Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort (Silversmith/Weaver)
As a young Navajo person, I have made it my life’s goal to keep tradition, culture, language and history of my people strong and resilient from complete globalization and influences that affect the Navajo tribe from cultural extinction. The Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP) has been one of the first steps into giving me hope and inspiration to providing knowledge to our people in the future. As a student emphasizing in Weaving, I had the chance to emerge and strive towards a mastery level. NCAP has been one of the most exciting and best decisions I have ever made in my life. While growing up, I lived with my grandparents after the death of my mother when I was 6 years old. I remember how much I’ve grown to this day culturally. I first learned to weave by only observing and talking with my grandmother. I never actually attempted to warp a loom in my lifetime until this past year during a workshop I’ve attended in Phoenix at the Heard Museum. I was shockingly surprised by myself when I wove my first rug that came out beautifully.
My first piece - done at the Heard Museum
I found myself weaving like I knew how to do it already. My movements were natural and flowed smoothly as I reached the top of the loom to finish the rug. I think it’s amazing how my mind and my body kept a little part of something that I didn’t inherit completely. It was from this day on, I felt that I could do so much more. One thing, you should know is that I am a graphic designer. I come from a mother that painted, beaded, made moccasins and learned a lot in fashion. She was great. My father was also a painter and beader. So, I was not surprised when I started to drift towards more of becoming an artist myself. I learned a lot of my techniques while going to school at Arizona State University and Mesa Community College in the Valley. I came home after 6 years to live with my family and reconnect myself to our Navajo ways. I found a perfect way to merge my two lives into one when I joined NCAP. I learned so much from master weavers and my instructors at Dine College. I find myself visualizing more designs and recently started to experience a lot with color. A lot of what I do now is more contemporary, where color is more heavier over traditional design. I have a very long way to go to perfect my technique in weaving.
My motivation increased recently when I was awarded the Community Choice Award in the NCAP Museum Exhibit in April 2018 for “Sunset”, a traditional wide ruins rug infused with fiery colors. This has been a wonderful experience with NCAP. I currently have a larger loom up and going that looks stunning in its earlier stage.
As an emerging weaver, I encourage the younger generations to learn more about our cultural arts. Weaving is a medicine. When you weave, your body heals itself mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally in ways you can’t imagine. I found something for myself that utilizes my life’s teachings and knowledge to find a place in this world. It’s never too late to find yours.
Ahxéhee’. Thank You.
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"!!!!
Sue V. Begay
Hi blog readers! Do you remember me?! My name is Sue V. Begay an Emerging Navajo Artist from Dennehotso, AZ-Navajo Nation-USA. I am a proud member of the Navajo Nation. My clans are the Hashtl’ishnii clan born for the Kinyaa’aanii, my grandfathers are the Tabaaha and paternal grandfathers are the Kinlichii’nii. You may remember me from the 2017/18 Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Cohort – I was learning the cultural art of Moccasin Making and enhancing my skills in Weaving. Last year, my moccasins “White Shell Woman” took home the Board of Regents’ Choice Award at the 2017 Navajo Cultural Arts Exhibit.
I am now in the NCAP Apprenticeship Program and under the guidance of Master Weaver TahNibaa Naataanii. The Apprenticeship Program is for NCAC graduates like myself who want to continue their learning in a more specialized fashion. During the application process, we submit interest to work one-on-one with a mentor.
This is my fifth week in the apprenticeship. I can honestly say that my learning about weaving has grown tremendously since day one when I met with TahNibaa and her mother Sara. That day we spent getting to know each other – our strengths (and my weaknesses). It’s a good thing I know when to ask questions – because I sure had a lot of them! My first lesson was on terminology. I didn’t know what some of the rug weaving terms were and I got a quick lesson that first day. The vocabulary words that I learned are the “S” and the “Z” twists, rolags, skein, fine weight, medium weight, and heavy weight.
With TahNibaa’s assistance, I ordered my a Niddy Noddy, drop spindle, and carding tool for myself. If you are going to do things right – you need to have your own tools, she stresses. This way I can practice at home the proper way of handling my spindle. With the tools ready, I learned how to do the “Navajo three ply,” which is also called the “chain”. I learned how to do the “Andean wrap” on my hand. And with those first meetings under my belt, I was sent off with more homework – to use those techniques to make the edge cords of one of my rugs.
Things that I learned are going to help with my future rugs. Proper warping and how to “dress a rug” have been just a few of the techniques that I have learned. All this new knowledge, I just soak up the information like the wool soaks up the water. I can only get better and I plan to work hard at the skills that were introduced to me.
NCAPERS (Alumni and Current), if you are (1) a NCAC graduate or will be by Summer 2018 and (2) are interested in the being an apprentice, you should check out the NCAP website for the Apprenticeship Program. The application period for the Apprenticeship Program has just opened and will close April 20th!
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 ;)