Tempe, AZ I always spend longer than I plan to in the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills area and I came across the picture above when I was scouting out the Evelyn George picture in the previous entry. To weave a round rug using Navajo techniques is to be initiated into some closely guarded secrets for both warping and weaving. There are probably fewer than 20 weavers who can produce a marketable round textile and only a very, very few who can achieve the design sophistication shown in the weavings above by Mary H. Yazzie of Sanostee, NM. The design depicts Mother Earth and Father Sky, who embody the universe. Mother Earth holds the four sacred plants: corn, beans, squash and tobacco. The Sun and Moon appear within Father Sky on the background of the Milky Way. Hogan designs indicate the four directions of the Navajo compass and signify the Four Sacred Mountains. This design would be spectacular on a conventional rug; on a round piece, it is astounding. Did I mention that it is hand spun? Mary’s daughter Marilyn does most of the spinning for her mother and frequently accompanies her when she demonstrates weaving at shows and events. Mary’s work is sold through the Toadlena Trading Post.
The use of sandpaintings as a design source for weaving goes back to another resident of the Two Grey Hills area, the legendary Hastiin Klah, a great grandson of the equally legendary Navajo leader Narbona Tso. Klah was a noted singer or hataáłii. He was born in 1867 near Ft. Wingate, as his family was beginning their return from the Long Walk. As he matured, Klah became very concerned about the rate at which traditional ceremonies and their accompanying chants and sandpaintings were being lost to the onslaught of assimilation. Klah’s concerns were shared by his close friend, Frances (Franc) Newcomb, the wife of trader A.J. Newcomb. Newcomb’s book on Klah, Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter is the definitive work on his life.
Hastiin Klah’s obsession, shared by Franc Newcomb, became the documentation and preservation of Navajo ceremonial life. As Klah sought ways to permanently depict the sandpaintings that draw the necessary deities to a particular place, he realized that they could be woven as well as drawn. This idea and the whole idea of any type of record of the traditional ceremonies was and still is anathema to some in the community. Klah and Newcomb persisted, however, with Klah emphasizing that these textiles were not intended to be walked on and were part of an effort to preserve these designs for the future. At the same time, Klah’s textiles were avidly sought by collectors and he initiated two of his nieces in the chants and protections needed for them to weave in this style, so there are those who believe that his motives were more market driven than cultural. As the most respected living hataáłii, Klah had the stature to ignore the criticism and do what he thought appropriate. Klah’s work attracted the attention of Mary Cabot Wheelwright and he collaborated with her as a founder of the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe., NM. The picture below is thought to show Hastiin Klah seated to the left of one of his weavings, a Sandpainting design showing Mother Earth and Father Sky.
And as usual, I’ve stayed longer than I’d intended in Two Grey Hills. I hope you can see how it can happen.
Hagoshíí (so long for now)