Hopi Pottery is a historic art that has been passed down through many generations. The Hopi Indians have lived in the same area of the Southwest (present day Arizona) even before the time of Columbus. The prehistoric ancestors of the Hopi Indians were the Anasazi Indians. The Hopi Indians lived on desert land at the foot of the mesas. Hopi women made beautiful clay bowls, baskets, and jewelry. The art of pottery making came to these early Pueblo Indians by Meso-American Indians around 700A.D. Between this time and 1400 A.D., grey utilitarian ware was being produced for everyday needs which eventually evolved into a more colorful and decorative style of pottery.
The 14th century became an extremely active period for the Hopi potters. New clays and firing techniques were employed transforming soft textured pots into harder, smoother and denser ones. The materials and techniques evolving during that time period resulted in a new form of pottery called sikyatki polychrome. This style, which involves painting directly on the polished body of the pot itself, continued until the late 1700’s. Nevertheless, because of wars with the Spanish and other minor tribal disputes with the Navajo and Apache, Hopi pottery production almost completely vanished around 1800.
However, in 1860, a woman named Nampeyo revived pottery making. She was considered to be responsible for the renaissance in Hopi pottery. Nampeyo single-handedly revived the art of pottery making by exclusively using the polychrome technique. Moreover, by the late 1800’s, as the railroad was introduced to Arizona, it brought numerous traders who sought to fill the demands of an enlarging tourist market. Therefore, Nampeyo’s pottery was highly prized and other Hopis, inspired by her, began fashioning their own work using similar techniques.
The technique the Hopis use in order to build their pots is a simple, yet a very complicated process. This methods called the coiling method. The first step is to choose the clay to make the pot. The Hopis choose the clay by tasting it, and they favor sweet clay over bitter clay because of its excellent quality. Then, the clay is taken little by little and rolled into a sausage. The sausage is stacked up on to the skeleton to form a new layer, also blending with the previous layer. This process is repeated several types until it forms a shape desired by the potter. After the potter has formed the shape, the surface of the pot is sanded and highly polished. Next, after this, the pot is fired. Pottery roasting/firing is done outdoors. A fire is built to warm the area, and on top of this hot ash a metal sheet or grate is set. On this metal crate pottery is placed and shielded with smaller broken pieces of pottery, then a wall of sheep dung is built around this and fired. This process may take up to four hours to complete and is also the most crucial part in the pottery making process because the pots are very breakable and fragile at this stage.
After the pottery has been carefully fired, it is then painted and decorated. The pottery is painted with native vegetations and minerals. The majority of the pottery is painted with natural dark paint, processed from a weed called Ausa. There are other several colors of pottery, beige or tan color, some white, and some red color is used by a few potters.
The designs and symbols vary from one artist to the other. Designs are usually of eagles, parrots, roadrunners, migration patterns, eagle tail, pueblo style villages, rain ; rain clouds, lighting, water waves and other life germinating symbols such as corn. The symbols are designed in order to represent various things within the Hopi community. Moreover, the usage of color also symbolizes and represents something.
Hopi pottery is essential in continuing the traditions and ways of life of the Hopi Indians. The tradition of pottery making has been passed down to many generations. The ancient potters passed their skills on to succeeding generations, many of whom are Hopi potters today. Therefore, Hopi pottery plays a crucial role in continuing cultures and traditions of the Hopi Indians.