- United States
Ason Yellowhair, United States
7.8 ft. X 10.9 ft.
The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum, 1984.4
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
Ason Yellowhair is an accomplished weaver who lives on the Navajo Nation, an area that covers over 27,000 square miles of land, extending into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. In 2002, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. Yellowhair began weaving banded geometric designs and moved to pictorial rugs in the 1950s, eventually settling on her present style in the 1970s. She describes weaving as very hard work: “You perspire a lot. A man might work hard chopping wood, his shirt hanging out or maybe no shirt at all. It’s the same with weaving—very hard work.” Yellowhair has shared her skill with her family, teaching most of her daughters to weave when they were children, and continuing a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.
What Inspired It
This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. They are now sold to tourists, collectors, and museums. Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug is part of the DAM’s Gloria Ross Collection—a collection of Navajo rugs from the late 1900s.
The history of Navajo weaving is one of change and constant innovation. Navajos learned loom weaving sometime in the 1600s from neighboring Pueblo peoples. The art form was further enhanced by the introduction of sheep by the Spanish. Trade, tourism, and the art market have been an inspiration and influence for artists, and have made a major impact on Navajo weaving.
This rug follows the unique Yellowhair family style, which is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction.
Unidentified plant stalks are arranged in horizontal bands across the width of the rug. They are adorned with red, white, orange, and beige flowers. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on designs she saw on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers.
Although birds are significant in traditional Navajo religion, Yellowhair says her birds carry no specific sacred meaning, but “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”
The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.
Notice the uneven coloration of the grey background. The wool used to make this rug would have come from multiple batches that would have been individually dyed, resulting in slight variations in color between batches.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- The plant stalks in Ason Yellowhair’s rug were inspired by the patterns on Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum wrappers. Bring in several examples of commercial packaging and have students create a motif inspired by one of them. Have students think of more ways to find inspiration in unexpected places.
- Have students, in pairs, describe a skill that they have learned from a family member or mentor. This could be implemented in a show-and-tell format. Weaving is a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next in Yellowhair’s family. Using their own experience as an example, have students write a statement about the value of continuing the traditions of older generations.
- This artwork has great examples of repetition (flowers, birds, border shapes), variation (bird and flower colors) and rhythm (the combination of birds and flowers repeated throughout the rug). Ask students to compose a poem about this artwork using repetition, variation and rhythm.