Hearst Art Gallery
Saint Mary's College
Stories Woven In: the Navajo Way of Seeing
The Hearst Art Gallery of Saint Mary's College will present "Stories Woven In: the Navajo Way of Seeing, " a major exhibition about Navajo weaving and culture, opening on Saturday, October 2, and continuing through Sunday, December 19, 1999. On display are forty-nine superb examples of Navajo blankets and rugs spanning more than one hundred and thirty years. However, it is the recently uncovered stories behind the creation of these objects, passed down from generation to generation of weavers, that make this exhibition unique.
When curators Paul Zolbrod and Rosann Willink first began to research Navajo rug design two decades ago, they were surprised to find bits of unusual material that had found their way into the textiles. "What appears on the surface to be a beautiful design actually has a deeper meaning: a body of information about the past in the same way our western culture relies on books to preserve its heritage," claims Zolbrod, the senior curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Co-curator Willink is a University of New Mexico instructor of Navajo language and member of a family of weavers from Pueblo Pintada. (left: Wearing Blanket, 1890, 47 x 76 inches; right: Blanket (Germantown), 1900, 47 x 75 inches, Photo by Blair Clarke)
Using the laboratories of the University of New Mexico, they discovered slivers of animal sinew, dollar bills and feathers carefully hidden within the fibers. Along with ancient stories, the Navajo weavers and elders they consulted gradually divulged weaving secrets to the two researchers rarely before shared with outsiders. The curators learned that while a weaver may duplicate a scene before her, with all the subtleties of dawn, cloud, mesa and sand, weavers have imbued ceremonial and family textiles with greater power and meaning. Horse sinew meant that a rider could carry the strength of a particular animal with him on journeys and paper currency would bring prosperity. In one poignant story, hidden feathers represented a hope for freedom from a 19th century Navajo weaver, who was kidnapped from her pueblo by another tribe who coveted her renown weaving skill.
Traditional designs, including the most geometric, were a form of prayer. The patterns and the weaving process itself, always begin slowly, like a chant, then grow more complex toward the center before fading to a closing symmetrical to the opening. In addition to the superb textiles, the exhibition includes photographs, photo-enlargements of weaving detail, wall-mounted passages of text including weavers' quotes, chants, stories, and poems, and CD soundtrack and continuous loop video that takes the viewer from sheep raising to wool preparation to weaving. Zolbrod and Willink have written an extensive color catalog, Weaving a World: Textiles and the Navajo Way of Seeing, which will be available for sale in the Gallery shop.
On Sunday, October 10, the co-curators will present a slide lecture, "Weaving An Exhibition: Matching Stories With Rugs," on the collaboration among Navajo weavers, elders and museums curators in the development of this exhibition. Tours, storytelling and hands-on activities for people of all ages will round out the afternoon program. The exhibition is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.
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This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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