Encounter the People
The Hopi are renowned for their pottery and are especially recognized for elegantly decorated, gold-hued pots made from clays found at First Mesa. Pots with white and red, slip-glazed
backgrounds decorated with similarly intricate designs are also produced by the Hopi.
All three types—gold, red, and white—bear fluid, geometric designs executed in red and/or black. Originally, pots with all three backgrounds were produced; but, after roughly 1300, pottery with a white background was made due to a switch from a reduced-oxygen wood-firing process to coal firing, which relies on an oxygen-rich firing environment.
From roughly 1325 to 1630, “yellow wares,” which bear background hues ranging from cream to peach to light orange and are decorated with red, black, and white designs, were produced both for use by the Hopi themselves and by surrounding groups with whom they established an extensive trade network. Undecorated and corrugated yellow wares were also produced. Sikyatki Polychrome, which features intricate geometric designs, as well as stylized representations of humans, animals, birds, and insects and symbolic representations of clouds, stars, and the sun, was made during this period.
With the coming of Spanish missionaries, who brought sheep with them to the Hopi mesas in the 1600s, ceramic firing with sheep dung was introduced and coal firing was abandoned. From the late seventeenth century until the late nineteenth century, relatively few examples of Hopi pottery survive; however, yellow wares continued to be produced.
In the mid nineteenth century, a number of Hopi briefly joined their ancestral neighbors at Zuni Pueblo. When they returned to Hopi, they brought with them Zuni influences in ceramic technique, and design. Although the Hopi continued to use the same clay as in the past, they slip-glazed it with an iron-free clay that yielded a grayish-white hue. This was then decorated with black or black and red designs. New pottery forms introduced through Zuni influence included serving bowls
embellished with geometric designs on their interior rims and often bearing rain bird designs on their exterior surfaces. Grayish-white glazed pottery continued to be produced through the late 1800s when a non-Native market in ceramics developed.
With the establishment of a trading post at Keams Canyon, Arizona, in the late 1800s, Hopi women began to produce ceramics for trade. At roughly the same time, the ancient ancestral site of Sikyatki was undergoing excavation and a Hopi potter named Nampeyo began to produce work inspired by the forms and designs of pottery unearthed there. Producing designs derived from such ancestral sources on unslipped, polished vessels, Nampeyo stimulated a revival of Sikyatki yellow ware. She gained wide renown, and this “revival” style of Hopi ceramics became extremely popular. Today, it is among the most collectable forms of Southwest Native American art.
By the late nineteenth century, decorated pottery was being made only at First Mesa. Today, with the development of an extensive collectors’ market in Southwest Native American art, Hopi pottery is produced throughout all three mesas in multiple forms, with both red- and white-slipped decorated forms nearly as commonly produced as decorated yellow wares.
Hopi pottery is made with the “coil and scrape” technique with clay that is hand dug on Hopi land. Surface designs are painted in natural pigments with a yucca leaf brush, and the pots are fired in open pits with sheep dung and cedar as fuel.
What to Look For:
Hopi ceramics of the highest quality possess thin, even walls with no cracks, pitting or chipping in the clay and evenly applied slip. The most aesthetically pleasing pieces bear flowing, symmetrical designs. Hopi potters sign their pieces on the bottom, and reputable sellers will provide documentation on request.
The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, a tribal entity entrusted with the protection and perpetuation of Hopi culture, advises potential collectors that not all Hopi pottery is intended for public consumption. Ceremonial and prehistoric pottery fall within this class of object. As a consequence, they advise, “You will not find this kind of pottery for sale in reputable galleries and shops. Most prehistoric pottery has been taken from burial contexts, and the Hopi people find non-Hopi ownership of these pots offensive. It is better not to buy prehistoric pottery.”
Hopi Pottery ( http://www.nau.edu )
- Allan, Laura Graves, “Contemporary Hopi Pottery,” Plateau, September 1984.
- Collins, John. Nampeyo, Hopi Potter: Her Artistry and Her Legacy. Northland Press, 1974.
- Colton, Mary-Russell Ferrell and Harold S. “An Appreciation of the Art of Nampeyo and Her Influence on Hopi Pottery.” In Hopi Indian Arts and Crafts. Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art, 1951.
- Dittert, Alfred E. Jr. and Fred Plog. Generations in Clay: Pueblo Pottery of the American Southwest. Northland Publishing, 1980.
- Harlow, Francis H. An Introduction to Hopi Pottery. Flagstaff, AZ: Museum of Northern Arizona Press, 1978.
- Hubert, Virgil. “Introduction to Hopi Pottery Design.” In Hopi Indian Arts and Crafts. Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art, 1951.
- Museum of Northern Arizona. An Introduction to Hopi Pottery. Museum of Northern Arizona, 1978.
- Nequatewa, Edmund. “Nampeyo, Famous Hopi Potter, 1859(?)-1942.” In Hopi Indian Arts and Crafts. Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art, 1951.
- Peckham, Stewart. From This Earth: The Ancient Art of Pueblo Pottery. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990.
- Sikorski, Kathryn A. Modern Hopi Pottery. Utah State University Press, 1968.
- Trimble, Stephen. Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery in the 21st Century, revised edition. SAR Press, 2007.