Hopi potters draw on a tradition going back centuries. The ancestors of the Hopi made gray utility ware as long ago as A.D. 700. The ancient potters developed black on white styles, black on red, and finally polychromes. In the late 1800s, outsiders began to appreciate the artistry of Hopi potters. This new demand sparked what has been called the revival period for Hopi pottery.
The ancient potters passed their skills on to succeeding generations, many of whom are Hopi potters today. Although First Mesa is the most well-known for its pottery, Hopi potters can be found throughout the Hopi mesas. All authentic Hopi pottery is handmade by the coil and scrape technique.
Hopi potters do not use a pottery wheel or make mold-poured pottery. They use the same techniques as their ancestors, hand-painting the designs with yucca leaf brushes and using natural materials provided by their environment. The pots are then fired in open firing areas.
Modern Hopi potters make their pottery in the traditional manner. The clay is hand dug on the Hopi mesas and hand processed. The pots are carefully hand constructed using the coil and scrape techniques their ancestors taught them. The paints used are from naturally occuring materials. For example, black paint is made by boiling Beeweed for a long time until it becomes very dark and thick. It is then dried into little cakes which are wrapped in corn husk until ready for use. It is called guaco.
The arduous nature of the production itself can severely limit the amount of production a given potter can achieve. Sometimes this can be offset by the contributions of family and friends in the preparation of the materials themselves.
The intricate and beautiful designs are painted free hand using a yucca leaf brush. The pots are then fired in the open air out on the mesa using sheep dung and cedar as a heat source. Prehistoric potters did not have domestic animals to provide dung, but modern potters prefer it for its rapid, even heat.
Some Hopi pottery is ceremonial in nature and not intended for public consumption. 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.
The modern era of Hopi pottery production began with Nampeyo of Third Mesa who was a Tewa & from Hano. The Tewa people moved to Hopi around 1700 AD and settled in First Mesa bringing with them a distinctive culture and language.
Nampeyo revived the ancient Sikyatki polychromes which are generally attributed to the period between 1450 and 1550 AD.
Today Hopi potters are producing a wide variety of pottery styles. One can expect to find black-on white, black-on-red, black and red on white slip, incised pottery, and carved pottery. Prices for Hopi pottery can range for a few dollars for the smallest of traditional style pottery to many thousand of dollars for intricately carved pieces.
Known Hopi potters include Nampeyo, Nampeyo’s daughters Fannie, Annie, & Nellie, Dextra Quotskuyva, Thomas Pollacca, Gary Pollacca, Carla Nampeyo Claw, Loren Hamilton Nampeyo, Lorna Adams, Verla Dewakuku, Alma Tahbo, Garnet pavatea, Joy Navasie, Violet Huma Grace Chapella, and many others to numerous to mention but equally important.