Navajo Rug Weaver

Cultural Background

 

The Navajo are an indigenous people from the American Southwest. They call themselves "Dine'", which means 'people' in the Navajo language. The first Navajos settled in the Southwest in the early 16th Century. Today, the Navajo Nation stretches across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, covering over 27,000 square miles.

 

It is impossible to talk about Navajo weaving as simply one part of Navajo culture. Weaving has always been integral to Navajo society, daily life, and cosmology. Parts of the Navajo Creation Story tell of Spider Woman weaving beautiful rugs on her loom, and it was through Spider Woman's teachings that Navajo weavers learned their craft.

 

"Spider Woman instructed the Navajo women how to weave on a loom which Spider Man told them how to make. The crosspoles were made of sky and earth cords, the warp sticks of sun rays, the healds of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb. There were four spindles: one a stick of zigzag lightning with a whorl of cannel coal; one a stick of flash lightning with a whorl of turquoise; a third had a stick of sheet lightning with a whorl of abalone; a rain streamer formed the stick of the fourth spindle, and its whorl was white shell."

-- Epigraph to Spider Woman: A Story of Navajo Weavers and Chanters, by Gladys A. Reichard, first published 1934, republished by Rio Grande Press, Inc., Glorieta, NM, 1968

 

Navajo rugs and blankets, even though they are highly prized as artworks and museum artifacts in the United States, are more than just art and artifacts of history; they represent the entirety of Navajo life and spirituality. The Dine' do not separate the concepts of art, beauty, and religion. They are all interconnected, so to describe a Navajo rug or blanket simply in terms of what it's made of and what it looks like is to ignore just how important the rugs are to the people who made them.

"For Navajo weaving is meditative work that invites Woman into the energy center of the balanced universe. A place where everyday happenings merge with the mythical. Here sunlight shimmers through virginal tight-strung warp. Here Father Sky and Mother Earth unite. Here Spiderwoman weaves her tangled web. And Changing Woman / White Shell Woman--the primordium--prevails."

--Noel Bennett, "Navajo Weaving Way: The Path from Fleece to Rug"