|Friday, May 23,
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
Phase Chief’s blanket), and asked me to come down the next day
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
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.
Craig ‘Indiana’ Watson at
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.
with her Ganado red rug.
Amy Chavez, left, is holding her Angora 6' x 5' Third Phase
blanket with her sister-in-law Lilly Lee.
The author, Amy Chavez, Lilly Lee, and Lilly's grandson
Chavez (l-r), also an artist and weaver, pose in front
8x10 Hubbell Trading Post style Ganado Red rug in
her home prior
to taking photos in front of the Shiprock.
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
tapestries since being taught by Roy Kady,
an award-winning Navajo
weaver from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.