Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
”They have come to see the Hopis jump around with rattlesnakes in their mouths so rain will fall! That’s all they know or care about us!”
— Nampeyo, “Nam-pey-o, the Blind Potter,” Arizona Highways (June 1937)
Nampeyo, a Hopi potter, was an innovator in shape and design when other pueblo artisans followed tradition closely. Through her artistic leadership, she is credited with the revival of the prehistoric Sikyatki style of pottery.
Nampeyo was born at the Hopi village of Hano on First Mesa about 1860. She learned the art of pottery from her grandmother and became an accomplished potter as a young woman. Using clay from the mesa and paints from desert plants, she molded and formed pots that were beautiful as well as useful. In the 1880s and 1890s, trading posts were established on the reservations and Nampeyo’s pots sold for a good price. But she was not content with the designs and techniques of the traditional pots. Ancient ruins in the area yielded many pottery shards that Nampeyo and her husband Lesou collected and studied.
In 1895, Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes arrived in the Hopi country to excavate the large ruin of Sikyatki, near the village of Hano. Lesou worked at the site and collected shards for Nampeyo. The Sikyatki designs were bold and beautiful and reflected the balance and patterns of nature. After studying the materials, shapes, colors, Nampeyo and Lesou were inspired to make pottery on a much higher technical and artistic level. From several other sites, they gathered shards representing pottery made from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. The techniques and designs of these ancient pots influenced the art of Nampeyo, who drew upon them to create her own motifs and style.
Around the turn of the century she became well-known, and her pottery was sought out by tourists and collectors. Nampeyo and Lesou demonstrated their craft at the Santa Fe Railway Exhibition in Chicago in 1898 and 1919. She worked for Fred Harvey at the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon demonstrating and selling her pots from time to time during the early 1900s. Harvey considered Nampeyo the best potter in the Southwest.
Nampeyo shared her techniques and designs with other potters of her village and can be credited with reviving the art of fine pottery making by the Hopi artisans. But Nampeyo stands supreme in her art. The grace and beauty of her work is rarely matched.
Nampeyo’s eyesight began failing after 1915, and by 1920 she was blind. She continued to mold and shape her bowls, with Lesou painting the designs until his death in 1935. Nampeyo died in 1942. Her art, inspired from centuries past, will be displayed and admired for centuries to come.