The ancient ancestors of the Hopi made beautiful pottery with a smoky cream colored background and stylized symbolic designs representing the flora, fauna, and natural elements that surrounded them. For several centuries the art and techniques used to make this pottery were lost. In the mid 1800s Hopi pottery was traditionally white slipped and painted with geometric symbolic designs. In 1860 a girl was born of Hopi-Hano heritage and was taught by her mother the art of making pottery. Young Nampeyo had a natural talent for the art and a curiosity that spurred her to examine and think about the curious creamy orange pottery and designs of her ancestors. Through experimentation she learned the methods used by these ancient peoples and found the source of their clay, so fine and sturdy that the finished vessel required no slip. Using the colors and designs from these early examples, Nampeyo developed a brand new style in pottery, different from other pueblos. Because she was the best potter of her people, she became well known and her pieces were promoted by local traders and businessmen. Her work and style became famous and began to be emulated by other Hopi artists. Nampeyo became blind in her later years and depended much on her husband Lesso, and her daughters and granddaughters who also learned from her. This one lady, described as a small and demure woman, single-handedly changed the face of Hopi pottery and the fortunes of her people. Today Hopi pottery is considered some of the finest Native American pottery made. Many families and individual artists have gone on to innovate their own signature styles and designs.
Hopi Pottery History
The Hopi people have resided in northeastern Arizona for over 1,000 years. The language of the Hopi is part of the Uto-Aztecan language group, which happens to be one of the largest Native American Language groups. The name Hopi is a shortened form of the Hopi word for themselves: Hopituh Shi-nu-mu meaning the “The Peaceful People.” The Hopi Dictionary gives the primary meaning of the word “Hopi” as: “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi way.” On First Mesa, there is a long tradition of pottery making that was ultimately shaped by the master potter Nampeyo at the turn of the 20th century. Nampeyo is credited with the revival of a prehistoric Hopi pottery type named Sikyatki after an archaeological site near First Mesa.