View “Inside the Hopi Creators’ World”
Although she closed her Santa Fe gallery and retail space, Singular Couture, in 2020, artist and collector Sarah Nolan still commissions the hand-painted, one-of-a-kind silk coats for which her shop was well-known. Working with about 20 different artisans, including eight who are Native American, Nolan now showcases these wearable objets d’art from her own studio, Singular Joy, and the proceeds are donated to local charities. Some of Nolan’s favorite pieces have titles as memorable as the garments themselves—”Waving Moons,” “Celestial Waters,” “A Change of Seasons”—and are meticulously decorated with Hopi symbols of rain clouds, water, the sun, fire, cosmic dust, stars, and the night sky. These coats are the work of Hopi artisan Lorne Honyumptewa, who lives with his wife and three children in Tuba City, Arizona, just outside the Hopi village of Moenkopi.
“Lorne’s work is outstanding,” says Nolan. “Each piece is unique and distinctive. I myself have a collection [of his coats], because I couldn’t bear to sell them to anyone else.”
Moenkopi, Lorne’s ancestral home, has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century. Today it is completely surrounded by the lands of the Navajo Nation. Tuba City (pop. 9,098) lies to the north of Moenkopi, within the Navajo Nation, though a number of Hopi people also live there. Many of the mud-and-stone dwellings of Lower Moenkopi do not have running water or electricity. Ladders are used to ascend and descend the multi-story adobe structures and to reach the dirt roads below. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is presently closed to all except its residents, and access is guarded at other times.
As a whole, Native Americans have been the ethnic group hardest hit by the pandemic; mortality rates in Native communities are estimated to be as much as 2.8 times the national average. In the Southwest, where Native tribes have maintained a significant presence, many close-knit Indigenous communities have been devastated. And, tragically, many elders—the keepers of tribal languages and traditional stories—have been lost. Though curfews and stay-at-home orders have now been lifted and vaccination rates have been high, many mesas and villages in this region remain closed, and strict mask mandates continue. A cloud of pain and shock lingers.
It is difficult to convey just how remote Hopi Land is. A sovereign nation within a nation, it exists as a separate world, a microcosm where the ancient and the sacred are part of the everyday; where the land is the weft and warp of Hopi identity; and where ancestral knowledge continues to guide generations of Native artists and craftspeople. Visitors from outside the community are rare.
“I knew Lorne’s work from my photography for Singular Couture,” says Santa Fe-based photographer Kitty Leaken. The Honyumptewa family graciously invited Leaken to visit, and to photograph this intimate glimpse inside their Hopi creators’ world. Eager to learn more about the artist and his family, Leaken volunteered to deliver three sets of pre-cut silk patterns to Tuba City—about a 6-hour drive from Santa Fe.