A Posting by Zefren Anderson, Emerging Artisan
Hello! I’m Zefren Anderson from the 2017-2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP) cohort at Diné College. I’m a weaver and this year I am emphasizing not only in my own craft of weaving but also in sliversmithing.
As part of our Materials and Resource class, Mark Deschinny of Church Rock came to Tsaile to teach us how to make weaving tools. With the prowess and mobility of an olden days Honaghaahnii trader, Mr. Deschinny is a weaving toolmaker to the People of the southwest
(more at www.geocities.ws/deschinny/Looms_and_Supplies). Although we were off to a late start, I maintained an open mind – wondering if Mr. Deshchinny’s teachings would coincide with, be contrary to or be entirely new to my own.
All teachings are valid to the clans that hold them, and it’s an interesting exchange of ideas when clans share teachings. I have been taught within the family traditions of the Hashtlishniis - if it works use it, if broke, fix it and if it can’t be used, repurpose and reuse. Many of our family tools are remnants of bigger whole tools. For example, old split battens finding new life as needles, sticks and finishing tools. I’ve found that many clans don’t do this, so I’ve not had much success making tools for weavers when they asked how they were made. The same goes for the many stories of the oral traditions of each clan along with the anthropological knowledge of the tool use, design and origin. In my own research of recreating pre 1868 Navajo Weavings, I’ve come to find the stories and museums were the best places to learn how to create the tools. They are different from the tools we use today, but they are they are both part of a long story of living and surviving.
Mr. Deschinny arrived with tools and goals. Two big totes full of various woods, examples pieces, and a few power tools created a complete woodshop for our cohort. The goals were simple:
We shared personal introductions and he let us in on the story of how he came to support his family from tool making. He also shared that his family’s history included the creation of a comprehensive dye chart for education. His family takes great care in tool making, using local sustainable wood, natural finishes, and a philosophy to avoid abuse of our natural resources like wood. Use of fire and darkening of the grain is prohibited. After some safety training, we set off to create our projects.
Bee’adzoo’í can be made from gamble oak or in our case juniper. In the olden days, a whole branch is carved and sanded until it resembles a five fingered Bee’adzoo’í. But now we can use a saw to create multiple combs from one branch. Most modern Bee’adzoo’í are prized for evenness, aesthetic beauty and even the heaviness that creates tight hard weavings prized by collectors all over the world. I created my comb in the manner of my Shinaliadzaanbima. The comb manipulates the weft texture first then, it sets lightly into the warps. It is cut out exactly in the manner of one’s hand with their fingers outstretched set ¾” into the wood. The tips expose warp and keep weft tight. The area near the joints of the comb will stretch the weft and hide warp and a rounded pick at the opposite end of the comb.
Why do we care so much about the weft? …. In the old story of the 1st weaving a problem arose on the weft spacing and warp due to tension irregularities created by changes in humidity. It allowed weaving resume outside a regular source of water and the weaver could adapt technique to the environment.
Bee’K’initl’ish can be made from any hardwood. For our workshop we used Red oak. Steaming or wet earth bending can create the characteristic bend of a stable batten, Mr. Deshchinny uses weight as the wood cures. Tips are usually sanded up as the weavers prefer this shape. A state of mind and manual finesse coupled with a belt sander will produce great results for Bee’K’initl’ish. During this step, the NCAP Cohort members sanded and shaped their combs. Not surprising…their created tools showed the particular personalities of their creators.
The finally sanding took the longest as we went from tool to tool, queuing on the saw and sanders while sharing stories and teachings. The Bee’K’initl’ish was created after all the tools required to warp up a weaving, is was found using for quick weaving in solid colors, passing long bundles of string between the wraps but when the humidity went down the batten would leave uneven spaces in the weaving as the air dried. Another tool needed to be made
Bee’adizi can be made from anything culturally appropriate -clay, metal, wood or even concrete. In class, pieces were cut from a spilt juniper branch so everyone had enough time to complete one. Bee’adizi has changed over the last few years, as even more weavers are less dependent on Navajo Churro and Wool and more on brown sheep Company wool. Now weavers have one spindle where in the past there were several each suited to a particular task or fiber, even in the oral stories there are 5 spindles working yucca, cedar, cotton and wool. I wanted a general-purpose abalone spindle for a pre 1840s Biiheeh project. It needed to be light, fast, short and balanced manually. Using the curve of the spilt branch as a guide I shaped the whorl while Mr. Deshchinny leveled and drilled the hole.
By the end of class I had a perfect spindle for my future projects and I’m grateful for this whole day experience. I’m sure most of the NCAP cohort members also enjoyed themselves and got more from workshop than what they expected.
I’m looking forward to the next workshop -- Traditional Dye and spinning.
A posting by NCAP Apprentice, Sam Slater
One of the requirements of a natural environment is that it must be creative. There has to be constant creation going on around the student. Each morning when I would arrive to the Draper’s studio, I would take a survey of the room and examine everything they had been working on since I left. I could see gradual progress on stones and pieces that would guide me in my learning and propel me to get to work. I studied each piece as it developed and took note of any changes and how I could implement those adaptations in my own work.
Such a natural environment promotes self-learning. One of the songs Wilson taught us describes in incredible beauty how all of the materials we use come to teach us. Their origin is in a divine nature that we can learn from. In this way no one can really say they taught themselves how to do anything, when it was in fact the materials guiding them the entire time. This is how I felt in my experimentation working with the Drapers. Through Teddy, I was exposed to an immense variety of natural materials at different stages of completion that, together, formed a step by step guide for me to follow.
This reminded me of when I was teaching a moccasin making class, and a student asked me if I could make the moccasin pattern, cut out the leather, and mark where to stitch for her. I told her things don’t work like that. I explained how there is a give and take with the materials—you are constantly responding to one another. Those marking might be useless after just stitching one inch due to the way the leather behaves and how you respond to it.
This is how it was with the stones and silver I used. The only way I could learn is from doing it and feeling the materials in my own hands. Working with someone like Teddy Draper is what encouraged me to take those steps to really communicate with the materials in a way that ensured I could keep learning from them. While this may seem like a hands off approach, his subtle guidance is what allowed to go to the source of our knowledge and skills. There’s no other way than to just do it, and there is no better place than Teddy Draper’s studio, and for my time with him this summer I am grateful.
A Posting by Michelle Salabiye
Emerging Artisan, Moccasin Maker, NCAC Cohort 2016/17
Ya’at’eeh shik’ei doo shidine’e! Shi ei Michelle J. Salabiye yinishe. Maiideeshgizhnii nishli, Naakai Dine’e bashishchiin, Tsi’ naajinii dashicheii, Todich’ii’nii dashinali. I was raised in a small modest Rez town known as Nazlini, Arizona. I have a baby Maii named Noah Johnson, whom I lovingly call my son. I am an Emerging Artisan in the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program and majoring in General Science here at Dine College. I also work with Aramark here on Tsaile campus. My emphasis of choice is moccasin making. Or perhaps better explained by our NCAC instructor - Moccasin Making chose me!
I am honored to be instructed by the famous and humble Mr. Harry Walters, who instilled the Navajo principles and stories behind the moccasin. Mr. Walters also provided historical insights as he was an Archaeologist and who also developed the Museum and the Archive building here in Dine College. It’s safe to say we learn a handsome amount of Navajo stories, philosophies and historical background. We couldn’t have had a better instructor!
A Posting by Ty Draper
Emerging Artisan, Moccasin Maker, NCAC Cohort 2016/17
I had the privilege to meet so many diverse, talented, and hardworking people. One of those influential individuals was Harry Walters, my mentor in this journey of cultural refinement and the instructor for our moccasin cohort. From the creation stories to the creation of the moccasins, he detailed his teachings from tradition. So much so, that in addition to meeting at the College, we also had classes taught right at his home in Red Valley, Az. I remember the first time being there. There was a calm essence when we arrived, welcomed by the warmth of the sun, in the midday of the winter season. The scent of cedar and juniper trees filled the air. As the day went on we visited different parts of his summer and winter camps. The stories of his grandparents and generations before them ignited the scenery. The crowded memories of the past engulfed our curious minds. The knowledge of different invasions of the Spanish and Europeans allowed us to gain a new perspective of the land. This taught us about respecting our craft and to be thankful for our gifts.
The opportunities that this program supplies, including the carefully chosen instructors such as Mr. Walters, have had profound effects on me as an artist. I have gained so much from the traditional concepts and as well as the contemporary ones. Initially, being a part of the Fine Arts Studies, I developed a yearning for the cultural arts. I found that within our Navajo history, much of our art is undocumented history, meaning that much of it remains within the realm of oral histories. Now that I have a better understanding of both the contemporary and the cultural arts, I would like to innovate the teachings of the past and bring those concepts and practices to the future of our creations. In other words, NCAP has enabled the contemporary artist, such as myself, to reconnect with the techniques of the past. My creations frequently include the color “blue.” It represents turquoise and in the Navajo stories “turquoise” represents the blue world and different stages in life. There is always a meaning behind the development of my artwork.
“Mother Earth and Father Sky guided me through my craftsmanship. The essence of duality exist in all of us, we all come from a female and male embodiment. We should not overshadow one over the other. Having the traits that are passed down through each generation is something we as “Diné” hold sacred, our gifts ignite our spirit.” –Ty Powers Draper
Emerging Artisan, Silversmith, NCAC 16/17
Hello! My name is Jerome Nez and I am a student at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. My clans are Salt Water (Todik’ozhi), born for the Salt People clan (Ashiihnli). My maternal Grandfather is of the Red Running into the Water clan (Tachiinii clan), and My Nalii are of the Honey Combed Rock (Tse’njikini clan). I am a community member of Whippoorwill, Arizona (Navajo Nation). These are my roots and who I am. Although I am carpenter by trade, I decided to add to my bag of tricks through my enrollment with the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. I am part of the 2016/17 Silversmithing Cohort, preparing for graduation this May! Thus far it has been a great experience and rewarding to be part of NCAP.
Along the way we have made some stops. One place we visited was the Gallup Trading Company. Not only does it have a lot of neat things to buy that are completely old school but also, the building structure of the shop is old-styled and pretty cool in itself. In addition to the jewelry, Gallup Trading Company sells stones. The quantity and quality of turquoise were impressive and the friendly people working there made for a nice, calm stop. We purchase a few stones and then continued our trip but not before our delicious stopover at Diné Grill to get our Mutton and Taco fix.
The next day we started our two day workshop time at Meltdown Studio! We learned, created, laughed, and met some wonderful people. Those couple of days of jewelry making has tied us all together, helping us to form bonds of respect and admiration. While at the studio, Lauren showed us techniques in stamping, hammering, bead making, bezel forming, wire bending, torch usage and overall tips that we could apply to our daily silversmithing practices. We had almost unlimited access to everything in the studio and we could make as much jewelry as we wanted with what was provided - If we only had more time! At Meltdown
What a huge honor it is to be part of NCAP and the teachings that I have learned and experience have helped me to grow. I have noticed that many techniques in Silversmithing seem too advanced and impossible to do at first. But with examination, study and practive, I know it can be done and it is possible. The first step you need is a positive attitude. That positivity will brush off on everything, although a lot of practice is still required. Places like NCAP and Meltdown Studio are excellent starting points.
One piece of advice from me: If you want to add a little bling to your life, you can first practice making jewelry with inexpensive pieces, so that you can get the hang of it. This way you don’t end up ruining your precious stones and metals. That is what I did – and now I am moving on from copper and brass to silvers and stones. You can stop by the 2017 Navajo Cultural Arts Museum Exhibit from April 17-21 to see some of my silverwork! And don't forget to vote on your favorite piece for the community choice award ;)
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.
A Posting by Sue Begay, Emerging Artisan
One trip that our NCAC cohort took recently was to Tuba City, Arizona. Tuba City is on the western portion of the Navajo Nation and is also home to one of the Diné College sites. The trip itself was educational. As part of our NIS 185 - Navajo Cultural Arts Business Systems class, we headed out to Tuba City to learn about the Navajo Shoe Game (keshjéé’), why we play it (which is only during the winter), and how ceremonial games are significant to our professions (hence the trip as part of our NIS185 class). Mr. Thomas Yellowhair, Mr. Avery Denny, and Mr. James McKenzie patiently taught us stories, songs, and rules of the shoe game. All of the teachers were eager to teach so much so that we also learned how to play the Navajo stick game called tsi’ dil’. And unlike keshjéé’, tsi’ dil’ can played anytime of the year.
Our trip to Tuba City brought the NCAC students closer with each other and closer to the NCAP mission of intergenerational teachings. For me, the most important part is that we got to know the individuals in our emphasis groups on a more personal basis. While we have class together, it was really nice to travel, eat, and share in another area of the cultural arts together.
Once again – I can always count on my cultural arts to help me meet new people and learn great activities. This is why I take my projects with me everywhere I go whenever possible. I treat my art work like one of my children – talking with them, feeding them, caring for them (never leaving them in a hot vehicle). They will keep you company and you will never feel alone.
A Posting by Jovita Lee, NCAP Work Study Intern
Hello, again! It’s me, Jovita the work study intern for the Navajo Cultural Arts Program. This semester has been filled with tons of rewarding experiences and new opportunities for me. I learned not only how to organize, promote and host lectures and workshops…but I, Jovita Lee, wove a rug and a horse cinch! Yup … you heard that right! As part of my work study – I got some ridiculously awesome time in front of the NCAP looms. I had a whole bunch of teachers that helped me meet one of my work study objectives. The Spider Rock Girls taught me stories about the struggles and realities associated with weaving as a means of financial income. It was so surprising to me that they started at a young age. During their workshop I really got a feel of warping my own loom, spinning 3ply edge cords, and utilizing the weaving tools.
I sat in on Ilene Naegle’s cohort weaving class and she showed me how to spin the 2ply. I really enjoyed that because we made wool bracelet to help us make the spinning process easier. When I had time, I spent some of my days in NHC 101C, outside of the NCAP office, working on my rug. Diné College employees would walk by and check on my progress. I was always excited to let them know that that was my first rug. And its true – never did I think I would be weaving a whole rug and now I’m doing the impossible. It also gave me time to meet with some NCAP students and see their work. They are great artists, creative and funny, and just easy to get along with. So, if you see Ilene, Paula Begay, Kirena Clah, or Heather Williams stop and ask them about their projects. They are some down to earth souls that I enjoyed meeting and weaving with.
In addition to my hands on experiences at the loom, I attended the Navajo Cultural Week at the Naschitti Elementary School. I really enjoyed this experience because it was a community I was familiar with. Not only was it on my side of the mountain, but also because this is where my mother is originally from. I helped the Emerging Artisans set up in the library of the Naschitti Elementary School. It is a new building and despite the coldness, the stories being shared to the elementary students warmed up the room with smiles. This is where I first met the other NCAP students, the silversmiths and moccasin makers.
The Emerging artisans demonstrated to students ranging in age from 4 years old to 10 years old. While some kids were being….well kids…. For the most part the students were curious and wanting to touch the finished projects. I was able to see some of my own little relatives and watch how excited they got about these demos. The event was successful, filled with learning, and hands experiences for these students.
I learned some other practical skills during my work study….like how to transport a loom in a car…. #weaversproblems. I was asked to take my loom home so I could finish it up faster. I had to figure out how to fit the loom in my car, so I rig it where my trunk wouldn’t close. Driving past members of Wheatfields and Crystal was an experience that I will not forget anytime soon. Heads turned as I drove by and the tried to figure out what was in my trunk. Their faces made me chuckle. First time I ever did anything like that. I also became extremely aware of weather patterns. Let’s just say …. Driving with your trunk open makes way for major drafts.
In the end, working with NCAP I had the opportunity to meet all kinds of Diné College employees. From security guards, to instructors, community members, and students, I got the chance to see how our College functions on another level. Most impressive was the growth of cultural art skills – not only of the Emerging Artisans – but also of my own weaving skills.
Finishing my projects was the best feeling ever. I’ve never in my life felt so accomplish starting from nothing then learning how to roll wool to spending the evenings finishing my weavings. All this, in addition to being a full time student earning her BA degree and having my fulltime parenting responsibilities, I made my declaration of being super woman when I was done. My first ever rug - completed. My first ever horse cinch - completed. My first semester as a NCAP work study intern – completed. I’ll remember these experiences forever. I would like to thank the NCAP program for that. I hope next semester I am working with them again for more joyous fun filled opportunities. Who knows- maybe I’ll pick up silversmithing next semester ;)