Josephine Nahohai

Zuni Pueblo

Josephine Nahohai (1912-2007) was a Zuni Pueblo potter. She started out earlier in life making jewelry but her aunt, Myra Eriacho, suggested she try pottery because the materials were provided by Clay Mother and were considerably less expensive.

Josephine's mother, Lawatsa, was a potter and a weaver. She made the water jars that Josephine carried on her head to bring water home from the Zuni River. Later in life, Josephine performed as one of the Olla Maidens, a Zuni group of women dancing in native dress with water jars balanced on their heads, just like in the old days. When Josephine made her first steps toward making pottery, she remembered as much as she could of watching her mother gathering and processing clay and making pottery.

A friend showed her how to make the guaco (boiled-down Rocky Mountain beeweed) she needed to decorate her pieces. That same friend gave her her first real polishing stone. She also studied with Daisy Hooee, a descendant of Nampeyo who had married Sidney Hooee, a Zuni silversmith, and moved to his home at Zuni. Daisy was one of the principals in the Olla Maidens and beginning around 1960, she taught the ceramics classes at Zuni High School. She was a consummate Hopi potter who learned the finer points of making Zuni pottery from Catalina Zunie. Daisy always taught her Zuni students to make Zuni pottery with Zuni clay and use traditional Zuni designs.

Josephine started making pottery in the 1950s. In 1986 she was awarded the Katrin H. Lamon Fellowship from the School of American Research in Santa Fe. With that stipend, she was able to take her sons Milford and Randy and Randy's wife, Rowena, with her to the Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. There they studied the ancient Zuni pottery those museums had, even in their storage rooms. They copied as many of the designs they saw as they could. When they returned to Zuni, all of them began using stylized versions of the old designs they had found instead of the designs they had previously been using. It injected new life into the world of Zuni pottery.

Milford and Randy became excellent potters on their own and they often collaborated with Josephine. In 2006, Josephine was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

A more contemporary version of a Zuni owl
Polychrome Zuni owl figure
5 in Dia by 4.5 in H
In collaboration with Milford Nahohai

Zuni Pueblo Potters