Nampeyo was born to a Hopi father and Tewa mother on First Mesa in the Hopi Reservation of northern Arizona territory. By the time she was born (circa 1859), Native American pottery techniques and decorative arts had become diluted and intermingled with both European contact and the grouping of tribes into reservations. While pottery as an art form was still valued by tribes, most was utilitarian and not decorated. Nampeyo’s grandmother recognized her granddaughter's creative talents and taught her pottery.
Nampeyo was already becoming a highly regarded potter within her tribe when archaeologist Jesse W. Fewkes began an excavation of a nearby Pueblo ruin known as Sikyatki. Nampeyo’s husband was part of the local laborers hired to help dig. The excavation site contained many sherds (archaeological term for ceramic shards) from the years 1375 to 1625. Although Fewkes is sometimes credited with reviving Sikyatki pottery, it was actually Nampeyo who was studying,drawing, and recreating what she found among the ruins.
She did not copy items that she found, but rather drew inspiration and design forms from her artisan ancestors. She was able to recreate the same type of clay mixture and decorative style. Her work attracted the attention of the Smithsonian and Chicago Field Museum.
Even after she became a well established artist, she continued to revive pottery styles of other tribes. She was a featured artist and gave live demonstrations at Fred Harvey’s Hopi House luxury hotel near the Grand Canyon. She not only taught other women of her tribe this income-earning trade but her descendants are an artistic dynasty in the field of ceramics.