Nampeyo, jar , diameter 14 1/2. This jar was formerly in the collection of anthropologist John Buettner-Janish. It was purchased from Nampeyo by his great-aunt and great-uncle while they were visiting Hopi with former president Grover Cleveland. Courtesy the Martha H. Struever Collection.
By Diane Dittemore
Hopi artist Nampeyo [c.1860-1942] established a name for herself making pottery that has roots in a tradition hundreds of years old. Inspired by designs found in ancient Sikyatki pottery, Nampeyo developed an innovative personal style that earned her international renown. Her style of pottery has also served as a foundation for dozens of family members who have followed in her footsteps and become pottery artists themselves. A number of Nampeyos have graced the booths of Indian Market through the years and have brought home blue and red ribbons for their efforts.
Much has been written about Nampeyo and her progeny. For those seriously interested in knowing more about this remarkable dynasty than can be summarized in this article, a bibliography is provided at the end. Indian Market attendees should take note of the exhibit Painted Perfection: The Art of Dextra Quotskuyva on view at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe through October 21. The exhibit [see sidebar on page xxx] features more than 100 works by Quotskuyva—a great-granddaughter of Nampeyo—as well as works by nearly 40 other Nampeyo descendents.
Nampeyo, large jar with eagle tail design [c. 1920], diameter 19 1/2. This jar has a “Made by Nampeyo” sticker on it, most likely from the Harvey House at the Grand Canyon. The square mouth is unusual, as is the fact that the clay body is red instead of yellow. Courtesy the Gila Pueblo Collection, Arizona State Museum.
Following is an introduction to Nampeyo and profiles of artists from each succeeding generation of her family.
Nampeyo (Sand Snake, c. 1860-1942)
Nampeyo was born in the village of Hano on First Mesa in northern Arizona. Hano was inhabited, as it is today, by descendants of Tewa-speaking Pueblo people from the Northern Rio Grande River in New Mexico. From the time of her teens until her death in 1942, Nampeyo found herself an object of great interest to the world outside of Hopi. Her tremendous skill as a potter and painter, combined with a willingness to interact with the
non-Indian world, conspired to elevate Nampeyo to near legendary status.
First captured on camera by photographer William Henry Jackson in 1875, Nampeyo became perhaps the most photographed potter in the Southwest, rivaled only by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso. Nampeyo’s re-nown grew through her exhibitions at World’s Fairs and her pottery demonstrations at the Grand Canyon. Perhaps most significantly, through her life and works she inspired her children and subsequent generations to make their livings and stay rooted in their family traditions by creating in clay.
Fannie Nampeyo, jar with migration design [c.1930-1940]. The price $3.50 appears on the base of this jar signed Fannie Nampeyo. Courtesy the Arizona State Museum.
Much scholarly ink has been spilled speculating on exactly how Nampeyo was inspired to make pottery based on prehistoric designs. Research-ers refer to her style as Sikyatki Revival after the proto-historic site by that name on First Mesa. Current consensus holds that trader Thomas Varker Keam, who opened a trading post at First Mesa in 1875, encouraged Nampeyo and probably other potters to supply pottery for a growing tourist market. Know-ing how well ancient wares sold, Keam suggested that they be used as models.
Some believe that Nampeyo and her husband Lesso (also spel-led Lesou)—like Maria and Julian Martinez—worked as a team in forming and painting pottery. Others are more in-clined to believe that Lesso filled the traditional support roles of helping to gather and process the required raw materials.
Annie Healing, jar , diameter 14 1/2. Signed “Annie Nampeyo,” this is one of the few major pieces by Annie with unquestionable documentation. Courtesy the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.
One of Nampeyo’s signature pottery shapes is the “flying saucer,” a wide-shouldered vessel form found at Sikyatki. Her design repertoire is largely based on stylized bird claw and feather motifs and cross-hatching often referred to as Hopi migration patterns. Much has yet to be learned about her tall-shouldered jars, but they are generally thought to be among her later works, likely commissioned to hold such items as umbrellas.
Throughout her pottery-making career, Nampeyo slowly lost her eyesight due to an eye affliction. The older she got, the more she relied upon her daughters and other family members to assist her with painting.
Dextra Quotskuyva, jar , h11 1/2. According to Dextra, this wedding vase has a feminine shape. “The mouth and the handle are real graceful, and the shape of the pot is like a female,” she says. Courtesy the Larry Stevens Collection.
The name Nampeyo has come to be synonymous with virtuosity in American Indian pottery art. Throughout the 20th century, a talented array of Nampeyo progeny have continued in the tradition and spirit of their Hopi-Tewa ancestor.
Fannie Nampeyo (Popong Mana, c. 1900-1987)
Fannie was Nampeyo’s young-est daughter and arguably the most talented potter among her offspring. Her life spanned the lion’s share of the 20th century, and she remained a prolific artist almost to the time of her death. In addition to emulating her mother’s ceramic virtuosity, Fannie inherited Nampeyo’s role as matriarch of the Corn Clan—a vitally important and time-consuming ceremonial position.
Fannie began making pottery in her early 20s, teaming up with her mother by painting the pots that the near-blind Nampeyo was still able to expertly form. She continued to assist Nampeyo until the latter’s death while building her own reputation as a solo artist. According to biographer Mary Ellen Blair, Fannie signed Nampeyo’s name to early collaborative pieces and then switched to “Nampeyo Fan-nie.” The signature “Fannie Nampeyo” appears on pots she made alone. Although never an entrant at Indian Market, Fannie did participate in the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Hopi Craftsman Exhibition, winning a blue ribbon in 1961.
Hisi Nampeyo, Moths , diameter 8. Courtesy the Michael and Carrea Uremovich Collection
As with many artists, Fannie held other jobs and interests throughout her life. She started out as a teen working for Hopi House in the housekeeping department. A tamale business made her famous in the environs of Keams Canyon. She became a devout Mormon and devoted much time to religious affairs as well as to learning Mormon crafts such as quilting. In addition, she inspired and taught all of her children—daughters Elva, Tonita, Iris, and Leah as well as sons Harold, Ellsworth, and Tom—to continue the Nampeyo legacy of pottery making.
Daisy Hooee Nampeyo (c. 1905-1994)
Daisy Hooee Nampeyo, daughter of Nampeyo’s eldest child Annie, suffered from an eye affliction that prompted a wealthy visiting Californian, Anita Baldwin, to take her to California for treatment while she was in her teens. Daisy lived with Mrs. Baldwin for several years, and then her patroness afforded her the opportunity to study art at the School of Fine Arts in Paris. Returning to the Southwest in her early 20s, Daisy also returned to traditional pottery arts, working with her female relatives, including her mother Annie and sister Rachel. As her grandmother had before her, Daisy mined the rich sources of design inspiration from excavated ancestral pottery, in this case the material unearthed from the Peabody Museum at Harvard Univer-sity’s Awatovi expedition of the mid-1930s. She lived at the Pueblo of Zuni while married first to jewelry artist Leo Poblano and then to Sidney Hooee. Much of Daisy’s pottery reflects the influence of the ancient Zuni pottery traditions, such as the use of white clay and Rio Grande-style, high-shouldered water jars.
Dextra Quotskuyva, Ants Dancing [c1995], diameter 5, and Corn Maiden [c. 1994], h5 1/2. Courtesy the Stephen and Kath-leen Ryza Collection.
Dextra Quotskuyva Nampeyo (b1928)
Dextra Quotskuyva, daughter of Annie’s daughter Rachel, is an unsurpassed pottery artist. Throughout the 30-plus years of her artistic career, Dextra has participated in major museum and gallery exhibitions across the United States and has received numerous honors, in-cluding a 1995 Arizona Living Treasures award and a 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.
Dextra turned to pottery only in her mid-30s. At first, following the advice of her mother to stay true to the old styles, Dextra’s design repertoire was limited to traditional Nampeyo migration and bird designs. But after her mother passed away in 1985, Dextra felt at greater liberty to express her personal creativity. She recently noted, “As individuals we can do whatever is inside us. It is expressing yourself, and we all have different ways of expressing ourselves.”
Steve Lucas, Eagle Tail , diameter 10. This pot was made by Steve Lucas and painted by Hisi Nampeyo. Courtesy the Sharon and Willie Lyon Collection.
Grounded in superlative building and painting techniques, Dextra has experimented with contrasting surface treatments, whimsical narrative content, and innovative shapes. Moreover, through her own inventiveness she has validated the personal explorations of her students, including daughter Hisi, nephews Les Namingha and Steve Lucas, Steve’s wife Yvonne, and Loren Ami.
Hisi Nampeyo (Camille Quotskuyva, b1964)
Dextra’s daughter Hisi makes pottery with an almost silken quality to its surface treatment. This skillful forming, combined with technically and aesthetically excellent painting, demonstrates that Hisi learned well from her mother while not being afraid to apply her own distinctive artistic marks to her works. Hisi participated in Indian Market only one year. She subsequently found it too difficult to prepare adequate inventory for the show. Instead, Hisi chiefly sells through collectors and dealers who visit her at home, although she does travel for personal appearances—such as when she demonstrated and sold her works at the Arizona State Museum’s 1999 Southwest Indian Arts Fair.
Jocelyn Namingha, Bird Man , diameter 9. Courtesy the Joan and Mel Perelman Collection.
Steve Lucas (Koyemsi, b1955)
Steve Lucas is a grandson of Rachel, the oldest daughter of Nampeyo’s eldest, Annie. Currently living in Gallup, NM, Steve returns to his mother Eleanor’s house in Polacca frequently to fire his pottery in the traditional style he prefers. He is no stranger to Indian Market, having participated since 1993 and won major prizes four of the last eight years.
Steve learned to make pottery from his aunt, Dextra, beginning around 1985. At first he more or less stuck to Nampeyo’s classic design and layout schemes. But as he gained confidence and achieved some success, his personal style began to emerge. He paints bold, clean renditions of stylized bird and other Nampeyo signature motifs—but onto pots that might have a textured surface or undulations in the rim. However contemporary his works may be, the unmistakable imprint of his pottery lineage remains. “There is a lot of power in the old designs,” he says.
Les Namingha, Kiva Mural , diameter 11.
Les Namingha (b1967)
Les Namingha credits both his Hopi-Tewa relatives, especially Dextra, and his Zuni kinfolk with teaching him to make the pottery that has brought him substantial acclaim. Growing up in northern Utah, Les received a degree in design from Brigham Young Univer-sity in 1992. He now lives in Orem, UT, hundreds of miles from the family home at Polacca and the raw materials such as animal dung—that are required for traditional firing. This suits him fine, however, as he appreciates being able to concentrate his time and efforts on his first love, painting, with kiln-fired vessels as his canvas.
Painted Perfection: The Art of Dextra Quotskuyva, a 30-year retrospective of works by one of the most innovative and accomplished living potters, is on view at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe through October 21. Following is an excerpt from a catalog accompanying the exhibit by Evan M. Maurer, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Yvonne Lucas, Waiting at the Spring , diameter 10. Courtesy the Marlys and Harry Stern Collection.
Dextra Quotskuyva has long been considered one of the leading Hopi-Tewa potters. This retrospective exhibition is testimony to her achievement and should help place her work within the even larger context of contemporary American ceramics. Like the work of most Native American ceramic artists, Dextra’s work is fundamentally rooted in the ancient traditions of her people. But like all great innovators, Dextra is able to use the materials, techniques, and design vocabulary of traditional Hopi ceramics and impart to them her own creative interpretations and expressions.
The vessels made by the Hopi, Hopi-Tewa, and other Pueblos were and are powerful objects of community identity: A vessel’s shape, finish, color, design, and imagery are clear indicators determined by local custom. In her time, Nampeyo did not fit well into this age-old, conservative system. Nampeyo distanced herself from her community through exceptional creativity and ran counter to tradition, which dictated a degree of conformity. Over the years, Nampeyo became recognized by non-Indian collectors for her skill and creative power, while at Hopi she ultimately became a cultural regenerator who inspired other potters to work in this new style.
Dextra has perpetuated this great family heritage. She is aptly named, as the Latin word dextra refers to the right hand and to qualities of skillfulness or dexterity. These are certainly the attributes she brings to her beautiful creations. Her talent lies both in the expert manner in which she maintains tradition and in the broadened aesthetic horizons of this ancient art. Dextra Quotskuyva has written an important chapter in the continuing story of a people and their culture.
Photos courtesy the Arizona State Museum, Tucson, AZ, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, NM.
Featured in August 2001