A Posting by Sheryl Benally, NCAP Work-Study Intern
Working with NCAP isn’t my first experience with the cultural arts. I come from a family of silversmiths, bead workers and quilters. Sadly, I never learned to silversmith but I learned how to bead earring and bracelets from my mother. I also quilt blankets, a trade I learned from my grandmothers who are all professional quilters. With my previous job at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, we held family cultural nights and I learned how to mirror sketch, beadwork and make moccasins.
My first day of work is one that I will never forget! Not only did I setup for the Roy Kady's Felted Saddle Pad Workshop, I was able to participate in it. IT WAS A WORKOUT! When I started the workshop I was thinking that we were making mini saddle pads but boy was I wrong. When the time came to make our saddle pads, we were going for the full size. We used 2 pounds of hand carded and naturally dyed wool. It was a along process but I was determine to finish my saddle pad. I didn’t have any knowledge on what materials were needed and how much work it takes to make one but now I do. I have always been interested in art and making it and now that I’m apart of the NCAP team I feel that I can express myself through it.
I ended my first week interning with NCAP by attending Thomas Yellowhair’s NIS134: Navajo Cultural Arts Philosophy class. His goal is to teach cultural arts philosophy by way of making artifacts and not just talking about them. So here I am – on to week two and on to my next project – Water Jug Making! I still have a way to go but I already feel the philosophy and objectives behind NCAP becoming part of me.
These NCAP objectives include providing “NCAP participants with the opportunity to acquire and engage traditional understandings of Navajo cultural arts, demonstrate their techniques to local and regional community members, explore a variety of Native American artisan marketing opportunities, and create multigenerational Navajo artisan community bonds.” I really feel that the objective statement it on point. I am very honored to be about of the Navajo Cultural Arts Program and look forward to our upcoming events. The workshops and classes thus far have introduced me to so many talented people. Being a part of NCAP and being around the Navajo Cultural Arts students has already made me want to relearn my cultural, language and the unique arts that we as Diné People were given. I will be able to not only learn how to do them but to also teach my family and son of what we are capable of philosophically and psychologically as Diné People. I'm ready for a NCAP workout....are you?
A Posting by Heather Williams, Emerging Artisan
In addition to exploring my family traditions, my NCAP peers and I have the privilege to learn from well-known artisans, explore museums, attend events to network with other creative individuals, and acquire a great wealth of knowledge about our specific emphasis area (weaving, moccasin making, and silversmith).
One event that was particularly enlightening was the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, AZ, which included the Best of Show Reception. This was a new experience for all of us, especially for me. I would never have thought that I would be an artisan, let alone one who would be attending art receptions and markets to find inspiration. But there I was, in the midst of talents whose careers would be changed with the earning of ribbons at this event.
The Best of Show Reception was swanky, complete with a lighted plaza, catered buffet, “Follow the Threads” Fashion Show, silent auction and of course the juried competition results. Dressed to the nines, the attendees sported heels, button up shirts, ties, and even some traditional Native dresses. All focus was on the dinner when we first arrived. After we ate, we began to make our way through the many beautiful and creative art pieces that won ribbons in various categories. A few of my favorites pieces included the Blue Bird Flour basket, a quilt that was dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Mica Spirit Bowl that had spirals leading up to the opening, and a four-in-one brightly colored rug. Finally, we perused through the silent auction, which consisted of jewelry, pottery, and paintings. These silent auction pieces were going for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. I didn’t make any bids this time – maybe next time ;)
The following day was the commencement of the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market. This event was jam-packed with performances, demonstrations, book signings, and the arts market. I spent most of my day looking through all the booths that featured Native artists and their artwork. With over 600 artists, it took all day to walk through each one of their displays. I saw countless pieces of innovatively designed jewelry, baskets, beadwork, carvings, paintings, personal attire, pottery, sculptures, and textiles. While the majority of the artists were silversmiths, I thought it was neat to see that each of them had their own style and designs. Along the way I made sure to check out the Navajo rugs. There was a variety of pictorial, twill, and traditional weavings. I was mostly fascinated with the pictorial ones. I was intrigued by their techniques and spent my time trying to figure out their processes.
When you’re at a well-populated event like this, with many Navajos in attendance, it was only a matter of time before I ran into a familiar face. Not only did I visit with a couple of relatives, some from Tohatchi and others from Tsaile, but I also found a friend who was selling her jewelry alongside her father.
Overall, this trip was fun, eye opening, and inspiring. It was fun walking from booth to booth, hearing artists talk about their work, and making a name for themselves. This was eye opening in the sense that there are so many talented Native artists and they are really good at their crafts. I left the event inspired, in hopes that one day I too will be selling my weavings at events like this.
A Posting by Sam Slater, Emerging Artisan
“Sam, does this road look familiar to you?” Christine yelled back from the driver’s seat to the passengers of the rattling van that traveled along the spider web of dirt roads that extend out from the Newcomb Chapter House. I nodded my head despite the fact that while I had offered my services as navigator, I had never actually visited the Toadlena Trading Post before. By way of Narbona Pass, we had crossed the Chuska Mountains—the backbone of our Nation that separates the stateliness of Arizona and New Mexico—on our class’ search for remnants of the trading post era that once dominated the Navajo economy.
This road, an arm off of old Route 666, sparked my imagination as I began visualizing shimásaniyéé, Ruth Roessel, riding her horse to the Round Rock Trading Post, where she first caught the eye of my cheiiyee. The focal point of the story practically materialized before my eyes with the emergence of our sandstone Shangri-La from amidst the area’s namesake grey foothills.
Arriving at the Toadlena Trading post, I felt as if we had transcended time and space. Between the ladies hand spinning wool by the coal-burning stove, the floor-to-ceiling stacks of rugs, and the collection of century-old saddle blankets, it didn’t take long to realize we were someplace special. A sign reading “Toadlena is to Navajo rugs what Paris is to Haute Couture” didn’t hurt to hammer in that point either. In fact, it seemed that my day dreams of an era of filled with horses hitched in front of trading posts fit perfectly with the theme of Toadlena’s museum exhibit, “Saddle Up!”
Just behind the meat counter now used to display weaving tools, stood a wondrous collection of fifty or so saddle blankets from as far back as 1850. Despite being in theory utilitarian weavings, (despite the lack of wear), these weavings were aptly called “Sunday best blankets.”
The guiding influences of the traders were very much still evident in several of the other style weavings located on the far side of the trading post. So much so that I could pick up elements mirrored in the Persian rugs of shinálíí asdzaaniyee’s home in New York. My paternal grandmother’s travels throughout the world filled her home by way of the many treasures she brought home with her, including rugs from the Near East - batik tapestries from Indonesia and Navajo rugs woven by my maternal grandmothers. This background made it all the easier to connect how weavers incorporated global design elements into their Navajo aesthetic, contributing to and absorbing strands of Navajo beliefs in the process.
Other rugs, especially those with the richly dyed Germantown wool, transported me back to the Navajo Nation, specifically, to my maternal grandmother’s stories of learning to ride horses without a bridle and only a saddle blanket, if she were lucky. The manner in which she would tell these stories also seemed to transcend time as one minute she would be swaddled in a cradleboard and the next she would be wrapped around a saddle blanket a top a horse, as if she went from an immobile infant to a child riding horse back with not even a baby step in between.