NAMPEYO Biography - Craftmen, artisans and people from other Occupations


Biography » craftmen artisans and people from other occupations » nampeyo


Name: Iris Nampeyo                                                                     
Born: 1860                                                                             
Died: 1942                                                                             
Iris Nampeyo (1860?-1942) was a Hopi potter who lived on the Hopi Reservation in       
present-day Arizona. She received the English name Iris as an infant, but was           
better known by her Tewa name, Num-pa-yu, means "snake that does not bite". She         
was born at Hano Pueblo, which is primarily made up of descendants of the Tewa         
tribe who fled west to Hopi lands after the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680. Her mother,       
Ootca-ka-o was Tewa; her father Qots-vema, from nearby Walpi Pueblo, was Hopi.         
Hopi people make ceramics painted with beautiful designs, and Nampeyo was               
eventually considered one of the finest Hopi potters. Nampeyo learned pottery           
making through the efforts of her paternal grandmother. In the 1870's, she made         
a steady income by selling her work at a local trading post operated by Thomas         
Keam. She became increasingly interested in ancient pottery form and design,           
recognizing them as superior to Hopi pottery produced at the time. Her second           
husband, Lesou (or Lesso) was employed by the archaeologist J. Walter Fewkes at         
the excavation of the prehistoric ruin of Siky├ítki in the 1890's. Lesou helped         
Nampeyo find shards showing the old forms and Fewkes produced detailed                 
illustrations of reconstructed pots.                                                   
Nampeyo developed her own style based on the traditional designs. Her work was         
purchased for the Smithsonian Institution and by collectors worldwide. In 1904         
and 1907, she produced and sold pottery at the Grand Canyon lodge owned by the         
Fred Harvey Company. She and her husband traveled to Chicago in 1898 and 1910 to       
display her work.                                                                       
Nampeyo began to lose her sight in 1925, but continued to form and shape pots by       
touch. These later pots were painted by members of her family, including her           
four daughters, who also became well-known potters. She worked with clay until         
her death in 1942.                                                                     
Nampeyo's photograph was often used as a symbol of the Hopi people and, by the         
end of her life, she was drawing huge numbers of tourists to her workshop. Her         
influence led to a renewal of the pottery making tradition among the Hopi and to       
the elevation of traditional pottery forms and decoration to an art form.