|Born at Hano, a Tewa-speaking village of Hopi First Mesa in northern
Arizona, Nampeyo learned to make pottery from her mother, White Corn,
of the Tewa Corn Clan. She married Lesso, of Cedarwood clan, Walpi,
in 1878, and they had five children.
Trading posts were established in northern Arizona during the 1870s;
Nampeyo sold her pottery to traders, including Thomas V. Keam and Tom
Pavatea. In the 1880s, she and other Hopi potters found inspiration
for new designs from pottery recovered at nearby sites that were
inhabited from 1400 to 1600 A.D. Excavations led by James Stevenson,
from the Bureau of Ethnology, and then J. Walter Fewkes, of the
Smithsonian Institution, fed the creativity of Nampeyo and other Hopi
potters. Nampeyo incorporated elements of the ancients' Sikyatki
polychrome pottery style and infused them with her own ingenious
artistic brushwork and interpretation.
Nampeyo was one of the first American Indian women to achieve personal
recognition for her pottery. She demonstrated pottery making at the
United States Land and Irrigation Exposition in Chicago in 1910. Both
museum experts and business owners were awed by her work. Through
photographs distributed by the Fred Harvey Company, along with her
live pottery demonstrations and sales at the Watchtower and Hopi House
at the Grand Canyon, Nampeyo and her pottery became famous.
Nampeyo began to lose her sight when she was in her 60s. Unable to
paint her fine designs as her condition worsened, she asked her
daughters to paint them. She never learned to read or write and did
not sign her work; Harvey Company employees sometimes identified it
with a sticker. At the end of Nampeyo's career, her daughters signed a
few of her pieces which are now in major museums.
For more information, see Nampeyo and Her Pottery by Barbara Kramer.
Nampeyo, Hopi-Tewa potter - Courtesy of Library of Congress
Nampeyo and her family at the Hopi House, Grand Canyon - Courtesy of the National Park Service (09826)