Artist: Anonymous Navajo Weaver
Commentary by Kelsey Grierson Long
Within the tales of Navajo history, a spiritual being referred to as the “Spider Woman” taught early Navajo women how to create beauty in their world by weaving materials of the earth and sky. This tradition of weaving, though not connected to any particular ceremonious event, has existed among the Navajo throughout the generations. Beginning in the late 19th century, Navajo weaving began to make a turn from utilitarian to commercial; no longer were the textiles simply part of everyday life. The textiles could now be sold to an ever-eager American audience who were fascinated by the geometric designs, earthy colors, and a sense of exoticism.
Various peoples from across the United States incorporated Navajo rugs into their highly eclectic and busy interiors, whether or not they visited Navajo lands. Due to the influence of traders in the Southwest such as J.B. Moore and Lorenzo Hubbell, Navajo rugs could be purchased by catalog and shipped directly to a person’s home. The catalogs provided examples of the Navajo designs and allowed the buyer to pick and choose what would best suit their desires. Because the Trading Posts of the Southwest provided the Navajo with a connection to the outside world, the designs of their rugs were changing from their earlier traditional style and design. In the early 1900’s, popular Oriental rug patterns were introduced into the region. The Navajo weavers carefully filtered the distinctive patterns “through their own cultural sensibilities,” and morphed them into new Navajo designs that quickly became quite popular across the nation.
Though the tradition of Navajo weaving has changed and synthesized over the course of history, one thread remains constant – the influence of beauty from the natural world. Constant were the patterns of nature and life within Navajo weavings. Storm patterns, mountains, and even water bugs were incorporated into the textile designs. The earthy palette of dyes came from indigenous plant life. Wool was collected from herds of sheep that were an essential part of Navajo culture. Every textile, laboriously made, was fashioned by a Navajo weaver whose harmonious connection with land and tradition allowed for the piece to reflect the Navajo’s love of beauty.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty…
— From the Nightway Chant, Navajo Diné
Philip, Neil. In a Sacred Manner I Live: Native American Wisdom. New York: Clarion, 1997. Print.
Rodee, Marian E. One Hundred Years of Navajo Rugs. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1995. Print.