Four pieces of pottery are nestled in a grouping at the end of an exhibit case inside the Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
They are all created by descendants of Hopi-Tewa master potter Nampeyo, which is Tewa for "The snake that does not bite." She was raised in Tewa Village on First Mesa and lived on the Hopi mesas until her death in 1942.
The first and largest ceramic piece in the group is a polychrome jar made by Nampeyo's daughter, Fannie Nampeyo.
At the other end is a monochromatic bowl fashioned by her granddaughter, Priscilla Namingha.
In between are pieces by her great-granddaughters -- a colorful parrot effigy jar by Rachel Sahmie and a smaller jar by her sister, Nyla Sahmie.
THE OLDEST HOPI SHOW
The pottery are an emotional addition to a new exhibit at MNA that will be debuted atnext weekend's Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture at the museum.
"There is a family connection to this section," says Kelley Hays-Gilpin, Danson Chair of Anthropology at the museum and professor of anthropology at NAU. "It's so exciting every time you look at them. You put four of them together, and they just have interaction -- it's like a story emerging that you didn't have when you just had one of them. Every one of these pots has a story; come to the festival and you can learn those stories."
This summer marks the 80th time the Hopi have come to Flagstaff to share their culture in what has often been called, "the oldest Hopi show in the world."
The festival continues just as the original founders of the Museum of Northern Arizona, zoologist Harold S. Colton and his wife, artist Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, intended it to be: a link between a remote people, the Flagstaff community and the rest of the world.
The Hopi show is the second in the annual Heritage Program series that includes Zuni, Navajo and Hispanic cultures living on the Colorado Plateau and in the Four Corners region.
The 20 select pottery pieces in the new exhibit have been added to MNA's collections in the last 30 years, and they represent "some of the most highly skilled potters in recent history," says Anne Doyle, the Heritage Program manager at the museum. Hopi potters will be attending this year's show, including Dorothy and Emerson Ami, potters from First Mesa, who will be giving pottery-making presentations.
HOPI DAILY LIFE UNFOLDS
Family connections are what bind the Hopi to their ancestral homeland, the pink outlines of the three Hopi mesas that etch the horizon, barely visible from locations northeast of Flagstaff.
They are the site of the Hopi village of Orayvi, which dates back more than a millennium and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.
"Some of their ancestors have undoubtedly been here for 12,000 years at the least," Hays-Gilpin says. "People have been migrating to the Hopi mesas, especially for the last thousand years, from all over southern Arizona and Mexico. Some say they came up the coast from South America, and certainly from the pueblos in New Mexico, and there's been a lot of intermarriage and migration with Zuni."
Availability of water on and around the mesas has been critical to habitation there.
"Farmers have been attracted to these springs coming out of the mesas," Hays-Gilpin notes. "Some of the springs are just part-way down, just below Hotevilla. It's amazing the gardens the ladies have there."
The springs, and of course rain, are critical to the sustainability of life on the mesas, where daily life unfolds in a natural manner year-round.
"Through the year, they're making beautiful art, they're hosting the katsina and they're making a living," Hays-Gilpin reflects. "They're also raising their kids, and raising corn in the fields is like raising their kids."
MYSTERY OF MESAS BECKON
The mysteries of the mesas attract visitors from all over the world, but each summer Hopi artisans travel to MNA to bring their arts and crafts and cultural expressions with them on the July Fourth weekend.
This year, 75 booths will be set up throughout the museum buildings and grounds, with Hopi vendors demonstrating their crafts and selling jewelry, paintings, rattles, prints, baskets, katsina dolls, glass works, weaving, pottery and quilts.
Robert Breunig, MNA director, says everyone at the museum is very excited to reach the 80-year mark for the Hopi Festival, which was originally known as the Hopi Craftsman Exhibition.
"From the beginning, it has been based on very strong personal relationships between the museum and Hopi people," Breunig observes. "So, generations of museum staff have gone out to Hopi and have gotten to know people and form continuous relationships with families."
Lectures during the festival, part of the Heritage Insights Presentations sponsored by Arizona Humanities Council, will help explain to visitors the origins and essence of the Hopi Way, which includes hard work, reverence for family ties, making things by hand, preservation of cultural traditions and sustainable living.
"The Hopi say, 'When all the grocery stores have burned down, we will still be able to feed ourselves,'" Hays-Gilpin says.
Flagstaff artist and educator Bob Lomadafkie, who has a long history with the museum from the time he was a little boy, will present an overview of Hopi pre-European history to the present, "Travels of the Hopi," which will touch on the Hopi ancestors and migrations -- where they came from, and where they are now.
He will also talk about the history of the Hopi festivals and MNA's relationship with the Hopi people, past and present.
SWEET SMELL OF BASKETS
For years, museum collection trips out to the mesas have cemented the tie between museum and Hopi.
Breunig, who was at the museum in the 1970s, says these trips used to be monumental.
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"In those days, we were going door to door," he recalls. "The families were waiting for us to come, because it was that time of the year. They'd disappear into the back and bring out baskets, jewelry and katsina dolls. We brought huge quantities back here to the museum, and we'd pile everything up in the office. You'd open the door and the office would have this sweet smell of baskets. It was heavenly. And the courtyard would just be loaded with baskets and pottery."
Things changed in the 1990s, he adds, when artists got agents and many family members started to work full-time jobs.
Today, Hopi artists bring their work to town and sell out of booths during the festival.
There are still a few collection trips, coordinated by Doyle, so work can be gathered from people who are entering the juried competition and also for those who want to be part of the show through the consignment area.
"It's true that times have changed, but we're still carrying on the spirit of the work of Mary-Russell and Harold," Doyle says.
By running their own vendor areas, artisans can talk to visitors and give them hands-on demonstrations.
"They come to the Hopi show to explain for themselves," Breunig says. "At all of our festivals, the tribes speak for themselves. We're not speaking for them."
SPIRIT INFORMS THE ARTS
Performances under the big Heritage Insights Tent let visitors see the Hopi traditional dances, hear songs and music, and learn of the Hopi language and stories through performances and talks.
Hopi educator Jennifer Joseph will serve as emcee and Hopi cultural interpreter.
"What we present here at the museum are non-ceremonial dances -- social dances," Doyle explains. "They are blessings for us to have the dances here in Flagstaff."
The Nuvatukya'ovi Sinom Dance Group will perform a clown dance, the Supai dance, celebrating the Havasupai people, and the Palhikwmana or water maiden dance.
Nuvatukya'ovi means "the high up place with snow," which is the Hopi name for the San Francisco Peaks.
Dancers will be dressed in clothing, weaving, jewelry and headdresses that they fashioned themselves.
"Religious, ceremonial dances are not performed here," Breunig says. "But spiritual ideas inform the arts, songs and dances here. You can't completely separate religious and social ceremonies."
Breunig says some of the Hopi ceremonies are very old, like the snake and flute ceremonies.
"Every year is different; it just depends on what the people of the village decide to do that particular year," he explains. "They have Home dances in most villages every year.
"It's a time when the katsina go home. They say good-bye. It's very poignant."
HOPI OUTREACH EFFORTS
Breunig says every time he goes out to Hopi, he learns something new.
"You have to approach all these things with an enormous amount of humility," he says. "You might know something, but you don't know much."
With social media, Hopi and other tribes are starting to reach out to the public to directly inform the larger community about their concerns, whether social or political, Hays-Gilpin says.
Also, for tourists out on the mesas, tribal organizers are now supplying artist trail maps that help folks find the various Hopi artisans.
Hays-Gilpin adds that the Hopi are making plans to get their own museum.
"They have plans, a mission statement and some architectural ideas," she says. "They already own some collections that we're storing for them. When Hopi get their own museum, that will certainly be a partnership with MNA."
Betsey Bruner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2255.
IF YOU GO...
WHAT: 80th annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture
WHEN: Saturday-Sunday, July 6- 7, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
WHERE: Museum of Northern Arizona, 3101 N. Fort Valley Road, Flagstaff
ADMISSION: Festival and regular museum admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors (65+), $7 students with student ID, $6 American Indians (10+), and $6 youth (10-17).
INFO: Call 774-5213 or visit www.musnaz.org for updates on event and artists.