© Laura Walker

Al Qöyawayma (active 1970-present)

“Al Qöyawayma’s pottery is legendary. Connoisseurs and critics speak of its sculptural perfection, pristine eleegance, profound, syncronous relationships, and sublime, fluid forms. For the potter himself, the meaning is simple and clear. It is ‘evidence of the spiritual influence on all men”
-Ron McCoy (author)

Qöyawayma, the only child of Mayme and Alfred (originally Poliyumptewa), was raised in the San Fernando Valley and attended Van Nuys High School. He is a 1961 graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. He has a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Southern California.

His artistic work incorporates “crosscultural elements” and a “minimalist” style. Many of his pots include representations of maize, which is a sacred part of Hopi religion. “For the people of the mesas corn is sustenance, ceremonial object, prayer offering, symbol, and sentient being unto itself. Corn is the Mother in the truest sense that people take in the corn and the corn becomes their flesh, as mother milk becomes the flesh of the child.”

Qöyawayma finds the clay and processes it himself. He uses a spiral coiling technique, and fires his pots at a “very high temperature” which “results in vitrification of the clay which creates a smooth and polished surface.” He uses coal to produce these high temperatures, which is a technique long used by his Coyote clan of the Hopi.

Qöyawayma learned traditional Hopi ceramics and legends from his aunt Polingyasi Elizabeth Qöyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White). She is the author of a book published in 1977 called No Turning Back: A Hopi Woman’s Struggle to Live in Two Worlds in which she wrote: “Evaluate the best there is in your own culture and hang onto it, for it will be foremost in our life; but do not fail to take the best from other cultures to blend with what you already have. Don’t set limitations on yourself”

Pottery expert Lee M. Cohen has written that “Nothing quite like Al Qoyawayma’s pottery has ever existed before, though his work could not possibly assume its sublime form without the artist’s profound appreciation for the ways of his Hopi ancestors.”

Qöyawayma received a Fulbright fellowship to assist the Maori people of New Zealand rebuild their tradition of ceramic pottery making. He has consulted with the Smithsonian Institution on ancient Sikyátki ceramics.

For Additional Information:
American Indian Art Series: Hopi-Tewa Pottery (500 Artist Biographies) by Gregory Schaaf


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