In 1896, the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology excavated the ruins of an Indian pueblo on the Hopi Reservation in northwest Arizona. Among those who examined the artifacts at the dig was Nampeyo, a Hopi-Tewa woman, who was overwhelmed by the beauty and artistry of her unknown forbears' work. Nampeyo's enthusiasm for Hopi pottery resulted in a renaissance of Hopi style and a birth of a conservative, highly traditional method of pottery fabrication.
Through Nampeyo's daughter Annie and granddaughter, Rachel Namingha, the tradition has reached Jean Sahme, Rachel Namingha's granddaughter. Sahme (Sak'Honsee, Tobacco Flower Girl) is a First Mesa Hopi-Tewa potter whose career as a potter began when she was 24, when her grandmother began to interest Sahme in her own techniques of crafting pottery. Hopi pottery generally follows very traditional lines of design and fabrication, especially if the pressure to maintain the tradition comes from family members. As a result Sahme's pottery adheres to the principles of pottery making which she has received from Nampeyo through four generations of potters. Her favorite designs, the migration pattern, the butterfly and the rain clouds, reflect images which she has seen on scores of traditional Hopi pots.
Sahme is quite conscious of preserving a great tradition in her work. She lives a traditional life on First Mesa, Arizona, which allows her to maintain a spiritual orientation in her work and to remain linked to the natural elements of her craft. The result of her efforts is an uncommonly vivid, living link to generations of vibrant artistry and craftsmanship for non-artists who appreciate Sahme's fine achievement.