Nampeyo Showcase

Nampeyo pottery

A grouping of Nampeyo pottery from ASM's permanent collections.

A grouping of Nampeyo pottery from ASM's permanent collections.



ASM is proud of its collection attributed to the renowned Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo (1860?-1942). Some of the attributions are unassailably correct, while others are more uncertain. Since Nampeyo never signed her pieces herself, the task of positively identifying her works is daunting.

Nampeyo in her mid-70s holding a vessel

Nampeyo in her mid-70s holding a pot she has just made. Photo by Tad Nichols, 1935


With her fame as a potter came a strong incentive for collectors and dealers to identify Hopi pottery as Nampeyo’s, whether they were certain she had actually made a given piece or not. Photographs depicting her with examples of her bowls and jars can be of assistance in helping to authenticate a given piece, but photographers who staged photos of Nampeyo may have included pottery that she did not make. To complicate matters, in her later years Nampeyo often worked in tandem; she would form the vessels and younger relatives, including daughters Annie, Fannie and Nellie, granddaughters Rachel and Daisy, and clan niece Lena Charlie, painted them.

Some pottery in the collection is signed with Nampeyo’s name or is otherwise labeled as Nampeyo’s in writing directly on the piece. One piece has a gummed label, most likely a Fred Harvey Company tag, which reads: "Made by Nampeyo-Hopi." It is documented that her daughters at times signed her name to her work, and traders and dealers may have as well. Through publication of the "signatures", it is hoped that further insights on the past practices of labeling Nampeyo’s pottery can be gained.

Click here for a timeline of Nampeyo's life.

About Ancestral Hopi Pottery

Nampeyo is famous for her Sikyatki-revival style pottery. Sikyatki is the name of an enormous ancient Hopi village on the east flank of First Mesa that was abandoned about 1500. The abandonment of Sikyatki is told in Hopi oral tradition as due to a dispute with Walpi, whose descendents still reside on top of First Mesa, that resulted in the destruction of Sikyatki.

Sikyatki was partially excavated by Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution in 1895. His excavations focused on the Sikyatki cemetery areas, as well as the rooms. Nampeyo visited the excavation with her husband, Lesso, and was inspired by the finely made, impeccably decorated jars and bowls of pottery that were being removed. 

It is clear that Nampeyo, and also other Hopi and Hopi-Tewa potters, were making innovative pottery before Fewkes’s work at Sikyatki through the encouragement of Thomas Keam who operated the trading post at what is now known as Keams Canyon. But, there is no doubt that the incredible pottery from Sikyatki was a major influence on Nampeyo’s style after 1895. This style emphasizes highly stylized birds, especially macaws. Unfortunately, the identities of the other late 19th century potters, who may well have rivaled Nampeyo in skill and creativity, appear to have been unrecorded.

Nampeyo also drew inspiration from and at times replicated earlier ancestral Hopi pottery types such as Jeddito and Awatovi Black-on-Yellows. In addition, motifs found on these wares, dating around 1300-1500, are incorporated into the designs of later Sikyatki pottery.

Fewkes published several books on the pottery at Hopi, especially Sikyatki wares.  These publications have since been reprinted from the original Bureau of American Ethnology series (see bibliography). In these he uses Hopi and his own folk classifications of the iconography to interpret the meaning of the designs.

Selected Bibliography

Adams, E. Charles, ed.
1996 River of Change : Prehistory of the Middle Little Colorado River Valley, Arizona. Tucson : Arizona State Museum, the University of Arizona Press

Allen, Laura Graves
1984 Contemporary Hopi Pottery. Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona.

Ashton, Robert Jr.
1976 Nampeyo and Lesou. American Indian Art Magazine 1, no. 3:24-33.

Bartlett, Katherine, and Francis H. Harlow
1978 An Introduction to Hopi Pottery. Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press.

Blair, Mary Ellen and Laurence
1999 The Legacy of a Master Potter: Nampeyo and her Descendants. Tucson: Treasure Chest Books.

Bunzel, Ruth L.
1972 The Pueblo Potter: A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art. 1929  Reprint. New York: Dover Publications.

Sikyatki Polychrome jar, around AD 1350-1625.

Sikyatki Polychrome jar, around AD 1350-1625. Nampeyo’s signature "flying saucer" jars with complex design composition found their roots in Sikyatki Polychromes such as this stunning example. Diameter 41.1 cm. From the permanent collections of the Arizona State Museum.

Collins, John E.
1974 Nampeyo, Hopi Pottery: Her Artistry and Legacy. Fullerton, CA: Muckenthaler Cultural Center.

Colton, Harold S., and Mary-Russell Farrell Colton
1943 An Appreciation of the Art of Nampeyo and her Influence on Hopi Pottery. Plateau 15, no. 1:44-45.

Dillingham, Rick
1994 Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Dozier, Edward
1966 Hano, a Tewa Community in Arizona. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Fewkes, Jesse Walter
1896 Preliminary account of an expedition to the cliff villages of the red rock country and the Tusayan ruins of Sikyatki and Awatobi, Arizona in 1895. In Sixteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution for 1895. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

1919 Designs on prehistoric Hopi pottery. In 33rd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution for 1897, 1898. Washington, DC. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Hays, Kelly Ann and Diane Dittemore
1990 Seven centuries of Hopi Pottery. American Indian Art Magazine 15, no. 3:56-65.

Kramer, Barbara
1988 Nampeyo and her Pottery. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Patterson, Alex
1994 Hopi Pottery Symbols. Boulder, CO : Johnson Books

Stanislawski, Michael Barr
1979 Hopi-Tewa. In Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

Stanislawski, Michael Barr, Ann Hitchcock, and Barbara B. Stanislawski
1976 Identification marks on Hopi and Hopi-Tewa pottery. Plateau 48, nos. 3-4:47-65.

Traugott, Joseph
1999 Fewkes and Nampeyo: clarifying a myth-understanding. In Native American Art in the Twentieth Century: Makers, Meanings, Histories, W. Jackson Rushing III, editor. London and New York: Routledge Press, pp. 7-19.

Wade, Edwin L., and Lea S. McChesney
1980 America’s Great Lost Expedition: The Thomas Keam Collection of Hopi Pottery from the Second Hemenway Expedition, 1890-1894. Phoenix: The Heard Museum.

Wyckoff, Lydia L.
1990 Designs and Factions. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Nampeyo Showcase was created in 2000 by Diane Dittemore, curator of ethnological collections; Ken Matesich, ASM photographer; and Andy Tafoya, curatorial assistant. The authors would like to thank the Southwest Museum and the Seaver Center of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for granting us permission to use their images, especially to Kim Walters, Librarian. Special thanks to the curators in photo collections at ASM, Kathy Hubenschmidt and Susan Luebbermann; an additional note of appreciation to Susan for offering her editing services. Author Barbara Kramer gave freely of her knowledge about Nampeyo and carefully critiqued the site content. The excellent biography of Nampeyo she wrote served as an inspiration for this project. Dr. Charles Adams contributed the text regarding Sikyatki, and consulted on general content. Mike Jacobs, curator of archaeological collections, provided access to the protohistoric pottery and documentation for it. The digital photography was done by Ken Matesich, additional photography by Helga Teiwes. Thanks to Gwinn Vivian, curator of archaeology, who assisted by making funding available for this web project.