Essay by Danielle Hena (Tesuque, Acoma, Navajo), curatorial intern (Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO)
Through art we can feel, see, and smell the history within a creation. Walking into the collections vault I have to stop and take everything in, reminding myself of all the history that is in the room. I walk through and view the shelves in complete silence because I have so many questions running through my head. I cannot speak aloud, and my jaw is completely dropped in awe. During my first week as an intern, I work with Navajo textiles. Having done previous work with textiles, I could not have been more excited.
Navajo weavings have always fascinated me because of their evolution. History provides information about Pueblo peoples who fled from their homelands, encountered the Navajo people, and taught them how to weave. Before fleeing, Puebloans were weaving with cotton, which they still do. Because my roots are planted in Pueblo culture, I enjoy studying the sharing between these two cultures, and how it is ongoing today in both cultures. Fascinated by the beauty of sharing, I go through in my head how Mother Earth shared and continues to share her body with the works that I can see in this inspiring collection.
What weaving am I going to pull out today? It is a rug woven in the style of a second phase chief-style blanket. Colors of red, blue, and a natural tan color of wool. Squarer shaped, colors faded, thicker type of wool, and pretty beat up. Cheri, the curator, mentioned that tradesmen would have Navajo weavers make chief style blankets for rug purposes. “Hmmmm,” I think, “So because they are chief style, could the trader price the weaving for a larger amount?”
Jonathan, director: “Correct.”
Me: “So this weaving was a rug? Makes sense, it is more on the square side.”
Cheri is making her way to the vault and brings back another piece. “Now, here’s a wearing blanket.” My jaw drops again.
Different in so many ways, my attention completely shifts to the wearing blanket, a very fine weave. I look closely at the design, at the colors, imagining who wore the blanket, and imagining the weaver who must have spent hours each day creating this beautiful piece of art. The blanket has blue horizontal lines, followed by red horizontal lines, hints of maroon, thin lines of brown (unusual) with a stacked diamond design that would have fallen down the spine of the wearer. It is soft, a stunning piece that I can still picture in my head.
Now, back to the chief style blanket that was used as a rug. This is one I will not forget either, because it was tied back to the trade, when it was a way for both traders and weavers to gain access to money. Stories, curiosities, and beauty are carried within each textile: stories from history, curiosities that will continue to be curiosities, and beauty that was transferred from a weaver’s vision to the viewers.