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A rare historic Hopi polychrome pottery
pitcher made by Nampeyo and signed for
her by Fannie Nampeyo, c.1920
This vessel is a most unusual and rare occurrence in the history of Native American ceramics, a pottery piece which was made by the great Hopi pottery Matriarch, Nampeyo of Hano (1858-1942) and signed with her name “Nampeyo”.
Nampeyo was well known not to read or write in English and was also known to never sign her pottery pieces so how did it come to pass that she signed this particular pottery vessel? Actually, the truth is she didn’t sign it. The piece was actually signed for Nampeyo by Nampeyo’s youngest daughter, Fannie Polacca Nampeyo (1900-1986), who could read and write in English.
If you compare the two upper case signatures pictured below, you will easily see that they were written by the same person. The signature in the left is Fannie Nampeyo’s signature on one of her own pottery vessels, the signature on the right is Fannie Nampeyo signing this Nampeyo vessel for Nampeyo. Observe the nearly identical way the word “Nampeyo” is written in both signatures. Fannie and her elder sister Annie were both known to have signed Nampeyo’s pottery pieces for her usually on important occasions such as the several important International expositions the Nampeyo family exhibited at. Fannie always signed in all upper case letters as seen here while Annie signed Nampeyo’s name in upper and lower case letters.
Nampeyo forming pottery vessels while
her daughter, Fannie paints them, c. 1925-30
In addition to its painted signature, this handled vase or pitcher bears all the “signature” hallmarks of Nampeyo’s exceptional pottery; it’s very beautifully and symmetrically formed, perfectly polished and fired and very finely painted with a bold, vivid, precisely-executed “Sikyatki-Revival” stylized bird and feather design. It is also quite possible that Fannie Nampeyo helped her Mother paint this design as she often did during this time period.
The vessel measures 7” in height, 5” in width at the widest point and is 3” in depth. It is in excellent original condition particularly given its century or more of age. There are no significant chips, no cracks and examination under UV light reveals no evidence of restoration or overpainting. This pitcher is a very fine and significant historic piece and an exceptional example of what can be achieved when two very talented artists work together toward achieving a common goal of excellence and beauty, worthy in every respect of their now world-famous name.
At left, Fannie Nampeyo's signature on a Fannie Nampeyo jar. At right, Fannie Nampeyo’s “Nampeyo” signature on this pottery pitcher. Fannie could write in English which Nampeyo could not and on rare, special occasions she signed her Mother's name on Nampeyo's pottery pieces as she did here on this pitcher.