Old Lady Nampeyo of Hano (c. 1859-1942) Biography
Nampeyo is credited with the renaissance of Hopi pottery at the turn of the 20th century. She was born in the Tewa village of Hano on First Mesa to a Tewa mother and Hopi father from Walpi. Her Hopi grandmother taught her pottery making at a young age, and by the time she became an adult, she was regarded as one of the finest potters at First Mesa.
Nampeyo worked in typical Hopi style and technique, making “Polacca” or “crackle ware” pottery. Around 1890, she began to experiment with various clays and paints in the attempt to recreate the smooth, yellow pottery found at the pre-historic pueblo of Sikyatki on First Mesa. In 1895, the archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes excavated one of the ruins there, uncovering almost 500 vessels. Nampeyo and her husband Lesou copied many of the designs which they used in the “Sikyatki Revival.” This style met with instant commercial success and they could not keep up with the demand.
Nampeyo taught the tecniques to other First Mesa potters and also relied on Lesou and their daughter Annie (and quite likely their other two daughters, Nellie and Fannie) to assist her by painting the pots she formed and polished. Nampeyo was one of the most famous Native artists of the early twentieth century, a favorite subject of early photographers and frequently visited by tourists in her home. The Fred Harvey Company boosted her reputation further by having her demonstrate potter making at their Hopi House gallery at the Grand Canyon in 1905 and 1907. By the 1920s, Nampeyo had lost most of her eyesight but she continued to form pots painted by Fannie nearly until the day of her death.