Nampeyo pots are sufficiently rare that when they appear in the literature they are generally presented singularly as specimen pieces. The 64 “Nampeyo” pots in this collection are a sufficient number to allow us to try something new. This essay will compare and rank the quality of “the Old Lady’s” work using these 64 pots as a database.
“Nampeyo…was ferociously innovative and productive. She experimented freely with prehistoric vessel shapes and designs and invented many fresh figurative and geometric compositions. As her art reveals, she was extremely independent and could be wildly risk-taking. Nampeyo was no reticent, illiterate matron…(Wade and Cooke, 2012:13).”
My intent is to collect as broad a range of Nampeyo’s work as possible to demonstrate the range of her artistic endeavor. She formed one pot in this collection when she was probably in her early 30’s; another is dated 1942, the year she died at about 84 years of age. Several of her pots are masterpieces of Nampeyo’s design and, although unsigned, announce their maker clearly and loudly. Compare these masterpieces to her tourist trinkets that have little aesthetic value, but provided a regular flow of income. In addition to the expected Sikyatki Revival ware, you will find her Polacca crackleware as well as pots inspired by petroglyphs, Keyenta black-on-white, Acoma and even Mexican Talavera. There is goofy pottery and sublime, fine art and folk art, smooth and corrugated pots and a couple of effigies. We tend to deify great artists by focusing on only their masterpieces. Nampeyo was inquisitive and played with her clay, paint and brushes. Her work is unbounded by our Western expectations. I hope you experience the full range of her artistic voice in this collection.
There is some virtue, I believe, in having such a range of pottery. David Viscott in his “Lectures” provides the perspective I intend:
“The great works of art and literature need every other work to give them proportion. If every work were ‘wonderful,’ then no work would be ‘wonderful.’ “
Determining whether a particular pot is “by Nampeyo” is an uncertain business. As Marti Cusick (Struever) notes:
“It is exceedingly difficult to ascertain whether specific pottery specimens were constructed and painted by Nampeyo. The roles played by Lesou and her daughters; the prodigious output of other potters emulating Nampeyo’s style; the artist’s own variations beyond familial and tribal boundaries give rise to serious problems of attribution. Pottery was not signed. Records are scarce and incomplete. (1984:9)”
Marti then defines four classifications of attribution for pottery believed to be by Nampeyo:
- Documented as made by Nampeyo
–Where tangible collection records, or photographs, with names and dates exist.
- Attributed to Nampeyo
–Where opinion based on consultation with other students of Nampeyo, and consideration of design elements, layouts and construction of known Nampeyo vessels indicates the likelihood of the work being hers.
- Possibly by Nampeyo, or made in her style
–Where judgments, determined by the appearance of known design motifs and compositions, leave some doubt as to whether the unit was done by her or someone reproducing the Nampeyo style.
- Probably painted by a member of Nampeyo’s family
–Where certain patterns appear that have become classic Nampeyo family designs there is the possibility that these motifs and layouts may have developed after Nampeyo lost her eyesight, possibly by 1920. There is strong evidence that she continued to mold pottery for a considerable time after she could no longer see to paint it (1984:9).
Using Marti’s criteria, there are currently 63 pots in the collection that meet the minimal standard: pots that I judge to have been significantly touched by Nampeyo. Some of these pots were both formed and painted by “the Old Lady” (Nampeyo #1), some were formed by Nampeyo and painted by a daughter. Of those painted by a daughter, some are not signed (Nampeyo #2) and some are signed (Nampeyo #3). Although Nampeyo could neither read nor write, one pot in the collection has “Nu m pa yo” written on its exterior side and is documented to have been formed, painted and signed by her hand (Nampeyo #4).
One pot in the collection may be a very early pot by Nampeyo but the painting is so irregular that I am only 70% sure that it is hers. A second pot was officially appraised as being formed by Nampeyo and painted by her granddaughter Daisy, whose signature is on the bottom. It has beautiful form, but I’m not sure Nampeyo ever touched the pot. Nevertheless, I include both of these pots in the rankings, though you might easily disagree. A third pot in the collection is “signed” with a Harvey label as “Made by Nampeyo — Hopi” but is of a quality that is so discordant with what I know about her pottery that I doubt if it is a product of her hands. It was probably formed and painted by a young Nellie and mislabeled. This pot is listed as “unranked.” Attribution is an imperfect art and my evaluations may well be challenged. I have tried to make my reasoning explicit so that other collectors and scholars might evaluate my attributions and refine our knowledge of this master potter.
(For a detailed discussion of each pot, click on its hyperlink to see its catalog entry.)
I will grade these pots according to the following criteria: 1) form, 2) painting, 3) rarity, and 4) size.
Nampeyo’s genius was both in forming and painting her pots, but for me the painting of her pots (generally) carries the most weight in my evaluation.
As detailed in the discussion in Appendix B, I have defined six characteristics of Nampeyo’s mature painting style:
- A tension between linear and curvilinear elements often represented as a contrast between heavy and delicate elements;
- A deliberate asymmetry of design;
- The use of color to integrate design elements;
- The use of empty (negative) space to frame the painted image;
- The use of a thick above a thin framing line on the interior rim of her bowls;
- Confident, bold, and impulsive painting.
These six strategies become a ruler against which I can measure the probability that an unsigned pot is “by Nampeyo.” All too often a scholar, dealer, collector or self-defined Nampeyo “expert” simply asserts a Nampeyo pedigree without explaining his or her reasoning. Even when knowledgable experts evaluate an unsigned pot, they often reach different conclusions because they use different criteria of evaluation. By publicizing my assessment criteria and explaining my reasoning in the catalog entry for each pot I deem as “by Nampeyo,” I encourage others to train their eye — and challenge my conclusion that the pots listed here are actually her work. That’s how academic research advances.
A pot that displays all six of Nampeyo’s design characteristics is generally more striking than one that displays fewer than the full set. On the other hand, several Nampeyo pots in this collection predate her “Sikyatki Revival” style and cannot fully be judged by these criteria. Other pots are simply eccentric. For these pots the “rarity” factor may weigh heavily.
Aesthetic is a function of form plus painting.
Rarity may be due to an unusual shape, design, ethnographic use or age.
Size matters, but I would grade a small great pot much higher than a large clunky one.
My grading system runs from “A” (excellent), “B” (good), “C” (average), and “D” (poor). I hope I have avoided buying any “F” Nampeyo pots.
Speaking at a Recursos de Santa Fe conference on “Historic and Modern Pueblo Pottery” on October 18, 1990, J.J. Brody spoke about what makes a pueblo pot “great.” I cited his remarks in Appendix C, but they are worth repeating here:
“The symbolism, is below the level of consciousness. The form is simple, basic, and geometric. The painting reinforces the form; the painting lines are crisp, controlled and harmonious. Most of all the pot is dynamic, a source of perpetual discovery. You should feel the handwriting and character of the artist (1990b).”
A pot that meets Brody’s standard is an “A” pot.
Pots formed and painted by Nampeyo:
A gorgeous pot with the iconic Nampeyo aesthetic fully realized that represents the very highest achievement of Hopi/Tewa ceramics would be graded “A.” Pots that do not reach this aesthetic standard might still receive a grade of “A” if shape, design, use, or age is particularly unusual.
A pot that clearly demonstrates Nampeyo’s unique talent but is not her very best work will receive a “B.” A pot that did not reach this aesthetic standard might still receive a grade of “B” if its shape, design, use or age is particularly unusual.
A pot that is by Nampeyo but with a design that seems distracted, rushed, does not fit the pot, or seems applied without much care will be graded “C.” A pot that does not reach this aesthetic standard of “C” might still receive a grade of “C” if its shape, design, use or age is particularly unusual.
I have tried to acquire pots that I thought were at least “good” (“B”) examples of Nampeyo’s work, but my eye has also changed as the collection developed.
Pots formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative (unsigned or signed):
As Barbara Kramer (among others) notes, Hopi and Hopi/Tewa pottery making is often a family affair. The European notion that “it’s not a good Rembrandt because his son did some of the painting” is out of place at Hopi. Annie had her own style but could also paint quite like her mother when called upon to do so. Some of Annie’s work is almost the equal of her mom’s and the two are difficult to distinguish. Fannie was also a good painter, though I think rarely as good as her mother. Nellie (I’m told) was a particularly kind person, but has a perhaps unwarranted reputation of not being an outstanding potter. Several granddaughters probably also painted for Nampeyo. (See Appendix E.)
A grade of “A” will be earned by a pot formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative which is aesthetically exciting and incorporates many of the six iconic design strategies defined by Nampeyo. It would be among the best Hopi/Tewa pottery made. A pot that did not reach this aesthetic might still receive a grade of “A” if it offers an unusual or unique insight into the mother/relative collaboration or its shape, design, use or age is particularly unusual.
This grade will be earned by a pot formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative which, while well-formed and aesthetically pleasing, does not represent the highest achievement of Hopi/Tewa pottery. A pot that did not reach this aesthetic standard of “B” might still receive a grade of “B” if it offers an unusual or unique insight into the mother/relative collaboration or its shape, design, use or age is particularly unusual.
This grade will be earned by a pot formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative if the pot has an ordinary form (perhaps thick or uneven) and the design seems distracted, rushed, does not fit the pot, or was applied without much care. A pot that did not reach this aesthetic standard of “C” might still receive a grade of “C” if it offers an unusual or unique insight into the mother/relative collaboration or its shape, design, use or age is particularly unusual.
While formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative, this pot is not particularly attractive or well designed.
Nampeyo #1, Unsigned: Nampeyo, potter and painter
1988-01 B+ Redware bowl, two birds
A solid example of her work, but the design is too balanced and therefore not dynamic enough to get an “A.” The design is also a bit simple: You glance at it and “get” the impact; it does not draw your eye in and play tricks like a great Nampeyo pot. If viewed with the two birds rotated so that the design is off vertical, the design is more dynamic. The + is because it’s made of “sikyatska” yellow clay that fires red. These are uncommon for Nampeyo. For example, the State Museum of Arizona (Tucson) has a great Nampeyo collection, but only one red-clay pot.
1993-04 A++ Bowl with “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design
This is a pivotal pot in the collection because 1) its form and design are in the Sikyatki style while its slip is white and crackled as is characteristic of Polacca ware. Thus it is a transition pot from Polacca to Sikyatki Revival traditions and marks Nampeyo’s emergence into her mature style. 2) It is an early example of the “bird hanging from sky band” design that Nampeyo used repeatedly from at least 1893 to the end of her career, and 3) I believe that repeatedly copying and modifying this design trained Nampeyo’e eye and hand and led her to develop the six iconic strategies that characterize her greatest work. [See Appendix B.] Ah….and yes… even without all this historical importance, this is a compelling piece of art.
1996-05 B+/A- Bird wing bowl, painted by Nampeyo (or perhaps Annie)
This is a fully-realized design, carefully-done and shows extraordinary skill. The everted rim adds a special touch. The “A-/B+” is because the design is too busy and a bit too balanced to be a fully great Nampeyo pot. It is spectacular, but not very Zen. For most folks it is probably an “A,” but I am a hard grader.
1999-03 A- Small clown face canteen
This little canteen is a tour-de-force. It contains the iconic Nampeyo “clown face” and many elements of the “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design first seen in this collection on 1993-04. The convex surface projects the image toward the viewer. It’s like a Hopi Faberge egg. The pot earns a “-” because the design lacks the negative space which highlights Nampeyo’s best work.
2002-03 A+ Shallow dish with feather design
This little dish and simple design are an everlasting joy to watch. The design swirls in space and draws and fascinates my eye. While the design is simple, it has all 6 of the iconic Nampeyo design strategies and in spades. I awake every morning with joy at seeing this bowl. It’s that good.
2002-11 C Eroded bowl
The design is carefully done, but just sits there and repeats itself around the pot. The design lacks the energy that makes Nampeyo a great painter. The surface is a bit eroded, but there is nothing wrong with this pot. It just does not show off Nampeyo’s skills very well.
2005-16 A+ Seedpot with eagle-feather design
This is the iconic Nampeyo design and one of the great pots in the collection. The design is full of energy and tension and draws the eye in. The design fully realized all of Nampeyo’s design strategies and is both simple and complex at the same time. I could look at this pot for hours (and have).
2006-02 B Avian design, badly broken bowl
This is a fine demonstration of the great skill of Nampeyo. There is focus and motion in the design and it all works well. Somehow the bowl does not reach greatness, perhaps because it was so badly broken and the break lines distract the eye.
2006-11 A- “Pure abstraction” design bowl
This bowl is “out of the box” for a Nampeyo pot. It does not follow the usual rules of her design and is thus hard to compare. Until the recent sale on eBay of two similar pots, I had never seen anything like this design. (Ebay photographs on file.) The unusual “pure abstract” design gives this pot extra value. The unevenly “cleaned” background on part of the pot is distracting and would normally lower its aesthetic value. However, given the importance of such “pure abstraction” design in Nampeyo’s oeuvre, I rate the bowl highly.
2007-16 A- Effigy pot
Another “out of the box” Nampeyo pot and one that was apparently done for only a short time. Thus it is rare and is in perfect condition. As with 2006-11, the usual Nampeyo aesthetic standards do not apply. The design is not as compelling as her best work, but is not trying to play that game. The form is very unusual. A smaller Nampeyo effigy pot is also part of this collection (2013-14). Marti Struever has had two pots like 2007-16 and I know of two others. It’s not designed to be a stunner but fully delivers what it is supposed to be. The face is full of character and presents itself well.
2008-06 B+ Four-moth pot
This is a good example of an unusual Nampeyo design. (Not as rare as 2007-16, but unusual.) This example is smaller than most and is not balanced on its bottom. There is slight damage to the design. It fits a “niche” in the Nampeyo design repertoire, and is “fine,” just not great. The design is pleasing but does not draw the eye and play design games like the great Nampeyo pots. (Larger examples of this pot have more visual impact, but for me are not as satisfying a the great Nampeyo designs.)
2009-08 A- Small bowl with footprint design, Transition Period, 1890s
This is a really small bowl and I loved it well before Ed Wade said it was Nampeyo. My first reaction (every time I look at it) is to smile. This is an engaging foot. The bowl is unique in the Nampeyo oeuvre. With crackled slip on the inside and stone polished on the outside, the finish is a mongrel between Polacca ware and Sikyatki revival ware. (“Walpi Polychrome,” though this pot is monochromatic.) The design contains neither traditional Polacca elements nor Sikyatki Revival motifs. The bowl is a snapshot of Nampeyo in transition experimenting with new finishes and designs. It’s a sweet piece but not monumental, hence the “-” sign.
2009-10 A- Worn large sikyatki revival canteen with strap
This canteen is an “A” both because of the aesthetic qualities of the pot and its ethnographic story (including the strap). If the design was on a perfectly preserved (like-new condition) pot, I would appreciate it but give it a B+ as a Nampeyo pot. Those funny “radio dial” designs seem odd to me and don’t add much aesthetically, though I generally love the “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design. The addition of the old strap and the probable story of its ethnographic use by (maybe) a member of the Nampeyo family put it over the top (as an “A” pot). This is the only Sikyatki Revival pot by Nampeyo I know of that was actually used. That history is rare (perhaps unique), hence a top rating in spite of those radio knobs.
2009-17 A++ Walpi polychrome piki bowl, Transition Period, 1890s
As an example of a Polacca C style (actually Walpi Polychrome) bowl by Nampeyo, this bowl is very rare. That it was likely made by Nampeyo for her personal use and used for several decades in her home is a stunner. The fact that it was broken (and therefore traded by Fannie to Dick Howard) simply adds to its story and charm. The repairs bother me not at all. The interior design is intact under all that corn patina and is well executed, though a bit static, as all such Polacca C designs of the Polik’Mana seem to be. The design serves as a benchmark to demonstrate the starting point for Nampeyo’s creative journey.
2010-11 A+ Small canteen with variation of “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design
Again this is a deceptively simple design beautifully executed and displaying all six of Nampeyo’s design tricks. Although small, the visual impact is big. It’s no better painted than canteen 1999-03, but the simpler design and negative space allow the design on 2010-11 to shout out more.
2011-16 C+ Bowl with avian design and Harvey label
While this bowl meets all six of the “classic” Nampeyo design techniques, this is not a visually compelling bowl. The “Made by Nampeyo – Hopi” indicates that it was sold by the Harvey Co, and was probably fairly quickly made to fill an order. I would rate it “C” except that the Harvey label gives it a particular interest. After the opening of Hopi House in 1905 much of Nampeyo’s work became commodified as it was sold wholesale to Harvey and other traders. This bowl is testimony to that period so I added a “+” to the rating.
2012-02 A++ Black-on-cream bowl with flared rim and Kayenta design
This is one of the great pots in the collection. As detailed in the catalog entry, it meets 4 of the 6 “classic” criteria that typifies her best Sikyatki Revival style. The design on both the interior and earns an “A” rating from me. However this is not a Sikyatki Revival pot but a rare example of Nampeyo’s experimentation with other aesthetic traditions before she adopted mostly Sikyatki shapes and designs as her signature style. This Kayenta Black-On-White Revival style (to coin a phrase) is too complex to allow for rapid production of pots for the market and there are few known examples in the Nampeyo oeuvre. In a collection that is trying to show the development of Nampeyo’s aesthetic over time, this is a critical pot, one of three known in this style.
2012-08 B+ Handled pitcher with foxes
This is an oddly shaped, awkward, asymmetric and thick-walled pitcher. As a form it is unimpressive. Painted on the sides, however, are two wonderful, lively images of fox-like creatures. The checkered mid-bodies of these animals is classic Nampeyo and the detailed, energized painting is extraordinary. Nampeyo figurative quadruped painting is unusual and this is a particularly nice example. Averaging out the clunky form and fine painting yielded the ranking.
2012-13 B- Canteen with variation of the eagle tail design
This canteen is an interesting shape and the use of lugs harks back to a prehistoric tradition. The painting meets all the criteria that mark Nampeyo’s mature style, but the design is busy and lacks motion. The pot is interesting and instructive but not compelling.
2012-21 A+ Five hummingbird bowl
So, OK: I love this pot. The bowl is well made, although the rim is casually finished. Of the Nampeyo pots in this collection, the painting on the interior of the pot is the least formal. The scene portrayed is playful and the composition of the design and the quality of the painting is similarly informal, even humorous. It’s probably all my romantic fantasy, but when contemplating this design I feel like I gain some insight into Nampeyo’s reported quiet and pleasant nature. In contrast, the external glyphs are sophisticated and complex. In today’s art market pots with perfect form and painting are highly valued, but I am more attracted to the folk art sensibility so beautifully expressed by this bowl.
2012-25 B+ Conical bowl with “NAMpyuo” signature
The odd conical shape of this bowl is unusual and the painting is well-done but not spectacular. What makes this bowl special is the signature “NAMpyuo” on the bottom. One theory is that the bowl was likely produced around 1910 to 1915 and signed by a young Fannie, far earlier than the more conventionally signed “Nampeyo” pots of 1930 t0 1942. As such, it would be the earliest Nampeyo bowl signed by a daughter and unlike others signed from the 1930’s to 1942 was both formed and painted by Nampeyo and only signed by Fannie.. A unique item. An alternative theory [Appendix E] is that it was probably formed by Nampeyo in the 1920’s when she had become functionally blind but painted and signed by a daughter before pressure from the Museum of Northern Arizona (starting in 1930) regularized the spelling of Nampeyo’s name. By either theory this is an early signed pot that is a transition between unsigned pottery by Nampeyo and the standard Anglo spelling of her name. I’m not sure which theory is more likely. Somewhat arbitrarily I list it here as both formed and painted by Nampeyo.
2013-03 B Vase with tapered body and flared neck, avian designs
This vase has an unusual non-Hopi shape and some of the process of construction can be seen on the inside, which gives it additional interest. The designs are a catalog of Nampeyo iconography collected together onto one vessel, which makes it particularly instructive. Moreover Nampeyo miscalculated the space needed to repeat her motifs and a careful examination of the layout allows the viewer to understand the sequence in which Nampeyo painted the pot. Such insights into Nampeyo’s process always fascinate me. The overall pattern of design on the upper shoulder of the pot is a bit of a jumble and does not reflect the elegant serenity of Nampeyo’s best work. Vertical motifs emerge from this top section and run towards the bottom of the vase, thus emphasizing the pots shape and providing contrast with the upper pattern, a classic Nampeyo device.
2013-14 B+ Small effigy pot
The pot was not intended to be a masterpiece and is not. It does not attempt to demonstrate a classic Nampeyo design and so cannot be judged by those standards. As a modest, expressive effigy bowl, it fills its role admirably. The unusual form adds to its interest. A larger effigy pot by Nampeyo is also part of this collection (2007-16).
2013-17 C+ Small kaolin bowl with eroded man eagle design
The design on this bowl seems to have been quickly drawn, perhaps because the label indicates it was ordered by the Harvey Co. Because it is drawn on a slick polished kaolin surface, much of the design has rubbed off, though all elements are discernable. A large oil (?) spot clouds the center of the design. With some uncertainty I attribute this bowl to Nampeyo, but I would probably grade it C-. However, as an example of an early Nampeyo experiment with polished white slip that was abandoned by her and not resurrected by Hopi potters for another 40 years, the bowl has considerable interest in a collection that is trying to document the full range of Nampeyo’s oeuvre. Thus the higher ranking.
2014-01 B+ Early Sikyatki Revival bowl with incurved rim
The sharply incurved rim makes the interior of this small bowl difficult to paint. The exterior of this bowl is also finely decorated. When seen from above, the combined view of external design framing the dramatic interior design is like looking into a jeweled Easter egg. Based on the visuals, I would grade this bowl “B.” As an experimental shape that shows Nampeyo playing with the relationship between form and design, it earns extra credit.
2014-07 A++ Simplified “bird hanging from skyband” bowl
I know of no better example of the visual power of Sikyatki Revival design than this bowl. Its simple, sophisticated design captures the essence of Nampeyo’s genius. The bowl is a touchstone of this collection. I am stunned every morning when I wake up, lie in bed, and see its beauty.
2014-10 A Rectangular tile with polychromatic Polik’Mana
Constrained within a rectangular frame, the design on this tile does not demonstrate the dynamic energy of Nampeyo’s best bowls. As a framed portrait of the Polik’Mana dancer, however, the tile shows this personage with dignity and in detail. The quality of the painting is equal to the best I have seen on a tile.
2014-17 B- Effigy pot with mountain sheep heads and handle
This is an eccentric pot: interesting but not particularly beautiful. It shows Nampeyo playing with forms, either for the fun of it or to test what appealed to a tourist market. On purely aesthetic grounds I would grade it a “C+.” Because its it demonstrates a form that is unique, I add extra points.
2014-20 B- Bowl with crossed feather design
The design on this bowl is interesting, but not visually dramatic. It does teach us that triangular elements were used by Nampeyo to create visual tension with linear elements, a role I had previously thought played only by curvilinear designs.
2015-03 A++ Polacca wide shouldered jar with Acoma-style birds
This is a particularly early jar by Nampeyo and does not fit the design standards of her later Sikyatki Revival work. Seen without knowledge of its maker, it is a compelling piece of folk art. It is also a clear example of Nampeyo reaching out to other pueblo cultures and playing with their design elements. As the oldest Nampeyo pot in this collection, it allows us to understand genius finding her ability. That’s a rare attribute and earns this jar the highest rating.
2015-04 A- Flat-topped seedjar with abstract, angular designs
This seedpot is spectacular in form with an unusual decoration. To form such flat upper surfaces iis extraordinarily difficult since wet coils of clay tend to collapse without support. The decoration, however, is the most striking aspect of this pot. Its abstract design is carefull interconnected, yet seems spontaneous and delights the eye. This is a rare example of Nampeyo’s “pure abstraction” design, a decade before Europeans “discovered” abstract expressionism. A visual delight that illustrates Nampeyo’s inventive genius and an important historical marker – all in one pot.
2015-12 A- Lobed white-slipped jar with feather motif
The lobed shape of this small jar is almost unique among historic Hopi pottery. The painting is tiny, delicate and beautiful and masterfully fits the form. Given that it was originally purchased in 1917, I had thought that Annie must have painted this pot, but for reasons explained in the catalog entry, I now think that this is all Momma’s work.
2017-04 A++ Two-tradition tray with Polacca-style Polik’Mana interior, Sikyatki Revival exterior
This is a masterwork of the collection. The shape is rare, maybe unique. The Polik’Mana image is delicate, animated and beautifully rendered. Importantly, in this one vessel we have Nampeyo using Polacca techniques and design on the interior, but Sikyatki Revival techniques and designs on the exterior. Thus tray 2017-03 is not only a boundary marker between two traditions of Hopi pottery, but also marks a transition point in Nampeyo’s development as an artist. For a collection trying to document the range of Nampeyo’s production, it doesn’t get any better than this.
2017-05 B+ Three-lug redware canteen
This is a rare shape and the red slip is an unusual choice for Nampeyo. Moreover, the design —particularly the birds with curlicue heads— is intriguing and attractive. The design meets all of the relevant design strategies we anticipate Nampeyo using, but there is less negative space than is present in her best pots. As a result, the design seems crowded. I would rate this a “B” pot except for the unusual 3-lug shape and that earns it some extra points.
2017-15 A- Rectangular medicine bowl with creature design
Rectangular pots are a rare form, generally associated with medicine bowls, though I do not think that pot 2017-15 had such a use. The creature-like design on the long sides is intriguing and may be unique in the Nampeyo oeuvre, , but much of the painting has elements that are characteristic of Nampeyo. It is particularly interesting how Nampeyo arranged this complex decoration to fit four small rectangular panels, yet the design does not seem crowded. Given the rare shape and the quality and originality of the painting, the pot earns a high rating.
2018-04 A+ Small bowl with maiden image
The forming of this bowl and the spider image on one side do not seem to have been of much concern to Nampeyo. Both are casually-done. Nampeyo formed, sanded and slipped this bowl to feature the maiden image as an experiment in design. In spite of its size, the image has a large visual impact. It may be the only time Nampeyo used this image on a bowl. Without the maiden this would be an ordinary C- Hopi/Tewa pot. Because of the maiden and its rarity, it is a gem. The image is simply that compelling and cute.
2018-13 B- Small canteen with elegant Sikyatki bird
This canteen is the same form, size and quality as other Nampeyo canteens in the collection. The Sikyatki-style bird is particularly elegant and the painting meets all of the design strategies we expect of the mature Nampeyo…….Yet….the sloppy paint drips and smears are not what we expect to see on her work. Still, the canteen has considerable presence. I conclude that such imperfections were some kind of accident and the canteen was made by Nampeyo, but doubt remains. The drips lower my rating.
2019-12 A++ Large canteen with two birds on an arch
This is a large presentation canteen with sufficient area on its convex surface to paint a complex and detailed design. The result is impressive and proud and also uncrowded and serene. It is the largest Nampeyo pot in this collection. The rear of the canteen has some firing smudges and the muddy black/red pigment may be disconcerting to a modern viewer’s eye. However the discolored red seen on canteen 2019-12 was common on Hopi and Hopi/Tewa pottery until the 1930’s when the collector’s market tried to impose a purer red. I don ‘t argue that Picasso should have used a darker color during his blue period and I rather like that Nampeyo painted this canteen with her own standards of color. Because of its scale, elegance of design and Native aesthetic, this pot earns my highest evaluation.
2019-19 C+ Talavera vase with creatures
This is an outlier among Nampeyo pottery. The pot is thick and clunky, and neither its shape nor decoration follow Hopi or Hopi/Tewa tradition. It has little aesthetic appeal but may have considerable historical significance. Nampeyo’s 1905 and 1907 visits to Hopi House at the Grand Canyon to demonstrate her craft were probably her first exposure to art made by traditions that were not southwestern pueblo. Its speculation, but at Hopi House she may have first seen Mexican Talavera ware for sale, become intrigued, and tried her hand at this shape and decoration as an experiment. As such, vase 2019-19 is a marker of Nampeyo’s openness to new ideas. Such inquisitiveness is at the heart of Nampeyo’s career, and thus this vase may be an important example of her unique genius.
2020-11: B Faded Um-tok-ina serpent on imperfectly-slipped bowl
If it were not faded this bowl would be an easy “A.” It is faded, however, though all of the design is discernable. This is a powerful creature, as can be seen when looking at Rachael Sahmie’s recreation of this design on the exterior of bowl 2021-21. Given the faded condition of Nampeyo’s version, I reduce my evaluation more than a full grade.
2020-16: C+ Transitional jar with “pure abstraction” designs
This is a tough one, since I’m only 70% sure this jar is by Nampeyo. Assuming it is by Nampeyo, the pot is an important example of a) her early work which allows us to see her talents developing, and b) a rare example of her “pure abstraction” design. It is not, however, a particularly aesthetically pleasing pot. Given the uncertainty of pedigree and modest visual appeal, I assign it a modest grade.
2020-17: A+ Diminutive canteen with feather swirl and folk creature
I love this canteen. I have always been attracted to the majestic creature that is its central design and am excited to add an example to my collection. The little mouse-like creature adds humor. Besides, the canteen is so small its also cute. That’s a lot of visual impact in a 4-inch pot. I give it my highest rating.
2021-09: B- Bowl with spectacular but eroded designs
Eroded and cracked, the imperfections of this jar are obvious. As an example of Nampeyo’s ability to fit an energized design into constrained linear space, however, it is an important addition to this collection. As a worn Nampeyo pot, I’d grade it C+. Because it demonstrates her unusual design ability, I rase the grade a notch.
Nampeyo #2, Unsigned: Nampeyo, potter; painted by a relative
1997-04 B Redware bowl formed by Nampeyo, painted by Annie
The pot is unusual in that it is made with yellow clay that fires red and not just slipped with the yellow clay. The design is by Annie, painting her own style with disjointed elements and have no sense of overall motion.
2000-07 B+ Detailed canteen, painted by Nampeyo or Annie (?)
Nampeyo canteens are always special and this form gains some points. Again the painting (likely by Annie) uses the classic Nampeyo four mountain image as a central focus then builds only a loosely organized design around it. As with 1997-04, the fragmented design elements are typical of Annie painting in her own style.
2002-09 B+/A- Large imperfect bat-wing pot, painted by Annie (?)
Several years ago Ed Wade showed me an almost identical pot (several times larger but same design) on his dining room table. He identified it as “by Nampeyo.” The form on the Wade jar was perfect and the design (unlike jar 2002-09) was also perfect. Nampeyo very likely formed jar 2002-09. It is unclear who painted it. (See Wade’s evaluation). I think that Annie painted the pot using her mother’s (not her own) style using classic Sikyatki design elements. The size of the pot adds to its value. The fact that the pot is asymmetric and the painter had to try to adjust the design to the awkward shape either detracts for the value (resulting in a B+ grade) or adds to the human appeal of the pot (giving it an A- grade).
2006-01 B+ Kwatoko bowl, painted by Annie
The bowl was formed by Nampeyo; the design very likely was painted by Annie. The painting is well-done using a classic Sikyatki motif adapted and developed by Annie. 2006-01 is a fine example of the best of Annie painting in her mother’s Sikyatki Revival style. If it were not for the pot having been broken and simply glued, I’d give the bowl an A-. With the breakage into two pieces, I evaluate it as a B+. If the breakage bothers you a lot, then I’d say B. The repair does not bother Ed Wade who evaluates it as both formed and painted by Nampeyo and calls it a “masterpiece” in his new book (with Alan Cooke), The Call of Beauty.
2006-15 B Small eagle-tail seedpot, painted by a young Fannie?
If the pot was simply a Hop/Tewa pot, I’d grade it B- since it has a powerful but crudely-painted design. If you buy Ed Wade’s idea that this is an early Fannie-learning pot, then it is special and unique and I’d grade it “B+.” (Steve Elmore had a larger but identically designed pot painted by the same hand as 2006-15. He believes his pot was both formed and painted by Nampeyo, but I do not think she would have done anything so crude in the 20th century.) These mixed signals average out to a “B.”
2012-14 B Jar with corrugated neck, painted by Fannie
This jar is thick walled but of good form. The painting is well done with typical Hopi/Tewa motifs. It’s the corrugated neck that is unusual and –if my attribution to Nampeyo/Fannie is accepted– gives the vessel special importance. My best estimation is that it was made at a point in Nampeyo’s life (the 1920’s) when she was continuing to make pottery but because of failing eyesight was unable to paint it. Thus while form and painting are “pleasing,” the vessel has more historical than aesthetic importance in this collection.
2014-13 B- Dish with insect variation of “bird hanging from skyband,” painted by Annie
A product of Nampeyo and Annie, this bowl is a wonderful example of a talented daughter painting in the style of her mother. The design is pleasing, but lacks the internal logic of a Nampeyo- designed pot. It is important in this collection because it allows us to detail the partnership between mother and daughter.
2017-01 C+ Vase with two Koyemsi effigy faces, probably partially painted by Nellie.
Except for those effigy faces, this is not a very attractive pot. It’s all speculation, but I believe that the forming and some of the painting of this pot was done by Nampeyo while the remainder of the painting was done by a relative. It is asymmetric from the waist up but both of the Koyemsi faces are well-molded and different. They are also well-painted, I think by Nampeyo. The two large painted designs are poorly done, probably by Nellie. Without the effigy faces, this would be an unattractive pot, maybe a “C-” on a good day. As a rare example of Nampeyo’s ability to create images that were applied to a vessel, the pot has considerable interest. Hence the final, higher, grade.
Nampeyo #3, Signed: Nampeyo, potter; painted by a relative
There are variations in how Nampeyo’s name was signed on this grouping of pots. Please see “Appendix E” for the guidelines I have used to determine which relative signed which pots.
1985-01 B Seedpot signed “Nampeyo”
This is one of thirteen pots signed Nampeyo in the collection that were formed by Nampeyo and painted by a relative when Nampeyo was functionally blind. Given the small “e” in “Nampeyo,” this pot was probably painted and signed by either Nellie, Daisy, Rachael or Beatrice.
1997-01 C+ Simple bowl
The bowl is casually formed and painted without much attention. If it were unsigned I’d rate it C-. Since it is a signed Nampeyo pot made in the 1930’s, I’d rate it C+. Again, given the small “e” in “Nampeyo,” this pot was probably painted and signed by either Nellie, Daisy, Rachael or Beatrice.
2002-12 D Tiny seedpot painted and signed by Fannie.
An unimpressive small pinch pot, though a good example of a Nampeyo and family producing for the tourist market. Because it is signed and small, it is an “authentic” Nampeyo pot that can easily be wrapped in a sock and tucked in a suitcase. This specimen made it all the way to England in the 1930s. It was painted and signed by Fannie.
2003-07 C+ Formed by Nampeyo, painted and signed by Nellie
This is a poorly made and casually-painted pot. Unsigned I’d give it a “D.” Since it is signed “Nampeyo/N,” it was formed by Nampeyo and painted by Nellie. The signature makes it especially unusual, raising the grade to C+.
2007-12 B Jar with monochromatic eagle tail design, painted and signed by Fannie
This is a classic Nampeyo design, but is not carefully painted. If just signed “Nampeyo” I’d have graded it B-. Since it is signed Nampeyo/Fannie in that order, it is family certified as having been formed by Nampeyo and painted by Fannie. Such dual-name signatures are particularly rare, so I give the pot a B.
2010-05 B+ Small vase with avian design
I love this little pot. It is very well painted using classic Nampeyo motifs. Without knowledge of its actual size, it looks monumental. That you can feel the ridges of Nampeyo’s fingers on the inside adds value in my estimation. Given the small “e” in “Nampeyo,” this pot was probably painted and signed by either Nellie, Daisy, Rachael or Beatrice.
2011-32 C+ Cowboy hat ashtray, painted and signed by Fannie
This item does not attempt much and succeeds in filling its goal. It was intended as kitsch and is a good example of the genre. It is well-made and simply painted. It is a delight to have in the collection because it demonstrates that even master potter Nampeyo searched out opportunities to earn a living by catering to the tourist trinket trade. As such, it is an important item documenting the range of Nampeyo’s work. It was painted and signed by Fannie.
2013-12 B Seedpot with geometric design, painted and signed by Nellie
The pot is well and gracefully formed. The painting is competent but not particularly inspired. Unsigned I would have graded it C+. Pottery unambiguously signed Nampeyo/Nellie are quite unusual, so I raise my final evaluation. Much of my appreciation of this vessel is historical and not aesthetic.
2015-14 C+ Polychrome jar with “NeMPayo” signature
This jar has a pleasing form and the painting varies from uninspired to well-done. What makes this pot interesting is the signature “NeMPayo” on the bottom. The letters are carefully formed, but the reversal of the“e” and “a” from the usual spelling and the capitalization of “MP” in the middle of the name are particular. It’s thus more of a curiosity than a great piece of art. I’d grade the jar “C-“ except for the intrigue of the signature. In Appendix E, I argue that such variable signatures may have been written by a relative in the 1920’s, after Nampeyo was functionally blind, and before the spelling of her name became standardized in the 1930’s. This pot was probably painted and signed by either Nellie, Daisy, Rachael or Beatrice.
2019-08 B Jar with two inverted bird images, painted and signed by Nellie
As indicated by the signature, this pot was formed by Nampeyo and painted and signed by Nellie as “Nampeyo/Nell(ie).” The jar is well-formed, a testimony to Nampeyo’s ability to form pots even when functionally blind. The painting is well-done, although it lacks the internal structure that is characteristic of Nampeyo. Oddly, the two avian images are inverted and hang head down with the pot upright. This motif is seen on only one other pot in this collection (2010-20) and that pot carries an inaccurate Harvey Co. label “Made by Nampayo — Hopi.” (See below under “Unranked.”) Jar 2019-08 makes me more certain that the 2010 jar was made by Nellie and mislabeled. As such, jar 2019-08 is a linch pin in this collection and gives us an indication of both 1) a long partnership between Nampeyo and her middle daughter and 2) the unreliability of Harvey Co. labels..
2019-16 A+ Large 1938 low-shouldered, at least painted and signed by Daisy
On every dimension –size, form and decoration– this jar represents the very best product of the Hopi/Tewa pottery tradition. A 2005 appraisal of the pot relates its detailed history and says it “was ordered in 1938 from the Museum of Northern Arizona by Bernice Million Rotty because she wanted something by Nampeyo.” However, the pot is signed simply “Daisy Nampeyo.” The pot is strikingly large and its thinness and form is extraordinary: certainly representative of Nampeyo’s best work. However, granddaughter Daisy was an exceptional potter and she also was capable of forming and painting such an exceptional pot, though this would then be the largest pot by Daisy that I have seen. Daisy’s design is complex, intriguing and has an internal logic. I remain somewhat uncertain of Nampeyo’s connection to this jar, but list it here with my highest rating because its size and the beauty of its form and design.
2019-18 A Corrugated jar with “NAMPEYUO” signature, painted and signed by Fannie
Corrugated jars from made in the 1920’s or 1930’s are unusual and are generally attributed as having been made by Nampeyo when she was losing her eyesight, with the corrugation added as an artistic flourish that she could still form. The collection has another such pot (2012-14), but it is unsigned and therefore my attribution to Nampeyo and Fannie was speculative . Jar 2019-18 is very similar and, since it is signed, is a clear representation of this stage in Nampeyo’s career. Moreover, the unusual spelling of her name indicates that it was formed before 1930 when pressure from the Anglo collector’s market regularized the spelling. (See Appendix E.) Both its form, signature and historical significance earn it extra credit. It was painted and signed by Fannie.
Nampeyo #4, Signed: formed painted and signed by her own hand.
2015-11 A++ Bowl with exterior “Numpayo” signature, bird/sky-band design
This bowl is of ordinary form and carries a well-done but typical Nampeyo design. What makes it historically significant is the signature “Nu m pa yo” written on the exterior of the bowl. Nampeyo was illiterate and could not write, yet this is one of only two examples known of her signature written by her own hand. The two bowls are the earliest examples of signed Hopi pots. Moreover, these six letters are also a natural experiment measuring Nampeyo’s visual acuity. The bowl is “documented as made by Nampeyo,” Marti Struever’s highest category of attribution.
Labeled “Nampeyo,” but neither formed nor painted by her
2010-20 Unranked Red clay bowl with inverted mouse-like creatures and Harvey Co.”Nampeyo” label
This is an odd one. The Harvey label (“Made by Nampeyo—Hopi”) is contemporaneous evidence that it is by the “Old Lady.” Nampeyo used this mouse-like design on other bowls, but the form of pot 2010-20 and the painting are far below the standard of anything I have ever seen by Nampeyo. When I bought the bowl in 2010, I speculated that the pot was formed and painted by a young Nellie. Bought 9 years later, pot 2019-08 has signatures that confirm it was formed by Nampeyo and painted by Nellie, who used an inverted animal motif much like the design on pot 2010-20.
The 2019 pot gives me insight into the 2010 pot. I still think that a young Nellie both formed and painted pot 2010-20. Pot 2019-08 simply supports my guess that Nellie was the potter of 2010-20 in spite of the “Made by Nampeyo — Hano” label. However, the paper Harvey label is in-and-of-itself a significant and rare addition to a Nampeyo collection. Therefore I list it in this review of Nampeyo pots. The pot is also evidence that a century ago some Harvey employee labeled any output from Nampeyo’s family as “made by Momma.”
Of the 64 “Nampeyo” pots in the collection, my evaluation is:
A++ through A = 27%
A- through A-/B+ = 31%
B+ through B- = 25%
C + through C = 16%
D = 1%
A++ = 12.5%
1993-04 White-slipped bowl with “Bird Hanging from Skyband” design
2009-17 Walpi polychrome piki bowl, Transition Period, 1890s
2012-02 Black-on-cream bowl with flared rim and Kayenta design
2014-07 Simplified “bird hanging from skyband” bowl
2015-03 Polacca wide shouldered jar with Acoma-style birds
2015-11 Bowl with exterior “Numpayo” signature, bird/sky band design
2017-04 Two-Tradition tray with Polacca-style Polik’Mana interior, Sikyatki Revival exterior
2019-12 Large canteen with two birds on an arch
A+ = 10.9%
2002-03 Shallow dish with feather design
2005-16 Seedpot with eagle-feather design
2010-11 Small canteen with variation of “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design
2012-21 Five hummingbird bowl
2018-04 Small bowl with maiden image
2019-16 Large 1938 low-shouldered olla
2020-17 Diminutive canteen with feather swirl and folk creature
A = 3.1%
2014-10 Rectangular tile with polychromatic Polik’Mana
2019-18 Corrugated jar with “NAMPEYUO” signature
A- = 12.5%
1999-03 Small clown face canteen
2006-11 “Pure Abstraction” design bowl
2007-16 Effigy pot
2009-08 Small bowl with footprint design, Transition Period, 1890s
2009-10 Worn large Sikyatki revival canteen with strap
2015-04 Flat-topped seedpot with abstract, angular designs
2015-12 Lobed white-slipped jar with feather motif
2017-15 Rectangular medicine bowl with creature design
A-/B+ = 3.1%
1996-05 Bird wing bowl, painted by Nampeyo or Annie
2002-09 Large imperfect bat-wing pot, painted by Annie (?)
B+ = 15.6%
1988-01 Redware bowl, two birds
2000-07 Detailed canteen, painted by Nampeyo or Annie (?)
2006-01 Kwatoko bowl, painted by Anni
2008-06 Four-moth pot
2010-05 Small vase with avian design signed “Nampeyo ”
2012-08 Handled pitcher with foxes
2012-25 Conical bowl signed “Nampyuo”
2013-14 Small effigy pot
2014-01 Early Sikyatki Revival bowl with incurved rim
2017-05 Three-lug redware canteen
B = 17.1%
1985-01 Seedpot signed “Nampeyo”
1997-04 Redware bowl formed by Nampeyo, painted by Annie
2006-02 Avian design, badly broken bowl
2006-15 Small eagle-tail seedpot, painted by a young Fannie (?)
2007-12 Nampeyo/Fannie signed pot
2012-14 Jar with corrugated neck, painted by Fannie?
2013-03 Vase with tapered body and flared neck, avian designs
2013-12 Seedpot with geometric design painted by Nellie
2014-17 Effigy pot with mountain sheep heads and handle
2019-08 Jar with two inverted bird images
2020-11 Faded Un-tok-ina serpent on imperfectly-slipped bowl
B- = 7.8%
2013-13 Canteen with variation of eagle tail design
2014-13 Dish with insect variation of “bird hanging from skyband”
2014-20 Bowl with crossed feather design
2018-13 Small canteen with elegant avian image
2021-09 Bowl with spectacular but eroded design
C+ = 12.5%
2003-07 Formed by Nampeyo, painted by Nellie
2011-16 Bowl with avian design and Harvey label
2011-32 Cowboy hat ashtray, painted by Fannie?
2013-17 Small kaolin bowl with eroded man eagle design
2015-14 Polychrome jar with “NeMPayo” signature
2017-01 Vase with two Koyemsi effigy faces, probably painted by Nellie
2019-19 Talavera vase with creatures
2020-16 Transitional jar with “pure abstraction” designs
C = 3.1%
1997-01 Simple bowl signed “Nampeyo”
2002-11 Eroded bowl
D = 1.6%
2002-12 Tiny seedpot signed “Nampeyo”
Unranked (Contemporaneously labeled as “by Nampeyo,” but probably the work of Nellie.)
2010-20 Red clay bowl with mouse-like creatures and Harvey Co. “Nampeyo” Label
Part of the fun of connoisseurship is training one’s eye to see details of quality. It is the nature of such activity that different eyes, of course, will see different values. Others will see the pots in this collection differently than I do. Perhaps some of what was discussed here will allow others to evaluate and rank the many Nampeyo pots not in this collection. That should provide many hours of argument and discussion. I can hardly wait….