A Nampeyo Showcase

Ancestral Hopi Pottery

Sikyatki Polychrome bowl - detail of designDetail view of ASM# 4138, Sikyatki Polychrome bowl.

Nampeyo is famous for her Sikyatki-revival style pottery. Sikyatki is the name of an enormous ancient Hopi village on the east flank of First Mesa that was abandoned about 1500. The abandonment of Sikyatki is told in Hopi oral tradition as due to a dispute with Walpi, whose descendents still reside on top of First Mesa, that resulted in the destruction of Sikyatki.

Sikyatki was partially excavated by Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution in 1895. His excavations focused on the Sikyatki cemetery areas, as well as the rooms. Nampeyo visited the excavation with her husband Lesso was inspired by the finely made, impeccably decorated jars and bowls of pottery that were being removed. 

Sikyatki Polychrome jar Sikyatki Polychrome jar, around AD 1350-1625. Nampeyo’s signature "flying saucer" jars with complex design composition found their roots in Sikyatki Polychromes such as this stunning example. The shoulder motif that resembles a propeller provides excellent fodder for proponents of time travel theories. Diameter 41.1 cm.

It is clear that Nampeyo, and also other Hopi and Hopi-Tewa potters, were making innovative pottery before Fewkes’s work at Sikyatki through the encouragement of Thomas Keam who operated the trading post at what is now known as Keams Canyon. But, there is no doubt that the incredible pottery from Sikyatki was a major influence on Nampeyo’s style after 1895. This style emphasizes highly stylized birds, especially macaws. Unfortunately, the identities of the other late 19th century potters, who may well have rivaled Nampeyo in skill and creativity, appear to have been unrecorded .

Nampeyo also drew inspiration from and at times replicated earlier ancestral Hopi pottery types such as Jeddito and Awatovi Black-on-Yellows. In addition, motifs found on these wares, dating around 1300-1500, are incorporated into the designs of later Sikyatki pottery.

Fewkes published several books on the pottery at Hopi, especially Sikyatki wares.  These publications have since been reprinted from the original Bureau of American Ethnology series (see bibliography). In these he uses Hopi and his own folk classifications of the iconography to interpret the meaning of the designs.