Helen Naha, Feather Woman

Helen Naha at work
Helen Naha in her studio

Helen Naha (1922-1993) was the original Feather Woman. She was a daughter-in-law to Paqua Naha (1st Frog Woman) and sister-in-law to Joy Navasie (2nd Frog Woman). Between Helen and Paqua two modern dynasties in the Hopi pottery world were born. Helen's son Burel, daughters Rainy and Sylvia and granddaughter Tyra are recognized potters on their own.

Helen was mostly a self-taught potter but she did get a few tips from watching the in-laws. She began making pottery around 1945 but it was about six years before any of her pots began to sell. At first she was copying Joy's Sikyatki Revival designs but soon decided that didn't work for her. Then she began to develop her own style of pottery and in contradistinction to the designs that came from the diggings in the Sikyatki area, many of Helen's designs came from pot shards found in the ruins of Awatovi, a village that was destroyed right after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Her hallmark style was hand-coiled, highly finished pottery with a white slip and black and red decorations. She is the modern originator of the Awatovi star and bat wing patterns. Helen also signed her pots with a stylized feather symbol. Her descendants have signed their pots with their own versions of that feather ever since. The Naha and Navasie families are probably the primary producers of Hopi whiteware (also known as Walpi Polychrome) today.

Helen was recognized by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts through the creation of the Helen Naha Memorial Award, to be given for Excellence in Traditional Hopi Pottery.

Bird eyes and a geometric design on a polychrome jar
Polychrome jar with bird eyes and a geometric design
2 1/4 in H by 3 in Dia
Rain bird and geometric design on a polychrome jar
Polychrome jar with rain bird and geometric design
2 1/2 in H by 2 1/2 in Dia
Geometric design on a black and white jar
Black and white jar with geometric design
1 1/2 in H by 3 in Dia
Geometric design on a black and white jar
Black and white jar with geometric design
2 1/4 in H by 2 in Dia
Red and black Awatovi star and bird element designs on a whiteware jar
Whiteware jar decorated with Awatovi star and bird element designs
5 in H by 5 1/4 in Dia
Geometric design on a polychrome white ware seed pot
Polychrome white ware seed pot decorated with a geometric design
3 3/4 in H by 7 in Dia
Photo of Helen Naha courtesy of Tom Mears, CCA-by-SA 3.0 License
Pottery photos courtesy of Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery