Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort (Moccasin Maker/Weaver/Basket Maker)
One of the art skills I learned from Diné College and have continue to practice is the art form of Diné Sash Weaving. For over 15 years, I have been weaving and enjoy making Diné Sashes (belts).
Currently I am a returning student of Diné College in the 3rd cohort of the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. The Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP) has been a blessing and a gateway to furthering myself and my skills into the Native Art World and its environment. I am learning more about Navajo Art and their components to origin and cultural aspects. So far, I have added two new art forms to my belt: Moccasin Making (H. Walters) and Basket Making (T. Yellowhair). In addition to emphasizing in those areas, as part of our NIS132 Navajo Cultural Arts Materials and Resources class, we had scheduled several unique workshops throughout the 8 week session. We had a workshop on silversmithing, sumac collection, weaving tool making and, one of my favorites, wool dying.
In September 2017, Lorraine Herder and Edith Simonson drove in from their community of Hard Rock, AZ. As introductions rolled around, I came to find out these two passionate weavers are my paternal sisters through clan. At first glance, I took note to their humbleness as they walked through the campus, being well-mannered and both gentle-spoken & kind.
As the day started, Lorraine explained how she & her siblings were raised to tend to their livestock which was an everyday chore and was expected of them to maintain their family’s livelihood. One story she shared with our group was of her family, affected by the infamous Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute (1974); resulting in her family’s livestock being blocked from using watering holes, grazing pastures, and as well, a majority of the local vegetation that is used as part of their vegetation dyes, were also unattainable on the other side of the barbed wired fence placed directly through their homestead.
Throughout the day, while the pots of water & plants continued to boil, there were brief instances we were able to just stand and speaks amongst ourselves. Speaking to her, I recall she mentioned that raising livestock and dying wool were both arduous tasks and that she did not weave on a full-time basis. She explained that she had a job that kept her away from home but when she did find the time, she went home to tend to her flock & when time allowed she dyed wool & wove rugs using her own processed wool.
When we questioned what plants, she was utilizing that day, she had a few she had picked prior to her arrival on campus. Surprisingly, when she arrived on campus, right where we stood she picked a prickly plant which turned out to be green Tumble Weed; which I remember nobody could remember the Navajo name for the plant she showed: Ch’ildeenini. She also mentioned that the process was through experimentation, using various plants and never knowing the end result of the final color.
Towards the end of the day, after skeins of wool were boiling for several hours, we watched while she inserted various hues of white & gray wool into the same dye baths, from which we witnessed as she pulled the skeins of wool out of their baths, the differences in vibrant, to not so vibrant colors. It was a time-consuming process and my hats off to the two presenters who made the process look so easy.
From the Three Tiered Navajo Skirts to Contemporary Sewing: Holistic Well-being Through Dress Making
Johnnie Bia, Jr.
the three tiers of the skirt that trace our Diné women's journey through their childhood, adulthood, and elderly years. And as of late, we have seen a rise in contemporary takes of this style walk the fashion run ways from Arizona to New York to Europe. Despite its travels, the Navajo tailors and seamstresses continue to root themselves in the cultural nuances of this cultural arts practice. I am in no way close to a tailor, but I do know someone who is!
and old style pleats on the bust, the back, and the sleeves of each blouse. Shayne’s strategic plan to attaining success in his future with sewing is built around a self-owned small company. So in the future hiring staff will be beneficial. Together they could maybe triple or quadruple their work and their earnings each day rather than one person making one garment and finishing it for the next 2 to 3 days.
Sewing contributes to his overall physical health. He explained - you are always on your feet, always having your hand gestures move softly, quickly, steadily, and constantly. Some positive activities outside of the act of sewing that can enhance your work is eating healthy. Through proper nutrition you make sure you get your vitamins, water intake, and also protein intake with fruits and other organic items. One unique aspect that Shayne brought up was keeping up with your hygiene as another way to improve your work - when you are working, showering at least twice a day, one in the morning when you get up and then always one at night before you sleep is important. You may think this is a lot of showering but... because you don’t know what chemicals and fibers are on each fabric, its better to shower after each project for your health.
Shayne is satisfied of what he does because he can actually create an item or garment for someone who cannot create it themselves. But each piece is so unique that it brings to them a unique feeling of having something created just for them.
Meditation also helps positively build your mental health, not only during the project but also before. Mediation is your quiet time, where you can actually think clearly and prepare yourself for your next garment order. It also helps you to trouble shoot any issues that you may have run into.
From a spiritual perspective, Shayne learned his sewing techniques from his great grandmother and he will always be able to take those teachings with him wherever he goes. In this way, what he sews not only connects him to his grandmother but he also extends his grandmother's teachings to those who receive his work. In addition to the connections to his grandmother, Shayne feels a sense of connectedness and pride for the value of Navajo culture. In doing his work and creating new garment, he always has tied his beliefs into Navajo culture and history because that is how he creates his garments and designs. For these reasons, he is actually creating work that coincides with tradition - from old style traditional wear to contemporary and modern wear. Finally, he also points out that prayer is also something that you can do while you are in the midst of your sewing because that’ll help you so many ways. Prayers gives you more spirit and sets your mind in your current sewing task.
In conclusion, as a tailor or a seamstress, you impact both your own holistic well-being and that of the clients or recipients of the clothes you make. This makes perfect sense to me - I know how I feel when I put on a freshly pressed shirt made especially for me. It makes me stand just a few centimeters taller and feel just a bit more confident. We have come a long way since our days of loinclothes and rug dresses, but our clothing today and sewing of those clothes utilize many of those skills and techniques that help to reconnect us to our Dine holistic self. Thanks, Shayne, for all your insight! And stay tuned, blog readers, Miss Navajo will be hosting a skirt making workshop this summer as part of her Cultural Arts Holistic Well-Being Workshop Series :)
If you are just now joining our blog series, please take some time to review some of the past Holistic Well-Being blogs from this 10 - week series!
Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort
One of my favorite experiences has been going to the Phoenix Heard Museum Indian Market. On the weekend of March 2, 3, & 4, I traveled with my peers to Phoenix. Although I have traveled to Phoenix a lot and even occasionally visited the museum, I had never really attended the Indian Market until this year. Around 1986 or 1987, when the market was in its infancy, I came to one of the first events that eventually became the Indian Market today. Back then, the event was very small and Native Americans did not have to pay admission to attend. So when we were told we were attending this year’s event, I was anxiously anticipating the event.
To say that the Market had grown is an understatement! Never having seen the enormity of the event that is held nowadays was overwhelming. Sheryl, the NCAP Assistant, had a whole agenda for us. The first evening we attending the Best of Show reception where we got to mingle with people. I got to reunite with an old friend from San Felipe Pueblo who is a potter. We had not seen each other since 1998 so we were able to catch each other up. The best of show exhibit was amazing! I particularly liked the photography and will make plans on entering the show in that category in the future.
Saturday I went to all the booths and made some good connections with certain artists such as Joe Cajero, Jr of Jemez Pueblo, Eric Fender of San Ildefonso Pueblo, and Sally Black, world famous Navajo basket maker. One of the best things I saw was a young teenager splitting feathers to make arrow fletching! His skill was mesmerizing! Another contact who is important to mention is Sarah Greenfield, who I found out is one of the board members of the museum. She was my Jr. High School Counselor. I’d like to talk with her about helping me get a moccasin making demonstration set up at the museum - so keep an eye open for that. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I liked that our NCAP family was able to spend this time together and have a great time. I definitely have some ideas about how I will get into this venue!
If you have time during the Navajo Cultural Arts Week, swing by Monday evening to the RC Gorman Room on the second floor of the NHC from 5-8pm. I'll be hosting a Sumac Splitting Workshop there! AND stop by the NHC Museum to vote for your favorite pieces. The winner will receive the "Community Choice Award."
Johnnie Bia, Jr.
Sharonna is Coyote Pass clan, born for the Mexican People clan, her maternal grandmother is Bitter Water clan, and paternal grandmother is of the Red Bottom People clan. She is originally from Lukachukai, AZ. She is 24 years young. She recently received a Business Administration BA from Diné College. She is the Office Manager the Diné College Office of Institutional Planning and Research. Both of Sharonna's grandmothers weave and she feels extremely fortunate to be the only grandchild who can weave on both sides her family. Her paternal grandmother weaves the Yeii bi Cheii’s designs and had to have a ceremony that would give her permission to weave this sacred pattern. As for her maternal grandmother, she weaves two-faced rugs. Those rugs have one image on the font and another image on the back.
I asked Sharonna about some of the physical activities outside of weaving that directly enhances her cultural arts work. She shared that sleep, good posture, and home tidiness are most important. Sitting to long makes a person slouch when their progressing upward with my rug and it ruins a person’s posture so it would be nice to have some chair or cushion that will help them on their posture. Economically, Sharonna does not sell her rugs but there are many individuals who do sell their creations. When other artists sell their rugs, the money is used to purchase more tools or to help the person get by with life. Within the Navajo Nation there are those who make weaving as a career because it is the only income that they receive. The NCAP cohort watched a documentary called "Weaving Worlds" to explore the complexities of Western and Traditional concepts and practices of selling rugs.
Sharonna also talked about how making cultural arts products contributes to her mental stimulation. She envisions the rug before it takes shape and that planning helps to guide her wool. But that doesn't mean that the rug will turn out like her original plan. Many of her creations would just come to her or they would be changing and making their own image until completion. So she learned to be flexible and listen to the design. Two positive things that can enhance both mental and cultural arts well-being are 1) knowing how to manage your time and 2) getting information and strategies about weaving before your start. So deadlines and strategic planning are necessary especially as she does plan on making her own dresses and blankets designs in the future. In the meantime, she has plans to improving her one sided rugs and exploring ways on how to get two different pictorial images on a double sided rug. These tests keep her mind constantly moving, anticipating problems, and strategizing how to overcome those problems.
solid colors but there is always that one color that she picks to stand out more than others, and her designs are steps with images which tells a story of her life when she would start from bottom. She takes time for prayer, fasting, meditation, and enjoyment of her creation processes. There are certain songs that are used for weaving when starting and as you are weaving. For Sharonna, she only know two songs. When she sings and weaves, her rug grows faster and it is straight with no mistakes. Upon completion she thanks the creator and her grandparents on what they taught her, and also for helping her on getting the rug done and not having her lose herself in the process. She knows some stories about rug weaving, to her understanding there are so many stories that apply to the rug and its process from making the wool and taking the rug down. The positive activities she does to nurture her spiritual life and cultural arts practices are following what she believes in without thinking about it failing, or without having anything get in the way of her ethical values.
In conclusion, weaving has been in our history through Traditional prayers, songs, and stories. It goes along with our way of life through the sheep we have, how we take care of our sheep, and how we use the wool off the sheep. It teaches us how to make our Navajo people be creative in their own way, incorporating spiritual aspects. Our hope is that Navajo Rug Weaving will continue to flourish among our Navajo people as we continue to move forward in today’s generation.
If you have time April 13-20, stop by the NHC Museum at Diné College to check out the variety of weavings created by our NCAP Emerging Artisans for our 2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Exhibit. We will have 25 pieces of textile, silverwork, basketry, and leatherwork on display - all vying for best of show. Don't forget to vote for your favorite exhibit entry - winner will be selected as the "Community Choice Award"!!!!
Miss Navajo 2017-2018, Office of Miss Navajo Nation
workshop as well! My moccasins were an inch too long due to wear and tear (probably from the rainy and muddy days) and the wrappings were hanging by a tread! With help from former NCAPer and awesome workshop leader, Sam, the repair (surgery) was successful! I cut half an inch off the sole and restitched the back half. The stitching naturally came back to me and it was like I never stopped making moccasins. This experience helped to jump start my critical thinking about the holistic components of moccasin making - so that's what I have for you today!
crucial so that your moccasins seems don't have scalloped, wavy edges. This spacing is created through your diligent perception. So take time to rest your eyes. It pays of in the end. Your posture is also something that you have to pay attention to. Much like weaving, if your posture is poor, that laziness reflects in your work and back pain. Now mind you, this is just with the assemblage process. If you hunt, butcher and tan for your own buckskin - that's going to add a whole list of other physical demands as well.
Sam Slater also explained this connection between identity and moccasin making rather pointedly after the UNM workshop: "My identity as an individual is so tied to this art, it was such a humbling experience to teach it once again. Over four days of sharing and living moccasin stories, I know each of these participants all have their own moccasin story to tell, a story they stitched themselves". In short, as my yáázh Wilson Aronilth says, if you do not know who you are, you can never truly be happy. Knowing you are a moccasin maker for cultural artisans like Sam brings happiness and grounding in our Diné cultural identity.
of critical consciousness for your students, but often feel you’re missing the tools. These sacred shoes of survival are those tools. That’s all I have to say now, that these kélchí and their beautiful makers are such powerful tools for our people. I’m grateful for all they continue to teach me." In my opinion - becoming a moccasin maker is like getting your Ph.D. is Critical Theory and Application.
those who are no longer with us. It is in this way that moccasin making comfortably connects Sam and I. My aunt was known for making moccasins with a unique double stitch. Sam found out about this stitch from his NCAC Moccasin Instructor, Harry Walters, and started to experiment on his own. The double stitch calms the scallops of the sole and as Sam worked on mastering this stitch, in a way he smoothed my soul, pushing memories of my bizhi to the forefront. It must be a Round Rock thing!
Thank you to NAS UNM and Sam for inviting me! Keep up the great work! And to our blog readers - if you want to give moccasin making a try - NCAP is hosting a mini moc workshop hosted by Aaron Begay, along with other cultural arts emphasis workshops during the 2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Week. Contact Christine or Sheryl to reserve your spot - They fill up quickly.
Next week's blog is by Johnnie on the holistic components of weaving --- so stay tuned!!