern Clay Products company moved locations and decided to focus on tile and pottery instead of bricks. Very early examples of their pottery was simple and utilitarian, in 1929 Eric Hellman joined the company and brought his distinctive painting techniques to their line. His hand-thrown pots were used to create the molds by which thousands of pieces of pottery were created. Hellman eventually left Nemadji and took his distinctive style to Colorado where he created pots for the Garden of the Gods Trading Company. Through many more years of operation the Nemadji Tile and Pottery Company made tens of thousands of pieces sold all over the nation. The company stopped making “Nemadji” pottery in 2002.
The Nemadji company never lied about being Indian made, but they certainly played up the connection. Their promotional material often referenced their factory being in “Arrowhead Country” and in the Ojibwa’s land, “Nemadji” is an Ojibwa word. They also claimed their processes were molded off “the ancient people who made pottery with clay from the same riverbed.” The fact that much of their pottery was sold to Southwestern tourist locations and re-sold alongside other Mission decor help to propagate the misinformation. From the 1950’s onward the pots were sold with a paper scroll inside claiming that the swirling color designs were modeled from “Ancient American Indians.” No doubt the retailers of the pottery played up the myth as it was great for business.
Nemadji pottery can be identified by their stamped bases. Early examples have arrowhead designs, from the 1930’s to 1980 some variation of the word “Nemadji” was included in the stamp, and from 1980 onward the stamps featured an Indian head. All Garden of the Gods pottery is marked with that name in a variety of different styles. Pottery produced by Nemadji Tile until the 1970’s had their interiors coated with shellac. After 1973 the interior was given a clear glaze, and all products after 1995 have an uncoated interior. Their values range from $10 to around $200, and they have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Many examples can be found on Etsy and Ebay for around $10-$20. If you want more information on dating, pricing and the history of Nemadji buy a copy of “The Myth and Magic of Nemadji “Indian” Pottery” by Michelle D. Lee. All of my information on Nemadji came from this book and there is a picture guide for of all the possible base stamps.
My little pot was created in sometime after 1980, before they stopped glazing the interiors. I have totally fallen in love with the Nemadji pottery look, I think their un-glazed exteriors, and bright primary colors look gorgeous with a modern palette. What do you think? Gorgeous pottery with a great back story or tourist novelties?