(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kuwan-venga, Somana Yaiva, an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe from Hotevilla Chishi’diné Clan, is a textile artist and quilter with a background in oil and acrylic painting.
Yaiva, comes from an artistic family including her late father, Steven Thayer of Wisconsin, a technical and creative writer as well as a noted public television producer. Her mother, Rosanda Suetopka, is a musician and wood artist. Kuwanvenga is Yaiva’s Badger-Butterfly Clan name meaning beautiful colors. She was named by her godmother, Sonwai, Verma Nequatewa of Hotevilla Village, who is a world-renowned goldsmith and the niece of the late Charles Loloma.
This is the first of a regular series of Yaiva’s articles showcasing native artists in the Navajo Hopi Observer.
Contact her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or at 928-773-0082 from the hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.)
FLAGSTAFF — From humble beginnings in Walpi to worldwide popularity and fame, Lawrence Namoki, has changed little from the time of his introduction to the art world in 1985.
His calm thoughtful speech coupled with the radiant charm of his wife Lucinda, creates an environment that makes it easy delve into what his art entails.
The vessels that he creates are unsurpassed. Not only is the overall design of the detailing delicately intricate and well executed, the vessel body itself is finely shaped and near symmetrical. His katsina dolls show the same kind of attention to detail and the refinement of the craft.
Namoki takes a lot of pride in each piece he designs.
“I look at my pieces like I am a buyer, and I ask myself what I would look for in a piece of pottery. I design my pieces to be an investment for my buyers, and with that in mind, I make sure that the designs are well planned and clean. For me, the effort is well worth the time that I put into each piece,” Namoki said.
He stressed the importance of Hopi mythology to Hopi artists.
“The stories from my grandfathers, my kwaa’as and my uncles, my daha’s, all help me design my pieces,” he said. “My biggest influences as far as teaching me about Hopi history has been my Uncle James Tewaguna.”
Namoki pointed out he enjoys it when local visitors drop by.
“I like it when I am at my studio and the elders come by to have some coffee and talk about the old stories,” he said. “Sometimes younger potters will come over and ask for advice on how to fix something they are working on, or to ask about different things about mistakes that I may have made a long time ago, and what I did to remedy it.”
An article in the Southwest Indian Art Magazine this year has really propelled Namoki’s popularity into something equivalent to being a rock star. In the past few years, he has acquired several high profile collectors, including the Smithsonian Institute, Britain’s Royal Family, Bill and Melinda Gates, the King and Queen of Spain and Jean Claude Van Dame. Yet throughout this surge of popularity, he still retains an acute sense of humility and reverence for his Hopi life.
Namoki said he never tires of educating people about pottery and giving words of encouragement to young artists. He has traveled throughout the country giving talks at colleges and high schools about Hopi pottery and about his life. Namoki patiently explains to all who will listen the intricacies of Hopi mythology being incorporated into his pots.
“There is something that all young artists who are trying to get into the larger markets should start now,” he said. “There is such stiff competition for younger artists now, you have to start early. The best thing I can tell them about my key to success is that I want them to be themselves.”
He also urged them to learn more about their craft by talking to its masters.
“Talk to older artists. Even my studio is open to younger artists who want to talk to me,” Namoki said. “Everyone is on the same level in my studio. Even my youngest daughter knows that she is not going to be treated different just because she is family. We are all learning, and that is what is most important.”
Namoki draws his own inspiration from his mentors and lists Nathan Youngblood, from Santa Clara Pueblo, as the one who inspires him most affectionately calling him the “Master of all Potters.” Other artistic influences he mentioned are Al Qöyawyma, the late Charles Loloma and the late R.C. Gorman.
Namoki is the only Hopi board member on the Southwest Art Foundation, out of Gallup, N.M., that is comprised mostly of Navajo (Diné) art masters and a several from Zuni. The foundation provides scholarships to those seeking careers in the field of fine art.
The son of Rosalie Kaye and Maxwell Namoki, he has three daughters, that he proudly points out are also potters.
Currently Namoki’s pieces are featured in the Andrea Fisher Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. His studio can be reached at 928-737-2090 during daytime hours.