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Nampeyo, Hopi pottery maker, seated, with examples of her work, cropped.jpg
Nampeyo, ca. 1900, photograph by A.C. Vroman
Native name Num-pa-yu
(Tewa: snake that does not bite)
Born c. 1856
Hano pueblo, Arizona
Died 1942
Nationality Hopi-Tewa (United States)
Education Maternal grandmother
Known for ceramic artist
Spouse(s) Lesou (second husband)
Adam Clark Vroman, Nampeyo building a wall of fuel, 1901, Smithsonian Institution photo #34188-A. Finished painted clay vessels were fired in a mound of dried sheep manure. She wet her hair and tied it in a front not to keep from getting too hot during the firing process.
Polychrome ceramic jar, by Nampeyo, ca. 1880
Nampeyo with one of her Sikyatki-inspired vessels, ca. 1908–1910. Hopi, Arizona. Photo by Charles M. Wood. P07128

Nampeyo (ca. 1856 –1942) was a Hopi - Tewa potter who lived on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona.[1][2] Her Tewa name was also spelled Num-pa-yu, meaning "snake that does not bite".

She used ancient techniques for making and firing pottery and used designs from "Old Hopi" pottery and sherds found at Sikyátki ruins on First Mesa, which dated to the 15th century. Her work is in collections in the United States and Europe, including many museums like the National Museum of American Art, Museum of Northern Arizona and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

Early life[edit]

She was born on First Mesa in the village of Hano, also known as Tewa Village which is primarily made up of descendants of the Tewa people from Northern New Mexico who fled west to Hopi lands about 1702 for protection from the Spanish after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Her mother, White Corn was Tewa; her father Quootsva, from nearby Walpi, was a member of the Snake clan. According to tradition, Nampeyo was born into her mother's Tewa Corn clan. She had three older brothers, Tom Polacca, Kano, and Patuntupi, also known as Squash; Her brothers were born from about 1849 to 1858.[3][4]

She was first photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1875 and was reputedly one of the most photographed ceramic artists in the Southwest.[4]

About 1878[7] or 1881,[8] Nampeyo married her second husband, Lesou, a member of the Cedarwood clan at Walpi. The their first daughter, Annie, was born in 1884; William Lesso, was born about 1893; Nellie was born in 1896; Wesley in 1899; and Fannie was born in 1900.[7]


Hopi people make ceramics painted with beautiful designs, and Nampeyo was eventually considered one of the finest Hopi potters. Nampeyo learned pottery making through the efforts of her paternal grandmother. In the 1870s, she made a steady income by selling her work at a local trading post operated by Thomas Keam.[9] By 1881 she was already known for her works of "old Hopi" pottery of Walpi.[8]

She became increasingly interested in ancient pottery form and design, recognizing them as superior to Hopi pottery produced at the time. Her second husband, Lesou (or Lesso) was reputedly employed by the archaeologist J. Walter Fewkes at the excavation of the prehistoric ruin of Sikyátki on the First Mesa of the Hano Pueblo in the 1890s. Lesou helped Nampeyo find potsherds with ancient designs which they copied onto paper and were later integrated into Nampeyo's pottery.[4][10] However, she began making copies of protohistoric pottery from the 15th through 17th centuries from ancient village sites,[7] such as Sikyátki, which was explored before Fewkes and Thomas Varker Keam.[4][8] Nampeyo developed her own style based on the traditional designs, known as Hopi Revival pottery[11] from old Hopi designs and Sikyátki Revival pottery.[8] Potters on the First Mesa of Walpi were hired by Keam to make reproductions of the works. Nampeyo was particularly skillful and her pottery became a commercial success and was distributed throughout the United States and in Europe.[8]

Her work is distinguished by the shapes of the pottery and the designs. She often used the migration patter, which symbolized the migration of the Hopi people with feather and bird claw motifs. She made wide "flying saucer" shaped pottery and in later years tall jars, thought to be made to hold umbrellas.[4]

When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint. But now, I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.
— Nampeyo, 1920s[12]

Kate Cory, an artist and photographer who lived among the Hopi from 1905 to 1912 at Oraibi and Walpi,[13] wrote that Nampeyo used sheep bones in the fire, which are believed to have made the fire hot or made the pottery whiter, and smoothed the fired pots with a plant with a red blossom. Both techniques are ancient Tewa pottery practices.[14]

She and her husband traveled to Chicago in 1898 to exhibit her pottery.[15] Between 1905 and 1907, she produced and sold pottery at the Grand Canyon lodge owned by the Fred Harvey Company.[7][8] She exhibited in 1910 at the Chicago United States Land and Irrigation Exposition, which was very rare for a Native American artist at that time.[7][12]

One of her famous patterns, the migration pattern, represented the migration of the Hopi people, such as the vase made in the 1930s and held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.[12] Nampeyo's photograph was often used on travel brochures for the American southwest.[16]

Nampeyo began to lose her sight due to trachoma about the turn of the 20th-century.[16] From 1925 until her death she made pottery by touch and they were then painted by her husband, daughters or other family members.[15][17]

She died in 1942 at the home of his son Wesley and her daughter-in-law, Cecilia.[7]

She was a symbol of the Hopi people and was a leader in the revival of ancient pottery.[15] She inspired dozens of family members over several generations to make pottery, including daughters Fannie Nampeyo and Annie Healing.[4] A 2014 exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona presents the works of four generations of artists descended from Nampeyo.[18]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dillingham, Rick. Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8263-1499-6. pp. 14-15
  2. ^ Various sources give 1856 or 1860 as Nampeyo's birthdate.
  3. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. p. xi, 7, 194.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Diane Dittemore. "The Nampeyo Legacy: A Family of Hopi-Tewa Potters". Southwest Art. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
  5. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. p. 20.
  6. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. p. 81.
  7. ^ a b c d e f A Nampeyo Timeline, Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Lea S. McChesney. "Producing 'Generations in Clay'". Expedition Magazine. Penn Museum. March 1994. Retrieved April 7. 2014.
  9. ^ Wade Edwin L., Lea S. McChesney and Thomas Keam. "Historic Hopi Ceramics: The Thomas V. Keam Collection of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology".
  10. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. pp. 118–120.
  11. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. pp. 143, 160.
  12. ^ a b c d Les Namingha. Nampeyo. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  13. ^ Opitz, Glenn B., Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers, Apollo Books, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1988
  14. ^ Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. p. 73–74.
  15. ^ a b c Nampeyo. Koshare Indian Museum. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  16. ^ a b Barbara Kramer. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. University of Arizona Press; 1 February 2003. ISBN 978-0-8165-2321-4. p. 70.
  17. ^ Appendix D: Ranking 'Nampeyo Pots'. Native American Art Collection. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Betsey Bruner. "A Family Connection: New MNA Exhibit Focuses on Family Legacy" Arizona Daily Sun. November 10, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  19. ^ A Nampeyo Showcase. Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  20. ^ Nameyo: Excellence by Name. Denver Art Museum. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  21. ^ a b "Pueblo Pottery Exhibit Opens at McClung Museum September 7". Tennessee Today. University of Tennessee. August 29, 2013. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
  22. ^ Museum Artists. Koshare Indian Museum. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  23. ^ "Taos museum acquires Nampeyo pottery vessel". The Taos News. June 20, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  24. ^ Untitled Hopi Jar, ca. 1900

Further reading[edit]

  • Elmore, Steve. 2015. In Search of Nampeyo, Santa Fe, Spirit Bird Press and Steve Elmore Indian Art.
  • Blair, Mary Ellen; Blair, Laurence R. (1999). The Legacy of a Master Potter: Nampeyo and Her Descendants. Tucson: Treasure Chest Books. ISBN 1-887896-06-6. OCLC 41666705. 
  • Graves, Laura. Thomas Varker Keam, Indian Trader. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3013-X.
  • Collins, John E. Nampeyo, Hopi Potter: Her Artistry and Her Legacy. Fullerton CA: Muckenthaler Cultural Center. 1974
  • Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists: From Early Indian Times to the Present. NEw York: Avon, 1982.

External links[edit]