Lifetime Achievement Awards | Swazo-Hinds, Nampeyo, Begay

Pottery by Fannie Polacca Nampeyo, pottery, southwest art.
Pottery by Fannie Polacca Nampeyo

By Richard Mahler

Patrick Swazo-Hinds

Tesuque Painter and printmaker [1924-1974]

Throughout his 50 years, Patrick Swazo-Hinds straddled two cultures, and his art reflected an enthusiastic embrace of both. Born in 1924 at Tesuque Pueblo in northern New Mexico, Patrick was adopted at age 10 by Dr. Norman E. A. Hinds, an unmarried geology professor at the University of California-Berkeley who did field work near the pueblo. Hinds recognized Patrick’s artistic talent and after high school sent him to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Mexico City College, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The professor also realized the importance of his son’s Native heritage and sent him to live at Tesuque almost every summer.

After completing his art education, Swazo-Hinds served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War and received two Purple Hearts. He returned to his San Francisco Bay area studio in the early 1950s and emerged as one of first Southwest Indian artists to depart from the standard styles and motifs of traditional Native American painting. Many of Swazo-Hinds’ paintings were abstract, and he made no references to Indian themes. Critics praised Swazo-Hinds for his “highly sophisticated contemporary Americana.”

Jewelry by Kenneth Begay, jewlery, southwest art.
Jewelry by Kenneth Begay

“Patrick broke the stereotype,” recalls his widow, Rita. In 1964, Swazo-Hinds began using Native American culture as an overt theme in his work. Later that year he had the first of several one-man shows at the prestigious Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ. By 1965, he was firmly established as an important Southwest Indian artist and during the next 12 years received numerous awards while selling out one show after another. His work is now found in virtually every major private and public collection of Indian art.

Navajo painter R.C. Gorman, a close friend from their early days in Berkeley, has said that Swazo-Hinds was, “to many Indian artists, the artist’s artist.” Indeed, Swazo-Hinds mentored many younger painters. The artist’s son, Mark, has become a sculptor, and daughter Marita is special projects coordinator for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Fannie Polacca Nampeyo

tewa-hopi potter [1904-1987]

Among pottery enthusiasts, the name Nampeyo of the Hopi reservation is as well known as that of María of San Ildefonso Pueblo. Both are credited with beautiful, innovative pottery that sparked a revived interest in the craft traditions of their tribes and inspired many other potters to steer their talents in the same direction.

Fannie Nampeyo followed in the footsteps of her mother, who was born on First Mesa at Hano, AZ, and lived there until her death in 1942 at age 83. The elder Nampeyo, whose mother was also a potter, studied old styles found among artifacts at excavations of Hopi ruins. In the 1890s, Nampeyo revived designs of ancient pottery that made her famous in her field. Nampeyo’s daughter Fannie, along with her sisters Annie and Nellie, helped paint designs on pottery when Nampeyo lost her sight in the 1920s.

After becoming an accomplished potter in her own right, Fannie married and began raising children. Several went on to become pottery artists, as have some grandchildren. Like the family matriarch, most of her descendants have always lived on or near the Hopi reservation, which is reflected in the material, form, and content of their work.

Fannie Nampeyo applied her distinctive black-on-beige and black-and-red-on-beige style to various sizes of bowls, cups, saucers, vases, and other vessels. Her designs often incorporated Hopi themes. The pottery is typified by clean, evocative lines and meticulous attention to detail.

“My mother was a traditionalist all the way,” says Iris Youvella, a potter who is one of Fannie’s three surviving children. “She used local clay and fired with sheep dung in an outdoor oven. She made her own pigments from native plants and painted with a yucca-fiber brush.”

“One of the things that’s special about this work is that each piece is so exquisite,” says Tom Baker, owner of Tanner-Chaney Gallery in Albuquerque, which sells Fannie’s work. The quality is consistently outstanding.”

Kenneth Begay

Navajo silversmith [1913-1977]

Kay Begay Rogers remembers her father as a friendly, good-humored man who passionately loved his family, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and making art. “Every working day of his life, he would create something new,” recalls Rogers, the youngest of Kenneth Begay’s six children. “His creations were simple, elegant, and striking.”

Begay was born in 1913 on the Navajo reservation in Steamboat Canyon, AZ, and died there in 1977 in a home he built near his birthplace. The lifelong silversmith was noted for bold, pure, and distinctive designs that set trends in Indian jewelry. Begay worked with sterling silver, sometimes in hollow-ware, but only rarely used gold. His favorite stone was turquoise, although he sometimes worked with coral, shell, or ironwood.

As a child, Begay was trained to become a medicine man but in his teens learned blacksmithing from his uncles and silversmithing from renowned artist Fred Peshlakai. Later he worked as a silversmith for the Union Pacific Railroad at its national park concessions in Arizona and Utah before marrying Eleanor Bryan, a weaver, in 1937. He was associated with Arizona’s famous curio shop, the White Hogan, during much of his career, gaining prominence there during the 1950s and early ’60s. He also was an onsite silversmith for shops in Flagstaff and at the Grand Canyon as well as an award-winning exhibitor at shows throughout the Southwest.

“His work was far ahead of what was then considered Indian jewelry, in terms of shape and motif and how he blended the two,” says Kenneth’s only son, Harvey, who, like his sisters Kay and Sylvia Radcliffe, is also a jeweler. The three apprenticed with their father in the 1970s.

“One day our dad had just finished making an incredible bracelet,” recalls Kay, “and I asked him where he got his ideas. He said, ‘I look at nature. The lines in nature are so simple, and what you can take away from them is endless.’”

Featured in “Portfolio: SWAIA Lifetime Achievement”  August 2000