Celebrating the artistic ingenuity of Nampeyo, famed Tewa-Hopi potter, the de Young museum presents an installation of 32 pots from the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco including examples of the Nampeyo Sikyátki Revival. The single-gallery exhibition highlights Nampeyo’s work, juxtaposed with examples of Hopi pottery from her time. Exquisite ceramics made by ancestral Hopi artists demonstrate Nampeyo’s sources of inspiration and artworks by four generations of her descendants attest to the master potter’s enduring legacy.
It was through one of those descendants, grandson Dan Namingha, where I came to more fully understand the artistic legacy of Nampeyo.
During her lifetime, Nampeyo (ca. 1860–1942) was, and remains today, perhaps the most renowned potter from the American Southwest. She is celebrated for her incredible skill as a potter and painter and also for her ingenuity as a designer. Born in Hano Village, a Tewa community on Hopi’s First Mesa in what is now Arizona, Nampeyo made pottery for her family and community but also sold works to the growing number of anthropologists, archaeologists, and tourists who visited Hopi. Soon, collectors across the country knew of Nampeyo and were eager to buy examples of her beautiful work.
Rather than following the contemporary Hopi style, Nampeyo drew inspiration from ceramic sherds found at abandoned ancestral villages near First Mesa, extrapolating the fragmentary designs. One village, Sikyátki, became the focus of an archaeological excavation, from which large, elaborately painted polychrome vessels were unearthed. Nampeyo studied these works, replicating the forms of the low, wide jars and adapting the colorful motifs made by ancestral Hopi artists in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. This distinct style, made famous by Nampeyo and often called Sikyátki Revival, became what outsiders most commonly associate with Hopi pottery.
Nampeyo taught this art to her daughters, who in turn passed it on to their children. Today, Nampeyo’s descendents honor her legacy by perpetuating family designs and by adapting these motifs into their own unique aesthetics.Female artistIndigenous artindigenous artistpottery