|Germantown blanket, ca. 1900, Diné artist.|
In April we went to the Bard Graduate Center in New York City to see a small but powerful exhibit on the artistry of Navajo weaving, Shaped by the Loom. "Navajo" is a term of Spanish colonial origin; the people refer to themselves as Diné, but I will use the term interchangeably in this post.
| Info and samples of wool raised by Navajo.|
From the wall text:
Each element of a Navajo weavng is carefully planned and executed. To create a balanced composition, a weaver considers the formation of motifs, the placement and scale of design elements, and the combination of colors. Symmetry is important, but fifth-generation Diné textile artist Lynda Teller Pete encourage flexibility. As she explains, "your rug or textile is at the mercy of its environment," which often causes the warps to stretch and shrink, altering a weaving's dimensions and the proportions of the design. Historically, the weavers worked with the natural colors of the sheep's wool. The color palette is more expansive than one might guess, ranging from pale cream to very dark gray and brown. The colors can be seen in the textile below, which features undyed yarn sourced from the artist's own flock.
|Burnham Area Geometric Weaving, Marie Begay, ca. 2021|
|Burnham Area Geometric Weaving, detail.|
From the wall text section 'Dyeing and Coloring':
Adinidiin - light - is magic. It is prayer, projection, and perspective. it is an all-seeing element that permeates all aspects of life and is found in land, air, water, and sky. Moreover, light exists withing and radiates from each one of us as we are the connections between and within the elements. - Rapheal Begay, (Diné ), photographer
Initially the Navajo worked with the natural colors of their sheep's wool as well as mineral- and plant-derived colorants, including indigo and cochineal. In the later part of the 19th century, with a growing tourist market, trade cloth made from synthetically-dyed Germantown yarn was unwoven and re-spun for use in weavings.
|Dye chart, Roselyn Washburn, 2019.|
|Dye chart, detail.|
|Untitled (Tourists), Gerald Nailor (Toh-Yah, Diné ), 1937.|
In addition to new materials, new subjects were assimilated into the designs. Trains brought settlers, trading posts and tourism, encouraging both exploitation of, and new economic opportunities for, indigenous populations. The motifs along the trains are thunderbirds, a symbol of strength and protection.
|Train pictorial weaving, Diné artist, 1880s.|
The exhibit also featured tools and educational material, explaining the parts of the loom and the weaving process. The image below is from a book by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas, How to Weave a Navajo Rug and Other Lessons from Spider Woman (Loveland, CO: Thrums Books, 2020).
|Book illustration, Mychal Yellowman, 2020.|
|Contemporary Navajo weaving tools, Belvin Pete, Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas.|
|Navajo loom with unfinished weaving (sash belt), before 1910.|
|Weaver at Her Loom, Geanita John, ca. 2007.|
|Carrizo Summer, Kevin Aspaas, 2023.|
The tradition is in good hands with weavers such as Kevin Aspaas (born 1995), whose weaving, above, is dyed with sagebrush and rabbitbrush.