The Heard Museum Gathering of Weavers is a unique event where Navajo weavers market their work directly to customers. It started as a fairly small event five years ago and has struggled somewhat to find a niche in a tight economy, but it seems to have reached that spot where the weavers find it a good place to sell and buyers find it a good place to buy. The idea of Navajo weavers seeing themselves as artists and selling their work directly to the public has been a long time in developing. A large part of the credit for that, I think, can go to Barbara Teller Ornelas, who is pictured above.
Barbara Teller Ornelas and A Different Way to Market Navajo Textiles
When I was first involved with Navajo weaving, marketing a rug consisted of taking it to an Indian trader and making the best deal possible. Often the trader had done business with the weaver and the weaver’s family for many years and there was a close relationship between the two but by the time Barbara Teller Ornelas was starting to market her work, she thought that she could do better by breaking out of the mold. Barbara’s father was a Navajo trader, Sam Teller, who worked at the Two Grey Hills Trading Post so Barbara is no stranger to what a trading post is and how it works. Her mother, Ruth Teller is a master weaver and Barbara tells stories about how her mother would dress up her daughters so that they could pose for a photograph of one of her rugs for a waiting buyer. Barbara didn’t have any particular interest in weaving as a girl but learned from her mother. Barbara and her older sister Roseann famously won Best in Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market with a tapestry grade (95-108 wefts per inch) hand spun masterpiece that measured 5 by 8 1/2 feet and took four years to weave. Midway through the weaving of the tapestry, Barbara moved to Phoenix with her husband. It was when she was living in Phoenix that she began to see weaving as something special rather than a mundane part of every day life. She realized that her weaving was an art that could be and should be marketed that way.
As Barbara began to market her own work, she aimed her marketing efforts directly at buyers by entering competitions and engaging the public by demonstrating her work whenever she could. Her work was shown in art galleries rather than trading posts and the path she has taken to direct sales has become a model for younger weavers as they seek outlets for their work. As that concept of direct sales has spread to a larger number of weavers, venues like the Gathering of Weavers are more viable and further validate the notion that Navajo weaving is an art form. I have more pictures and stories from the Gathering, but when I looked at Barbara’s picture this morning, I thought it would be a good idea to begin with one of the people who pioneered the idea of weavers selling their work directly. If you would like to know more about Barbara, you can read about her here. Barbara and her sister Lynda Teller Pete often teach classes together and you can find their class schedule on Lynda’s website. There are more pictures of Barbara, her family and her weaving below. More about the Gathering in the next few days.
Hagoshíí (so long for now)