An interview with Dextra Nampeyo about her Grandmother

April 16, 2016

An interview with Dextra Nampeyo about her Grandmother

Dextra Nampeyo Quotskuyva, renowned Hopi-Tewa potter, paid the Arizona State Museum a visit on November 20, 1998. The great-granddaughters of Nampeyo through daughter Annie and granddaughter Rachel, Dextra was here to receive the first Arizona State Museum Lifetime Achievement Award. She was accompanied by her daughter Hisi (Camille) and Hisi’s family, all of whom are also active potters.

Dextra Nampeyo with Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented by ASM's Associate Director Hartman Lomawaima, in 1998

Dextra Nampeyo with Lifetime Achievement Award which was  presented by ASM's Associate Director Hartman Lomawaima, in 1998.

Here is an excerpt from a taped interview with Dextra. In the interview, she commented upon pottery in Arizona State Museum collections, including a piece with corrugated neck featured in the photo gallery.

Some have suggested that such pieces represent a period when Nampeyo’s failing eyesight inspired her to experiment with textures rather than design. Dextra expressed the opinion that Nampeyo was just being creative, and then she launched into a conversation of poignant recollections and musings on the topic of Nampeyo, her mother Rachel:

"……. I think with experience in my own eyesight, the first thing I thought of was, uh-oh, I’m not going to be able to design. What am I going to do if I can’t see, and be able to design my potteries? The first thing I thought was, well, if my hands can feel. My mom had already warned me about it, you know. "You’re going to get blind just like I did." So I knew in advance that [I] would lose [my] eyesight. So she would tell me, "My daughter, be sure you have your hands. Train your hands so that it feels the pottery. The wall, the thickness of molding, Where you are, and especially when you are rubbing your pottery. Make sure your hands are good enough so that training, so that you know just how thick your potteries are, where it is thick and where it is thin. And with molding, when you get blind, it is going to show you how you are molding , when you are blind you can still go around it with your feeling. So it won’t be too bad, if you can’t design. You will be able to just mold it and to rub it. Because you have a feeling of it. You know how the pottery feels, in the mouth [of the pottery] and everything."

And so if [Nampeyo were blind] she would not have designed it. If Nampeyo had gone blind at that time when she did this one, she would have left it [unpainted]. And maybe she [could] do all that corrugating [instead]. But she was able, still, she was still able to design yet.

Like with my mom, you know she got so bad. It was kind of sad. Yeah, when she would design and you can tell how bad her design had gotten and she could not even put it together and sometimes she could not even connect them, and it was real sad. When she got real bad, I would fill it in for her. Just like Nampeyo did, my mom did for Nampeyo, too. My mother used to design for her toward the last, too. She did a lot of designing for her.

She had a lot of people bring her a lot of things, Nampeyo. She would get gifts, you know, from different people. Her customers or people who came to see her. And they would bring scarves, and maybe a shawl, or stockings—they used to wear those cotton stockings. And she would bring…One day she came down and she was asking my mom. We were just…well we were grown up, we should have known better then. And I noticed she was asking to design for her, she brought some pots down for her to design. And she said I brought you a stocking. And [at] that time, you know, that was really something. For our mothers, those cotton stockings. They don’t wear just one, they have double of them. She was always glad to get those from her, and she had somebody to design for her. So I hope Camille gives me some cotton stockings when I can’t see. (laugh). [I guess] I would have to give her cotton stockings!

But it is really bad. It is really sad when it's all you want to do is make potteries and your can’t see, you know. And I thought, well I can’t do anything [when my eyesight fails] and I might as well not do anything at all. ‘Cause I know my mother had already prepared me for, you know, about your eyesight. When you are doing fine work, you are really straining your eyes a lot. And, so, our Nampeyo design, the migration design is very hard. This is all I did when I started to make pottery. I would do nothing but migration design. All those years I did nothing but that."

Dextra Nampeyo Quotskuyva
Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona
November 20, 1998