Fannie Nampeyo was born on the Hopi Native American Reservation in Arizona in 1900. Having only completed school up to the third grade, Nampeyo primarily worked on a ranch with her husband, Vinton Polacca. Nampeyo’s mother, also called Nampeyo, was the matriarch of the Hopi-Tewa Corn Clan and was well-known for her ceramics that followed the ancient pottery traditions of the Hopi people. Though she was taught ceramics at a young age, Nampeyo did not seriously explore pottery-making until her twenties, when her mother’s eyesight began to fail and she needed to help her mother decorate her pots.
Though many of her earlier ceramic works were collaborations with her mother, Nampeyo later developed a reputation for herself by creating elaborate and detailed ceramics in a similar style to her mother’s. The Hopi pottery tradition consisted primarily of practical vessels, such as jars, saucers, and cups, decorated with black and red patterns on yellow clay. Nampeyo became the matriarch of the Hopi-Tewa Corn Clan after her mother’s death and passed on the Hopi pottery-making traditions to her seven children before her own death in 1987. Today, several of her children work as studio potters and continue making pottery in the style made famous by their mother and grandmother.