Hopi Tribe

A Hopi Legend

In the beginning the Pueblo peoples did not know how to make pottery. They had no bowls to cook their rabbit stew. They had no jars to carry cool water. The people had no pots to store their seeds for next year's planting. The Wise One in the Land Below saw how hard their life was. Taking some clay, she made one man and one woman. The Wise One named them Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man. She sent them onto the earth with a big ball of clay and her blessing for the Pueblo peoples. Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man found themselves in a pueblo. They sat down in the middle of the plaza and the wife set to work with the clay. Curious children crowded close. Women with their babies peered from the rooftops of the houses around the plaza.

Clay Old Woman rolled the clay into long coils between her two rough hands. Around and around she wound the coils to build a pot. The men standing on the log ladders propped against the houses leaned closer for a better look. Clay Old Woman made pot after pot. Her husband began to sing and dance. The longer his wife worked, the louder Clay Old Man sang. The more pots she made, the harder he danced. Puffs of dust danced in his footsteps. Clay Old Man became so caught up in his dance that he tripped. He fell hard against the largest, most beautiful pot. The pot shattered. The people held their breath, wondering what would happen next.

Clay Old Man collected all the potsherd. He handed them to Clay Old Woman and apologized. Clay Old Woman soaked the pieces of the broken pot in water and rolled them back into a ball of clay. Clay Old Man gave a piece of it to every woman in the pueblo. "You have watched my wife work," he said. "You know what to do." The women began to knead their clay. Clay Old Woman nodded to herself as she watched the women work. She was very pleased.

"The Wise One has given you a gift to treasure for all time," said Clay Old Woman. "Do not lose her gift. Never forget how to make pottery."

And the Pueblo peoples have never forgotten.   

*Hopi are sometimes considered as Pueblos but they are not part of the same tribe anymore 
Source: http://snowwowl.com/legends/hopi/hopi003.html
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Yellow geometric cup

Hopi: Style and Form

Although there are many the most common of Hopi pottery forms seen in this collection are based on the Sikyatki style revived by the artist Nampeyo. Sikyatki style created in the golden age of Hopi pottery utilizes black on yellow gemoetric design techniques, created using balck and yellow/orange mineral based paints, with a more durable lightly tempered vessel form fired at a higher tempature rate. These vessels  are typically formed into low rimmed bowls and vases with truncated necks. Hopi pottery is made with iron rich clays which gives the vessels a orange and yellow tint, the higher fireing tempature of the Sikyatki style gives the vessels a pink or orange blush tint. These distinc forms, color and gemetric helps to ditinguish the Hopi pottery techniques from other Southwest tribes.

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Black and orange geometric cup made by Nampeyo.


This collection only has one piece by Iris Nampeyo, but her influence on Hopi pottery cannot be understated. Nampeyo (1859-1942) was a Hopi-Tewa potter who is credited for creating a Sikyátki revival style for pottery making, utilizing ancient iconography and techniques on modern Hopi pottery. Nampeyo's interest in Sikyátki revival pottery is commonly attributed to the archaelogist J. Walter Fewkes, who did a major excavation of the Sikyátki ruins in 1895; however, anthropologists and collectors of Nampeyo's work have noted that she was already producing Sikyátki revival styles before Fewkes arrived to the area. Holly Chervnisk writes that Nampeyo was likely already producing pottery with these designs for Thomas Keam's trading post, which opened in 1874. Keam wanted to provide Hopi pottery to tourists and museums, both by excavating ancient Hopi sites and by encouraging the creation of pottery made with collectors in mind. However, access to Fewkes' extensive finds in the Sikyátki ruins gave Nampeyo more opportunity to study and revitalize the ancient Hopi styles.


Sikyátki was a former Hopi village located in what is now Navajo County. The land was occupied from the 14th to the 17th centuries; according to Hopi oral tradition, the village was destroyed due to conflict with the neighboring village of Wálpi. The Destruction of Sikyátki is a written telling of this oral tradition.

This 2-minute YouTube video shows Les Namingha, great-great-grandson of Iris Nampeyo, discussing a pottery piece with Native art dealer Marti Struever. They talk about motifs in the pot and how he was inspired by Nampeyo's work.

Works Referenced

Chervnisk, H. (n.d.). Appendix B: A Tale of Two Pots: Ancient Sikyatki and Bowl 1993-04: The Development of Nampeyo’s style. First People Pots: Native American Art Collection. https://firstpeoplepots.com/appendix-b-a-tale-of-two-pots-ancient-sikyatki-and-bowl-1993-04-the-development-of-nampeyos-style/

Nampeyo. (2021, February 22). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nampeyo

Tibbel, D. (1990) Nampeyo and the Sikyatki Revival: Creating a Legend with Hopi Ceramics. The University of British Columbia. https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0086877

Sikyátki. (2021, January 3). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikyátki

Struever, M. (2011, March 1). Les Namingha & Marti Struever with his "Sikyatki influence" jar [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyLeRDoSxrA

Snowowl.com. (n.d.). Clay Old Woman and Clay Old Man: A Hopi Legend. Snowowl.com: A Non-Commercial Native American Educational Website. http://snowwowl.com/legends/hopi/hopi003.html

Voth, H. R. (1905). The Traditions of the Hopi: 102. The Destruction of Sikyátki. SacredTexts.com. https://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/hopi/toth/toth105.htm