One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Soul Weaving from the Southwest

I just returned from a week in Santa Fe with my husband—our eighth visit to this place so radically different from where we live that we find ourselves drawn there time and time again.

The differences are obvious; the high (more than a mile high!) desert is a stark contrast to our watery, sea-level surroundings. Where the predominant colors in the Bay Area are shades of blue-grey (as in water, fog, air and cement) and green (as in trees), Santa Fe’s palette is made up of earth tones: browns and tans, terra cotta, adobe, pale sage and a lavender taupe that is the shadow of hills. Red and turquoise are decorative accents added to homes and personal accessories the way chilies are added to spice up the hearty fare.

Over the years of visiting we have gained special appreciation for the native handcrafts, especially the beautiful woven rugs and tapestries that the Navajo women have been creating since the late eighteen hundreds.

On our recent visit, we had the good fortune to catch the end of a display at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian ( The Durango Collection: Native American Weaving in the Southwest 1860--1880. This period of time was a kind of renaissance for Native American weaving, a time when the outside world became aware and interested in this skilled craft. Trading posts were being established--rugs, blankets and later tapestries were in demand from admiring 'white' collectors. All of the pieces in this show were made for practical use, mostly as wearable clothing. Outside influences also brought the availability of commercial dyes, giving the palette crimson reds and deep blacks, oranges and rich golds. (An interesting fact: the reds came from cochineal, a scaly insect whose bodies are used to make the carmine dye!)

The show was a a wonderful contrast to the show we saw at the museum two years ago: Nizhoni Shima’ (“My mother, it is beautiful!”): Weavers from the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills region. The weavings in this show were contemporary fine tapestries. To even try to describe the exquisite intricately subtle artistry of the work shown could not do it justice.

Even more humbling is the understanding of the time dedicated to each piece; the shearing, cleaning, carding and spinning and washing alone can  take up to six months and then the weaving another 6 months to a year. For a better sense of the patience, dedication and attitude around the process, watch this wonderful 10 minute video of Master Weaver Clara Sherman.

Many of the pieces have a thin line woven into the upper left hand corner that goes from the outer border to the interior of the weaving. (Too fine and subtle to see in these photos) We were told that it is the spirit line—the path where Spider Woman enters the weaver and guides her through the process. A reminder for us all to leave space, leave a path that the universal creative spirit can enter to guide us in our work, whether it be weaving wool into stunning rugs or words into stories.

Take good care,

Weavers at Toadlina/Two Grey Hills

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