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The Old Lady Nampeyo

 (1860 - 1942)
The Old Lady Nampeyo was active/lived in Arizona.  The Old Lady Nampeyo is known for ancestral design motif Hop-Tewa pottery.

The Old Lady Nampeyo

Biography from the Archives of askART

The village of Hano on Arizona's First Mesa was established around 1700 by Tewa refugees fleeing from Spanish oppression in New Mexico. Even though they learned many of the Hopi ways and intermarried into that Nation, the Tewa maintained their own speech and ceremonial practices. They became known as the Hopi-Tewa. In 1860, Nampeyo of Hano was born to a Tewa mother and a Hopi father, and thus began a life that would gain fame and honor as a master potter of her people.

Nampeyo became fascinated as a young child by the pottery made by her grandmother to serve the family's needs. As she grew, she began to make her own, and to experiment with different looks and styles. At the age of 20, she married only to be left by her husband because he feared that her beauty would make her seek other men! Shortly after this disappointment, Nampeyo began to wander in search of the remains of old pottery created by earlier generations. An archaelogical site had been established not far from her home, and she heard of pottery which was being uncovered in the excavations.

Nampeyo and her new husband, Lesou, scoured the area finding all shapes and sizes of ancient pottery shards dating back to the Anasazi. Intrigued by the textures, color and design of these works, she began searching for different clays and unusual ways of mixing and baking the clay. She found ways of giving new life to the ancient designs she found, and had soon created a totally new look in Hopi pottery. When other potters discovered that her designs brought a higher price, Nampeyo's art was soon copied far and wide in the territory.

Nampeyo has been credited by many authorities as being the artist who brought the beauty of this new Hopi pottery to the attention of the world. She became the symbol of Hopi culture, and was at the height of her fame from about 1901 to 1910. Her works have been collected by the National Museum in Washington, D.C. She left her homeland three times to appear with her creations: in 1905 and 1907 she went to the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon, and in 1910 to the U.S. Land and Irrigation Exposition in Chicago.

Always her great supporter and helper, Lesou passed away in 1932. As she grew older, Nampeyo's eyes had begun to fail and Lesou had been invaluable in helping her to maintain the integrity of the art painted on her pottery. With his passing, her daughter Fannie took up her father's work and served as "eyes" for her mother until Nampeyo passed away in 1942. The three other surviving daughters born to Lesou and Nampeyo all were active in some manner with ceramic art.

One of Nampeyo's grandaughters, Daisy Hooee is credited with introducing the art of relief settings into the exquisite creations of the Zuni silversmiths. Even though she enjoyed sculpting in silver, Daisy returned to the creation of pottery, and has always signed her art "Nampeyo" in honor of her esteemed grandmother.


Biography from the Archives of askART
Nampeyo of Hano (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, meaning "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 1870s, 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 Sikyátki in the 1890s. 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.


Biography from Adobe Gallery

Nampeyo of Hano (1860-1942) was the first pueblo woman to gain recognition for her pottery.  She lived and worked at a time when putting one's name on the vessel was not done, so little, if any, of her pottery is signed.  She spent a large part of her productive life-supplying pottery to the Fred Harvey Company for re-sale, so documentation of her work is well established.

Additional Sources include:
· Kramer, Barbara. Nampeyo and Her Pottery. 1996, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

· Schaaf, Gregory. Hopi-Tewa Pottery: 500 Artist Biographies. Edited by Richard M. Howard. 1998. CIAC Press.

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

· "Nampeyo: Giving the Indian Artist a Name" by Ron McCoy, in Indian Lives: Essays on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Native American Leaders, edited by L.G. Moses and Raymond Wilson, pp 42-59. University of New Mexico Press, 1985.

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About  The Old Lady Nampeyo

Born:  1860 - Tewa Village, Hopi Reservation, Arizona
Died:   1942 - Tewa Village, Hopi Reservation, Arizona
Known for:  ancestral design motif Hop-Tewa pottery