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Many Colored Weaves

June 14 - August 9, 2008


Navajo legend tells the story of humankind's progression through successive worlds. Each world previous to the current one was associated with a particular color. The current world, on the other hand, which is variously known as the "glittering," "sparkling," or "many-colored world," is associated with a multitude of hues. The Navajo weaver's art reflects the multi-colored aspect of this environment. (left: This 65.16 inch long by 40.55 inch wide Wide Ruins Style Navajo rug by Janine Thomas is dated c. 1984 and is made of vegetal-dyed wool. It won a first prize ribbon at the Museum of Northern Arizona's 1986 Navajo Show.)

Flagstaff Cultural Partners (FCP) and the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) have joined forces to present a new exhibition at the Coconino Center for the Arts this summer. Many Colored Weaves, which features selections from MNA's collection of Navajo textiles, will be open to the public from June 14 through August 9, 2008.

Navajo weaving is a holistic practice that brings together the many-colored strands of life to create beauty. The individual weaving stands as a concrete expression of the interconnectedness -- the interwoven nature and harmonious relationship -- of the diverse elements of the world. In this exhibition, Navajo weavers share their reflections on the processes and practices of weaving and how they are meaningful to them. 

Many Colored Weaveswill feature 36 textiles from both the early and late twentieth century. The textiles are representative of various regions producing quality works during that period. The exhibition's curator is Jennifer McLerran, director of the Northern Arizona University Art Museum and Assistant Professor of Art History at NAU.  

The Navajo weaver brings beauty into the world, providing a model of right behavior and right relationship to the environment. Like the culture heroes of Navajo legend, whose tales are told in healing ceremonies and traditional chants, the weaver's artistic practice constitutes a journey of discovery through which the harmony-generating potential and the healing capacity of the plants and animals that populate this world are explored and demonstrated. The knowledge that sustains this practice requires a nuanced understanding of the physical world that allows weavers to produce objects of beauty and affords them the opportunity to serve as modesl of the individual's proper place in the world 

Traditionally, Navajo weavers gained their dyes from plants in their immediate environment. Many of these were the same plants as those used in healing ceremonies. They gained their wool from their own or other family members' sheep, animals that were seen as gifts from the holy people, provided to them for their spiritual and physical sustenance.  

With the advent of a Euro-American market for Navajo textiles, weavers turned to artificial dyes and commercial wools. While this increased output made weavings more affordable, thus engendering a wider market for them, the intimate connection of the weaver to their environment was compromised in important ways. The quality of their product-many believe-diminished, as well.  

A number of efforts have been mounted over the past 75 to 80 years to revive the use of natural dyes in Navajo weaving. Sometimes motivated by a desire to improve the quality-and thus marketability-of Navajo weaving and other times by a wish to restore a right relationship of the weaver to their physical and cultural environment, these efforts have enjoyed varied degrees of success. The Many Colored Weaves exhibition examines the history of these efforts, providing examples of weavings produced.

"This exhibition represents some of the finest work in the exquisite collection of weavings at the Museum of Northern Arizona," says John Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff Cultural Partners. "This partnership between the Museum of Northern Arizona and Flagstaff Cultural Partners provides the community its first opportunity to view this culturally significant artwork in the spacious setting of the Coconino Center for the Arts gallery."  

There will be a Preview Reception for FCP and MNA members on Friday, June 13, at 6 p.m.  

FCP and MNA will also host Flagstaff's first Navajo Rug Auctionon Saturday, June 14, 2008. The Auction will be held at the Coconino Center for the Arts and feature 300 unique Navajo weavings on sale throughout the fast-paced event. The R.B. Burnham & Co. Trading Post will serve as auctioneers. A preview of all weavings in the auction begins at 10 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m. The auction itself begins at 5 p.m. All proceeds from this event will provide support for Flagstaff Cultural Partners and the Museum of Northern Arizona. 

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