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Nampeyo of Hano (1857-1942)

Jar, 1931
Nampeyo of Hano (1857-1942); Hano Pueblo, Hopi Reservation, Arizona
Clay and paint; 7 x 8 x 4 1/2 in.
Gift of Dr. & Mrs. Earl Sanders
What the Railway Brought
The late 19th Century’s introduction of the rail to the Southwest was a gift and a curse for Southwestern United States’ Pueblo Territories. The immediate influx of cheap East Coast goods meant that almost overnight Pueblo potters were no longer needed to create the ceramic vessels they had produced for time immemorial. The age-old craft was in danger of being lost all together. In celebration of Native American Heritage month, the Bowers Museum looks at the resistance against this potentially devastating cultural loss by examining how Nampeyo of Hano, a Tewa-Hopi woman, became the first of a series of innovative Pueblo women to effectively revitalize Pueblo pottery. Her successful transitioning of her discipline from craft to fine art is one of the main reasons that Pueblo pottery is found in homes throughout the world today.
Nampeyo painting a Sikyátki-style vessel, 1908–1910
Hopi, Arizona. Photo by Charles M. Wood
Prodigious Potter
Nampeyo was a pottery prodigy. Even at a young age it was clear that her works were better shaped and painted than her contemporaries. Perhaps due to her incredible ability to create, she also held unique perspective on two issues for Hopi pottery. The first is that even though the Hopi held a comprehensive array of motifs at their disposal, they commonly supplemented these with Zuni designs. The second was surface crackling. Common in Hopi pottery mostly due to different compositions in the underlying clay base of the pots and the composite slip poured over the base to color it. During the firing process, these two layers expanded and contracted at different rates which caused the cracking. Though at the time it was hardly seen as an imperfection, Nampeyo became interested in comparing the contemporary crackled Hopi pottery with that of ancient Hopi pottery which was being uncovered through archaeology. In 1895, she worked with an archaeologist excavating the ancient Hopi Sikyátki site to copy designs from approximately 500 funerary vessels. The designs were beautiful and unique, and these ancient works never had crackled surfaces.
Modelling Clay
In the years following this she spent a significant amount of time finding the original yellow clay used by her ancestors, working it so that crackling did not occur, and built a new vocabulary of designs based upon the Sikyátki pots she studied. The result totally redefined Pueblo pottery. Already one of the most accomplished Hopi potters, her wares immediately became in high demand. Between training other potters eager to learn her methods, she did demonstrations for and trading and tourism companies like the Fred Harvey Company, eventually becoming a minor celebrity. For parts of the early 20thCentury she travelled the United States promoting the pottery she so deftly made. Never speaking, reading, or writing in English, Nampeyo was the spokesperson for the Southwest.
Detail of 36809.3.
Vision Beyond Vision
This jar Nampeyo made within the last of her light.
In blurs of the pink far hills, under the slant of the shade
Blending the walls adobe in dark, the jar rose rim
By rim and breathed out whole when she laid her hand on the clay
And the color moved and glowed.
—excerpt from Hopi Jar, Bernice Slote
Nampeyo’s eyesight began to escape her in the 1920s. By the end of the decade the woman whose vision for Hopi pottery had reshaped a dying industry and trained an entire generation of new potters could no longer see well enough to paint her own designs. This never prevented her from shaping her vessels, however, and in this relative darkness the Bowers' own Nampeyo jar was born. Incredibly the shape of the jar is only ever so slightly asymmetrical. The corrugations around the neck of the jar are somewhat disputed in origin, but there is some scholarship stating that they only arose after Nampeyo lost her eyesight. The connection between a more tactile decoration and blindness could easily be postulated. The two-dimensional polychrome design, impossible to feel out by hand, was painted either by one of Nampeyo’s many skilled daughters or her equally talented husband Lesso. It is a prime example of the designs created by Nampeyo after studying the ancient Sikyátki designs. Here we see two stylized birds, perhaps the most common motif found in Sikyátki pottery as their depiction ranged from representational to forms as abstract as simple triangles. Here especially the curving triangular feathers painted in burnt sienna serve as avian identifiers. The prevalence of the motifs Nampeyo reintroduced even in Southwestern pottery today stands to show how important she was to revitalizing Southwestern pottery.
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Comments 1

Guest - Rhea Grandon on Tuesday, 12 February 2019 10:26

I have recently purchased what appears to be a wool Navaho rug at a sale...the top was mounted onto a carved board that has the handwritten name of B or P, Bowers, 1997 on it. It is a Tree of Life design. I would like to know if this a true Navaho rug. How can I tell if it is authentic?

I have recently purchased what appears to be a wool Navaho rug at a sale...the top was mounted onto a carved board that has the handwritten name of B or P, Bowers, 1997 on it. It is a Tree of Life design. I would like to know if this a true Navaho rug. How can I tell if it is authentic?
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