More Than Meets the Eye with Kennedy’s Navajo Exhibits

 

Unknown Weaver
Germantown Sampler on a Loom, c. 1895
Collection Kennedy Museum of Art

With more than 700 pieces, the Navajo Collection is the Kennedy Museum of Art’s largest exhibit that circulates through with pieces ranging from the 1800’s to the late 20th century. Teec Nos Pos: Navajo Weavings is one of the current exhibits which will be showing until September 28th along with recently opened Navajo Germantown Samplers which will run until March 10th.

 The Navajo are the largest federally recognized tribe with their reservation located across the Four Corners consisting of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. These weavings were seen as a culturally rich tradition passed down mainly from mother to daughter and depending upon the time period, used for rugs, blankets, wall decorations, serapes, trading items and some purely to showcase their talent.

Behind these weavings lie many legends, traditions and symbolism that you would never have guessed solely by examining the pieces.  

• Looking at the intricate geometric patterns it is mind-blowing to imagine that all the weavings are done without a blueprint; the designs are straight out of the heads of the artists. To start the Navajo will mark the center of the weaving, but from that the design comes strictly from memory. If you look closely at the details of several weavings you will pick up on un-symmetrical mishaps due to the design-free process.

 • What do historical weavings and Starbucks have in common? Cochineal. During the 19th century the Navajo began using Cochineal, a bug found in South America and Mexico, to crush and make a crimson-colored dye for their yarn. This past spring Starbucks began using the bug in lieu of finding more “natural” alternatives to synthetic dyes in their strawberry Frappuccino’s. However, the business was in hot water when vegans were un-informed that the drink contained the bug.

 • Legends passed down through generations have told the story of “Spider Woman,” the original Navajo weaver. Between 1300 and 1500 AD the Navajo migrated from Canada and settled in the Southwest. It is told that a holy person named Spider Woman taught the tribe how to weave and Spider Man instructed how to build looms, the support tools used when making the weavings. Today the legend still lives on in that to receive the gift of weaving youth need to find a spider web with morning dew to place in their right hand without destroying and their spirit will receive the talent. 

Unknown Weaver
Teec Nos Pos Rug, c. 1930-35
Wool, vegetal and synthetic dyes, natural yarns
Collection Kennedy Museum of Art
Gift of Edwin and Ruth Kennedy
This weaving incorporates a technically difficult weaving element: interlocking circles in red that areused as a border device creating a chain-link effect. It exemplifies a transitional piece between the Early and Classic periods.

 

• The swastika symbol appears in many pieces, but symbolizes a different meaning than what we are disposed to. In Navajo culture the swastika is known as the “Whirling Log”. This symbol was first seen in sand paintings in relation to Navajo religious ceremonies, and along with many Navajo symbols has a lengthy legend behind the symbol.

  • Since the 1970’s the Navajo have shied away from solely geometric patterns in their small pictoral weavings and have included modern symbolism of the Anglo culture; farm animals, trucks, letters of the alphabet, people and landscapes can all be found incorporated into the weavings representing the influence of today’s culture on the Navajo reservation.

For more information visit: https://www.ohio.edu/museum

 

-Ashleigh Mavros-Events Publicity Assistant

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