>>Bill Buckmaster: Arts and Culture Producer
Sooyeon Lee says 150 years of Navajo weaving will be on view in a new exhibition that opens
tomorrow at the Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona. [Flute music]>>Dr. Ann Lane Hedlund: Whether it’s weaving from 150 years ago or from 15 years ago, the designs, the patterns, the colors are all very vibrant or very subtle and appealing
to people. But I think it’s also the cultural stories
and the individual personal histories that draw people to Navajo weaving.
>>Sooyeon Lee: Beginning in the 19th century when art enthusiasts of the East began collecting,
the Navajo textile took on epic significance as representative of the land, the people,
the culture and the Navajo way of life. More than 60 of those Navajo weavings are
on view at the Arizona State Museum.>>Hedlund: Roughly 30 of them are from before
1900. Many of those represent garments that weavers would have woven for their families
or for friends and relatives. There’s a saddle blanket that would have been
used on a horse along with a hand woven cinch to tie the saddle on to the horse. There are shoulder blankets for wrapping around
the shoulders and there are women’s dresses that would have been wrapped around the body
as well.>>Lee: Dr. Ann Lane Hedlund, Director of
the Tapestry Center at the museum, is co-curator for this exhibit.
>>Hedlund: We think Navajo weaving probably began sometime in the mid-1650s. We know that in every period of Navajo weaving, we see innovation. We see looking for new ideas. We see embracing
new materials as well as designs. This, I think, is something that gives Navajo weaving
vitality today. This is the oldest rug in the exhibition.
It dates between 1800 and 1850 which is a very interesting time in the Southwest. And
for the Navajo people, it’s principally before the Santa Fe Trail and a lot of imported goods
reached the Southwest, but they had already established strong trade with Pueblo Indians
and with Plains Indians. Blankets like this are found as far north
as Canada.>>Lee: The designs on the rug do not tell
the whole story. The story is the process of making the rug.
>>Hedlund: Very few Navajo designs have real symbolic meaning.
But what we find is that the process of weaving, the actual hours of pulling together the materials,
the wool, the dyes and then the very long hours of weaving itself are a part of the
meaning of the whole weaving craft to Navajo people. sheep’s wool in the rugs.
>>Lee: So how long does it take to make this kind of rug?
>>Hedlund: It takes generations. It really does. Navajo weaving–to weave a single rug
could take as short as, say, a week for a simple project. Or it can take months into years for other
projects. One of the weavers who contributed to this project, Barbara Ornelas, who was
one of my consultants and co-curators on the project, took three years, shared with her
sister to weave a very large, very elaborate rug. So it can take an immense amount of time.
Now I joked by saying it takes generations because of the learning and because of the
lore and because of the deeper understanding of weaving that it can take to acquire the
very special skills to weave Navajo rugs.>>Lee: Is Navajo weaving a dying art form?
>>Hedlund: My answer these days is that there’s clearly no end in sight to Navajo weaving.
It is a fact that there are fewer weavers each year because we’re losing many of the
elder weavers as they age. But there are young people learning. Not in
as large a number as we’d seen in past decades, but certainly there are still many young people
who are interested. And the interesting thing to me is that some of them are approaching
the craft through the fine arts side. And they’re seeking an identity as individual
artists as they pursue this wonderful art of weaving.
>>Lee: This art tells many stories of the Navajo. Struggle, endurance, pride and most of all, beauty. [Flute music]>>Buckmaster: Looks like a great show. “Navajo
Weaving at the Arizona State Museum: 19th Century Blankets/ 20th Century Rugs/ 21st
Century Views” opens tomorrow. It will be coinciding with the annual Open
House at the Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona. Admission and
parking are free. The event runs from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
There is also a very nice companion book to the Navajo weaving exhibit entitled “Navajo
Weaving in the Late 20th Century: Kin, Community and Collectors” authored by Dr. Ann Lane Hedlund and published by the University of Arizona Press.