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Cortez, CO 81321
Telephone (970) 564-1544

"Harmony and Spirit in Navajo Life,", May, 2008.
(Reprinted with permission from HALI Publications)


Friday, May 23, 2008

Craig ‘Indiana’ Watson writes: The elegance, charm and personal power of the Native American Navajo weaving artist and pastoral rancher is rarely captured photographically due to Navajo cultural taboos. This is true even for we who appreciate Navajos’ imposing physical presence and concomitant humility, and are in constant contact with them.

The Navajo Indian Reservation occupies many thousands of square miles, about one sixth of the southwestern state of Arizona. A discontinuity of consciousness exists between the two sides of the boundary line separating my ‘Anglo’ world from that of the Navajo.

The two Navajo weavers seen standing in front of the famous Shiprock, a monumental volcanic cone and significant ceremonial site for Navajos, are sisters-in-law Lilly Lee (left) and Amy Chavez. Like most Navajos, they live, work and weave on a large extended family ranch with many homes. I have known and worked with this, the best of Navajo weaving families, for just over three years: Lilly’s grandson also weaves, and all three of them are accomplished artistic weavers.

In late April 2008, when Lilly, who does not speak English, had almost completed weaving her 8’ x 10’ Hubbell Trading Post style Ganado red rug, she told me she would like to have some photos taken at her home before delivering the rug to me. Then, on Sunday 11 May, Amy telephoned me to say that both she and Lilly had completed their weavings (hers is a 6’ x 5’ Angora Third Phase Chief’s blanket), and asked me to come down the next day to take family photos. It was remarkable that two large weavings were completed simultaneously in a co-ordinated manner.

Their ranch is about an hour’s drive south of my home in Cortez, Colorado, a few miles as the crow flies, southwest of the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, and west of the towering cinder namesake cone. After taking some photos of both weavings at the ranch, Lilly said she wanted some photos with her rug in front of the Shiprock. Amy too! We’d never before done this.

So three vehicles – two full of Navajo family members, weavers and their weavings, and me in mine – drove the ten miles of dirt road back to the paved highway, then east to the largest of the volcanic fins running for miles in different directions from the Shiprock. Its name in the Navajo language means “rock with wings” and, it is considered to be a giant petrified bird, fitting into the tribe’s ancient oral origin myths.

I followed Amy and Lilly to the desired spot, just off the highway east of this volcanic fin, looking north, with the Shiprock behind them. Some family members helped hold Lilly’s big rug behind her. Then we took photos. We were having a lot of fun – we knew that it was, in a way, a historic occasion for all of us, and everything came together perfectly, including the weather, the most attractive of Navajo weavers and their weavings, and of course location location location...

After the more routine photos, all of a sudden both women wrapped their pieces around them, to wear like the old days, even Lilly’s 8’ x 10’ Ganado rug! We all laughed a lot while talking about Hollywood and snapping photos with film and digital cameras. Amy, Lilly and I hope you enjoy their photographic presence, their expert artistic weavings, and most importantly, their photo essay of peace, harmony and beauty.

A technical and spiritual aside: Lilly wove this huge, perfect rug in less than nine weeks, in my experience a record breaking stunt in Navajo weaving. She had a major spiritual ceremony performed for her just before starting to weave it. Navajo weavers often do this, but rarely with such superhuman weaving results. I’d have expected more like four months of weaving time, at fastest. As benchmarks for professional weavers, a typical Navajo weaver will make a 5’ x 8’ rug in about three months, a 4’ x 6’ in two, and a 3’ x 5’ in a month. Lilly is now weaving a 6’ x 8’ Two Grey Hills rug for me. It might be done by the time you read this! From my experience with Navajo spiritual ceremonies, having attended a few, these ancient rites involve friends and family in the most intimate setting. The resultant encouragement and support that Lilly derives from such ceremonies is hard to fathom for those of us not so engaged in the Navajo community, which to this day still Walks and Weaves in Beauty.

The author, Craig ‘Indiana’ Watson at
the Shiprock.

Navajo weavers Lilly Lee (left) and her sister-in-law
Amy Chavez at the Shiprock, wearing an 8’ x 10’
Hubbell Trading Post style Ganado red rug and a
6' x 5' Angora Third Phase Chief's blanket.

Lilly Lee with her Ganado red rug.

Amy Chavez, left, is holding her Angora 6' x 5' Third Phase
Chief's blanket with her sister-in-law Lilly Lee.

The author, Amy Chavez, Lilly Lee, and Lilly's grandson
Hillario Chavez (l-r), also an artist and weaver, pose in front
of Lilly's 8x10 Hubbell Trading Post style Ganado Red rug in
her home prior to taking photos in front of the Shiprock.

Craig Watson, owner of Indiana Watson's Indian Weaving,
has focused exclusively on Navajo and Southwestern Native
American weavings. Craig works closely with Navajo weavers
on the Navajo Reservation and he designs and weaves his
own Navajo-loomed tapestries since being taught by Roy Kady,
an award-winning Navajo weaver from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.