What is it?
This artwork depicts a female seated at an upright loom, as is traditionally used in Navajo weaving. The woman is weaving a rug that appears to include figures. To the weaver’s left side, there is a baby and to her right, there’s a collection of colorful yarns/fibers. She is sitting on what is likely sheep’s wool, which is commonly used in Navajo rugs and baskets.
What inspired it?
The Navajo learned the art of weaving from the Pueblo Indians, who used plant fibers to construct their rugs. When the Spanish arrived, the Navajo began to use wool from the Spanish sheep, rather than plants, and continued to develop their own approach to weaving. This object may have been created as a communication tool for sharing the importance of weaving with a younger generation, indicated by the baby next to the weaver figure.
Weaving is considered to be an important social activity and a part of Navajo life and culture, due to the amount of dedication required, as well as the dependence on family and elders for lessons. Perhaps the baby to the left of the figurine represents the child (or grandchild) and the new generation to whom the weaving traditions will be passed.
Many Navajo rug designs include symmetry and repetition. The figures on the rug may represent Navajo Yébîchai. Although this rug isn’t finished, patterns are already beginning to take shape.
The colors on the rug, and in the wool sitting to the right of the figurine, appear natural with earth tones. Many of these colors are achieved through dyes created from different plants and minerals either found nearby or traded with others.
Wool is a common fiber in weaving. It is collected by shearing sheep and processing the fleece. After the fleece has been washed, it is combed, straightened, and de-tangled through a method known as carding. Then, the wool is spun 2-3 times and twined together to create a consistency appropriate for weaving. The wool the weaver is sitting on has been cleaned and carded, but not yet spun.
Despite the small scale of this object, this is an accurate representation of a vertical loom. The tightly wound threads that are wrapped vertically on the loom are known as the warp. The colorful threads that are woven horizontally, over and under the warp threads, are known as the wefts. Weavers use the batten, a long stick, to create a temporary opening to feed the wefts through the warp. After the wefts are in place and situated, a weaving comb is used to pack the thread. The process is repeated on the loom, using different colored wefts to make the different shapes and patterns until the rug is complete.