Hopi Potter Nampeyo

Indian Traders has a strong focus on Native American blankets and jewelry, including Hopi Indian silver jewelry, but we also carry a small selection of pottery-inspired pieces. The southwest is home to beautiful and unique native pottery, and a founder of modern Hopi pottery as an art was Nampeyo.

Pottery of the Southwest

Pottery in the Southwest dates back more than 2,500 years. Decorative elements were drawn from the religion and culture of each tribe and crafting methods have not changed, although the art declined due to the collapse of the ancient pueblos hundreds of years ago. By the mid-1800s, traditional Hopi motifs had been influenced by Tewa, Zuni, and Spanish designs, and the clay used was inferior. Nampeyo was to change this.

Who was Nampeyo?

Nampeyo was born circa 1860 and was from the Hopi village of Hano on First Mesa, Arizona. Her father was Hopi Snake clansman Quotsvema and her mother was Tewa woman Kotsakao (White Corn). Her paternal grandmother named her Tsumana (Snake Girl) but her mother’s people called her Nampeyo (which means Snake That Does Not Bite). Since the Tewa is a matriarchal society, she was a member of the Corn Clan of her mother.

Following a brief (and ultimately annulled) marriage to Tewa man Kwivioya in 1879, Nampeyo married Walpi Cedarwood clansman Lesou in 1881, and she bore him four surviving children, including daughters Annie, Fannie, and Nellie and son Wesley.

Nampeyo and mother Nampeyo (right) with her mother White Corn, and her daughter Annie holding her own daughter Rachel. Photo by Adam Clark Vroman 1901

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Nampeyo the Artist

Nampeyo’s paternal grandmother taught her pottery-making skills from her early childhood and, by adulthood, Nampeyo was renowned for her skill as a potter. She had a natural gift for sourcing and selecting superior clays, and she recognized the value and importance of reclaiming the old Hopi motifs.

Nampeyo’s craft is typical of Hopi technique, creating crackle-wear or Polacca pottery. Her work is renowned for its low, wide, shallow pots featuring geometric and abstract designs. She sought unique clays and other raw materials from the Hopi reservation for vibrant and bold color and used space rather than detail as her art form.

In particular, Nampeyo is credited with reviving ancient Sikyatki designs.

Sikyatki was a prehistoric pueblo on First Mesa, the ruins of which were excavated in 1895 in an archaeological dig supervised by anthropologist Jesse Fewkes; Napeyo’s husband was on his team of workers. More than 500 pottery vessels were uncovered, being smooth and yellow. Nampeyo was inspired by these and redefined their designs with her own flair, expressing and honoring the art of her ancestors. Stylized birds featured heavily in the designs, as well as ancient motifs. She taught her techniques to other potters of First Mesa and revived the ancient art form.

Nampeyo Nampeyo

Nampeyo began to lose her eyesight by the turn of the century, as she was affected by trachoma. This is an infectious disease of the eye that was severe within the Hopi Nation at the time. She never became completely blind, but had lost most of her sight by 1920. Her husband Lesou and their daughters, particularly Annie, worked with Nampeyo, she creating the bowls and they helping paint them. She was a prolific and extremely commercially successful artisan.

Nampeyo died in a house owned by her son Wesley (and where he displayed her work) below First Mesa on July 20, 1942. Until her death, she continued creating beautiful Hopi pottery, with the assistance of her children and grandchildren.

Nampeyo’s daughter Po-pong-mana (Fannie – 1900-1987) herself became a renowned potter and she passed her skillset onto her own children.

Nampeyo and daughter Fannie

Nampeyo became one of the most famous Native American artists of the early twentieth century, and her legacy remains.

Indian Traders offers this beautiful Hopi Pottery pin/pendant- a gorgeous nod to the pottery of the Hopi and the work of Nampeyo and those who followed her. Browse our site today.

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