Elegance From Earth: Hopi Pottery



Wall text from the exhibition

Hopi pottery is centuries old. It is made from a few basic ingredients -- arth and water, plus mineral and vegetal dyes for paints. But in the hands of a gifted artisan, guided and inspired by a long and rich tradition, these humble elements are transformed into stunning works of art possessing exceptional beauty and grace.
For many, pottery is a family tradition, with children learning the basic steps from other family members. Often, but not always, mothers, aunts or grandmothers teach the techniques to younger relatives. In the past, designs were shared with and used by family members. Often, younger potters brought an original interpretation to the art form, referencing family designs but adding creative motifs of their own. More recently, potters have adapted designs they liked or created new ones.
Pottery traditions, like those of other American Indian art forms, change and become re-invented through time. Imaginative potters continue to work with centuries-old techniques using clays, paints and firing methods that their ancestors used while creating new shapes and painting unique designs.
The first potter to be known and recognized by name was the Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo, who was making pottery at a time when American Indian artisans were largely anonymous and did not generally sign their works. Nampeyo's pottery was distinctive because she revived the shape of a low-shoulder, large spherical jar based on those made at the village of Sikyatki in the 1600s. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, she created detailed and complex designs inspired by Sikyatki pottery.
Nampeyo was photographed widely and her pottery was sought by photographers, anthropologists and collectors of American Indian art. She also demonstrated pottery-making at the Grand Canyon in 1905 and 1907 and at Chicago in 1910. She had several children, and generations have followed who are recognized for their pottery. Her great-granddaughter Dextra Quotskuyva has received much recognition for her innovative designs and has taught some techniques to other family members, including her daughter Camille (Hisi) and nephews Steve Lucas and Les Namingha.
Paqua (Frog Woman)
Several families of potters at Hopi Pueblo create pottery with distinctive designs. One pottery matriarch is Paqua Naha, also known as Frog Woman for the symbol of a frog she placed on the base of her pottery. Late in life, she developed a distinctive style of pottery with black and deep-red designs on stark white-slipped pottery that her daughter Joy Navasie and Joy's children and grandchildren continued.
Joy Navasie also signed her pottery with a frog design that bears subtle variations from the design her mother used. Joy's children use the hallmark as well but add an initial or at times a tadpole to distinguish their work.
Helen Naha (Feather Woman)
Paqua Naha's son Archie married another talented potter, Helen Naha, who signed her pottery with a feather design. In the 1970s, Helen Naha created a series of abstract black-on-white designs based on pottery sherds from the ancient village of Awatovi. Throughout her lifetime, she continued to experiment with designs and pottery shapes. Her two daughters, Rainy and Sylvia, elaborated on other patterns, creating intricate and detailed fine-line designs. Both daughters used the feather design as a hallmark, adding an initial or a first name to distinguish their work.

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