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Fannie Nampeyo

To pottery enthusiasts, the name Nampeyo is as well known as the name of Maria of San Ildefonso. Both were individuals credited with innovative pottery that sparked a revived interest in the craft and gave inspiration to generations of potters. But her story must be pieced together from events that happened around her rather than from her personal history, that of a humble woman living in a remote corner of northeastern Arizona on the Hopi Reservation.

It is known that her mother was a Tewa woman named White Corn from the village of Hano, on the northeastern end of First Mesa. Her father was from Walpi, the Hopi town on the opposite end of the mesa. Although Nampeyo was born into the Corn Clan of her mother, her father was from the Snake Clan and it was from that clan that Nampeyo received her name, "Snake-that-does-not-bite."

With the introduction of her new style of pottery, Nampeyo became increasingly well known and her pottery was sought after by collectors. In the 1920's, at the height of her success, Nampeyo began to go blind, but the gradual loss of her sight did not prevent her from continuing to make pottery. With the same sure hands, she continued to mold the forms she was familiar with, rendering the vessels almost perfectly round as she sat with her family and encouraged them to continue the tradition. However, she did become dependent on her husband to paint her pottery. Following his death in 1932, she turned to her daughters to paint the decorations she needed.

Most of the pieces made by Nampeyo during her lifetime were unsigned, as she never learned to write, but when Annie, her eldest daughter, began to help her paint her designs, she printed the name "Nampeyo" on the bottom of the vessels. Nampeyo herself kept up the practice. Nampeyo continued to mold her own impeccable bowls and jars until a few short years before her death on July 20, 1942. The legacy Nampeyo left behind was two-fold. Not only did she leave scores of artistically decorated and beautifully formed pieces of pottery for the appreciation of today's collectors, she also left a family who, through the generations, has kept alive and even extended the tradition of fine pottery and the innovations she introduced so long before.