Nampeyo: Tips for Identifying Her Designs May 06 2016

Are you ready for another long post? We had some technical issues and a few busy weeks that put this blog behind, but I think we are back on track. 

Nampeyo had five recognizable periods of pottery. We hope to share with you tips on how to recognize the pottery that will not only help you identify a Nampeyo pot, but also roughly when it may have been made.

 A few general notes to start:

  • Nampeyo was known to use two colors of clay. The first being gray that fired to a warm cream to honey color and the second being yellow that fired to be a burnt orange-brick red color.
  • She was not always meticulous in the smoothing of the interior of her pots and would sometimes leave the bottom of the pots unpolished.
  • She would sometimes add a color slip of red, yellow, or white over gray clay.
  • Most pots that are signed with Nampeyo’s name are signed by one of her daughters or relatives, because Nampeyo did not write.
  • Early on, Nampeyo’s daughter Annie made pottery alongside her mother. This is important to note, because during the earlier periods of Hopi pottery the bowls, pots and other vessels were left unsigned, which in turn allowed many pieces of pottery made by Annie to be misattributed to Nampeyo. Annie’s pottery has some distinct characteristics. She often created black or black-and-white designs on a red slipped surfaced pots and her earlier pieces often used large black elements with scant amounts of line work. The shape of Annie’s pottery also varied from her mother’s in that it was shallower and more angular.
  • Annie was the first to paint repeated migration designs, easily identified by her signature dots fount at the end of the “wingtips”
  • It is also important to mention Nampeyo marriage to Lesso of the Cedarwood Clan of Walpi; He is often noted to have assisted her in the copying of ancient designs or assisting her in the painting of pottery after she began to lose her sight to trachoma. Currently there is no photographic record of designs he created.
  • Nampeyo used similar designs between the exteriors of her pots and the interior design of her bowls. There was more freedom to play and improvise with linear shapes, repeating patterns, and abstract designs in the bowls because of the flatness of the interior.
  • Many Nampeyo pieces feature a “roadline” that can be found just below the rim of her vessel
  • It is rare to see a painted rim on Nampeyo pottery. However she was experimental, so it is not out of the question. Due to her enjoyment for improvisation in her design there are likely to be several unattributed pieces floating about of her more creative work.

 Period 1 is recognized as all of Nampeyo’s work before 1900. Her inspiration as a young woman stemmed from the pottery and shards found in surrounding Hopi territories and the Antelope mesa that had been abandoned due to violence from outside tribes or just simply abandoned for better locations. What started as mimicking of past designs, bloomed into a beautiful creativity and a keen eye for balance of design and shape.

During this period major design themes emerged, included Kachina faces, curvilinear designs and bold frames. She painted these design on U-shaped bowls, bowls with spherical sides and inverted rims as well as bowls with an inwardly rolled rim. Are you noticing a theme? The bowl shape allowed for more creativity in painted designs and is a good beginner’s shape when learning coil pottery.

 Period 2 is when thing really began to pick up. Between 1900 and 1910 Nampeyo was her most improvised and diversified in shape and design of pottery. Her shapes often included large globose vessels. These vessels were often included in photographs of Nampeyo during this time because of their impressive nature, however they were not part of her typical output.

Her signature vessel during period 2 would be the Sikyatki shaped jars that are 18 to 20 inches in diameter, with a low profile and truncated neck. She also began to form seed jars that would be a main stay in her creative career.

The eagle tail design was prominent during this time, especially on the Sikyatki shaped jars. She varied this design through the use of different colors, as well as varying the linear design above the extended “feathers” which also varied in quantity and size. She began to use the “wingtip” design from the migration design in numerous variations during this period. Although Nampeyo was a fan of the “wingtip” design she rarely use the migration pattern, which it is derived from, in its entirety.

Many designs from this period would carryover to future periods, but others like the “spider” design would be isolated to Period 2.

Period 3 was short and fast. From 1910 to 1917 the high demand for tourist pieces caused all Hopi potters to kick up production early during this period. However there was a steep decline in visitors due to the start of World War I. Demand for pottery plummeted.

Shapes that are prominent during this time were medium-sized vessels with more flatly rounded bottoms and sidewalls that had a more gradual angle from the base. The shoulders of the pots were slightly concave and then tapered to the opening. This style pot was easier to transport. Nampeyo also continued to create seed jars of sizes. Along with new shapes come new designs. During period 3 is the first record of the “batwing” design, which was featured on seed jars, large and small. From 1912 to 1915 a circular motif pops up in many of Nampeyo’s pieces. This motif was often alternated with the A-shaped stylized Kachina face.

Period 4 (1917to1930) was rough on Nampeyo. Her eyesight began to decline in earnest. However she took it in stride and continued to do what she loved. During this time there is a lot of experimentation with shape and tactile design. Keep your eyes out for corrugated necks on Hopi pottery because it may point to the pot as being one of Nampeyo’s. She began to use this texture in the early 1920s. She also created figurines necessitated by the demands and request of tourists.

Designs during this period varied and were not often created by Nampeyo. Her failing eyesight forced her to allow others to paint many of her pots. However to know who painted which pots would require much more study of the Nampeyo pots collected from period 4. 

Period 5 began with the loss of Nampeyo’s husband, Lesso, in 1930 and closed with Nampeyo’s death in 1942.

After Lesso’s death, Nampeyo with drew from her work for a period of time only creating a few pieces at a time, and entering even fewer into the Northern Arizona Hopi Craftsman Exhibit. By the mid 1930s her family began to help her gather her supplies, allowing her to shape vessels more frequently. She continued to shape vessels until 1939. Many, if not all, vessels shaped in during this period were painted by one of her family members, including Annie, Fannie, Daisy, or Lena Charlie. You may find that the vessels from this period have two name inscribed on the bottom, Nampeyo and the family member -painter’s.

Featured photography by A. C. Vroman, Hano, Arizona; 1901.