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Nampeyo (Hopi-Tewa, 1859–1942), polychrome jar
ca. 1930s
Clay, pigment
13 x 21 cm
Gift of R.E. Mansfield

“When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint. But now I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.”
—Nampeyo, 1920s

Nampeyo’s art was a gift she used to express the life of her ancestors. The design she painted on this jar is commonly called the migration pattern, a symbolic portrayal of the migration of the Hopi. Abstract bird wings create a never-ending pattern of movement that envelops the vessel. The design also alludes to waves of water, which speaks of the migrations of people through the seas.

When this pot was created, probably in the early 1930s, Nampeyo was in her mid-seventies. Her eyesight was fading, and her daughters often assisted her in her work. Before this time, she had traveled to the Grand Canyon to demonstrate her pottery. In 1910, her art took her to an exhibit in Chicago, a rare journey for a Native artist at that time.

Like Pueblo ancestors, this jar itself has experienced a migration. The vessel began its journey in Hopi lands. All the places it has seen since then are unclear, though one clue is written in pencil on the bottom of the vessel—“7/29/34 C. M. Armack,” presumably the date of first “collection” and the collector’s name. After being acquired by the National Museum of the American Indian in 2005, the jar sits here, eager to share the history of its own migration as well as the journeys of Nampeyo and her people.

—Les Namingha (Zuni/Tewa–Hopi)

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