Iris Nampeyo was a Hopi-Tewa potter whose works have remained phenomenal within the confines of art. Born in 1860, Nampeyo, she was trained in the common art of pottery at the time and later she began making and firing pottery that dated back to the 15th century. I chose Nampeyo because her works have traversed barriers of time and her works still remain inspirational today. What interests me about this artist is the fact that she made art that was unique to her time. She revolutionized pottery by making her own style taking inspiration form the traditional designs called Hopi Revival pottery.
Nampeyo’s works are characterized by their smooth finish and intricate paintings that defined her. Her shapes and designs were unique to those produced by the Hopi people. Her paintings on her pottery told a tale of the migration of her people at a time and they were equally inspiring. By incorporating 15th and 17th century art into her pottery, Nampeyo’s works stood out at a time when making money in pottery did not require uniqueness. Her designs used mathematical designs as well as people’s faces that made her pottery both beautiful and appealing. Rather than conforming to mediocrity, Nampeyo sought to make pottery that would change how people perceived art, and she did.
Several things about Nampeyo’s biography stood out from learning about her. For instance, she is documented to have left the Arizona reservation only thrice, and each time was to promote her business. She seemed to love the confines of her locality where she spent all her time making beautiful pottery for the Fred Harvey Company and later for the world when she went to Chicago to exhibit her work. Another intriguing fact about Nampeyo is that although she could neither read, speak or write in English, she became a photo symbol of the Hopi.
Nampeyo was born on the first Mesa that was at Hano Pueblothat was mainly made up of descendants of people from the Tewa Tribe. The Tewa tribe originated from the Northern Rio Grande of New Mexico. Nampeyo’s tribe had fled west to the Hopi lands around 1702 in search of protection from the ‘marauding’ ute’ people. Naturally, she was born into the Tewa tribe, same as her mother. It was the custom and culture of the Hopi people to indulge in ceramics that had beautiful designs painted on them. This was the only livelihood of the Hopi people and naturally, Nampeyo followed suit. Also, being a Hopi native, she used the traditional norm of using sheep’s bones in the fires that were believed to make the Hopi people’s pottery whiter and smoother. It is only from her ethnic background that Nampeyo embraced pottery beauty and art in general.
Throughout her career as a potter, Nampeyo faced several challenges. Most of these challenges were not too influential in the pottery the made, but some minor setbacks had her withhold some potential. For example, living in a reserve did not offer her much room for exploration of ancient designs. Since she was passionate about 15ht century designs, she travelled twice to archaeological sites to get information and some design sketches to be used in her works. The second challenge was that she was not able to sell her pottery directly to the consumer since the Fred Harvey Company was not allowed to buy directly from her. In turn, she was forced to use middle men who cut into her profits. This changed in 1898 when she and her husband travelled to Chicago to sell her pottery. The third challenge was that she lost her vision as a result of trachoma in 1925. However, she continued making pottery by touch but was assisted in painting by her daughters and other members of the family.
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