Navajo rugs, their unique silversmithing, and distinctive baskets are recognized throughout the world. Everyone loves Indian art-particularly Navajo art. Yet, most guests visiting the Navajo Nation are not aware of the history or significance of most artwork to the Navajo people. Nor do most guests understand what constitutes "authentic" Navajo crafts.
Fascination for Navajo weaving is unequalled from its arts and crafts enthusiasts throughout the world, not only because of its aesthetic qualities, but also because of its unique stylistic changes.
Navajo legend teaches that Navajo women learned the art of weaving from Spider Woman who constructed a loom according to directions given by Spider Man. They were Holy People who came from the underworld, where weaving was their way of life. However others believe that Navajo women learned the technique from Pueblos in the mid-l7th Century.
Originally Navajo women wove such items as wraparound dresses, tunic-like skirts, breech cloths, and shoulder robes. Just prior to 1900, the market for Navajo blankets expanded into rugs and weaving eventually became market-oriented.
Today, distinct styles of rugs identify designs from Two Grey Hills, Ganado, and Crystal, which have become famous worldwide. Although many weavers continue in their regional style, some artists who live in the vicinity of two rug regions have become combination- style weavers.
Branching out from the traditional rugs are the difficult and complex designs such as the two-faced, pictorial, sandpainting and raised outlook. The saddle blanket, another popular rug, isn't as difficult to make as the others, but is more affordable for the collector on a limited budget.
Navajos are unsurpassed in their ability to create exquisite and multifaceted art. Nowhere is this more true than in the beauty of their silversmithing.
Introduced by the Spaniards and Mexicans around the middle of the 19th Century, silversmithing Navajos obtained metal by melting down American silver dollars or Mexican pesos.
Navajo lore teaches that when the Dineh came from the underworld, First Man brought turquoise with him and directed shovels to be made of turquoise to dig channels and drain much of the water that was present.
It's believed that Navajos began working with turquoise after returning from Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1863. Aside from its ornamental value, turquoise is especially important to the Navajo people because of its ceremonial significance.
Today, turquoise is used primarily for ornamentation, but Navajos remember and wear it ceremonially as exemplified in the many rituals still held today.
While the art of basketmaking may seem minor, a basket has great symbolic significance because it represents the well-being of an individual, particularly the mind.
Navajo lore teaches that Holy People-First Man and First Woman-made baskets when they lived in the underworld for ceremonial purposes.
Each part of a Navajo basket has a special significance. The core of the basket represents the emergence of the Holy People into the present world-the Fourth or Glittering World. The area surrounding the core represents the earth. Traditional Navajo baskets have a first layer of black triangular design, representing the four sacred mountains. That area immediately adjacent to the black design represents the sky; the red design represents the clouds and darkness. The black triangular designs on the outside of the basket represent Holy People, including Yellow Corn and Dawn. Finally, the outer edge of the basket represents the association with others.
Apart from their ceremonial usage, baskets are also used for ornamentation.
Sandpaintings are another unique and symbolic art form originating with the Holy People who lived in the underworld. Sandpaintings were, and still are, primarily ceremonial.
Depicting the tools used by the Holy People, which were strictly intended for ceremonial purposes, sandpaintings represent an array of ceremonies and sacred songs. However, today many artists create pictures of ceremonial figures for commercial purposes. Sandpainting in itself is not forbidden as long as Holy people are not depicted.
A spin-off of ceremonial sandpaintings, are the popular sandpainting nameplates, containers, vases, etc., decorated with figures other than ceremonial. This allows the art form to be collected and enjoyed without compromising sacred ceremonial values.
Tribal legend indicates that most Navajo arts and crafts of today sprang from roots that began with the Holy People. Virtually everything a Navajo says or does is somehow linked with his cultural past, consequently they help him set the course for the future. Navajoland is, as it has always been, a land in transition, a blending of the past and the present, reaching out confidently to embrace the future.
Information courtesy of Navajo Tourism, 928-871-6436.
|Back to top||Print this page||E-mail this page|