Tree of Life by Emily Malone

Rectangular shaped weaving with a brown border. The center of the rug shows 10 birds in a variety of colors perched on the end of each leaf of a cornstalk. The cornstalk is growing out of a woven basket on an orange background.
Tree of Life by Emily Malone
Tree of Life
Maker
Emily Malone
Origin
Navajo
Medium
wool, dye

Details

Detail of a rug with a cream feather with orange accents on a brown background
Hallmark

Each Spider Rock girl has her own “hallmark,” or signature, that she puts on all of her weavings to identify them as hers. Emily’s hallmark is a feather.

Rectangular shaped weaving with a brown border. The center of the rug shows 10 birds in a variety of colors perched on the end of each leaf of a cornstalk. The cornstalk is growing out of a woven basket on an orange background.
Design

For this rug, Emily drew on what is called the “Tree of Life” or a “corn plant and bird” style. This design typically features a corn plant or tree growing out of a basket, with birds perched on the plant or flying around it, just as is depicted here.

Detail of corner of woven rug with cream and brown wool
Wool

Emily grew up helping to care for her family’s herd of sheep. Her family processed the wool themselves by shearing the sheep, then cleaning the wool with detergent, carding it (combing the wool to detangle it and make it straight), and dyeing it.

About

What is it?

This object is a wool rug that was woven on a loom by a contemporary Diné (Navajo) Master Weaver.

Who made it?

This object was made by Emily Malone, who is part of the family group, the Spider Rock Girls -- a three-generation group of weavers. They are based in the Chinle area of Arizona, not far from Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly, on the Navajo Nation. Emily started weaving when she was 9 years old, and has now been doing it for over 40 years. She was taught by her mother, and she taught her own daughters how to weave. The Spider Rock Girls website explains, “Our family has been weaving rugs for generations. Although our home on the Navajo Nation is one of the most beautiful places in the world, it isn’t an easy place to live. Weaving has meant a lot to our family and has helped us pay for food, clothing, and education.” Emily says that, although weaving is her livelihood, it means more to her than just an income. “I’ve been doing this for so many years, I’m connected to my weaving.”

Arizona map

What inspired it?

This rug depicts a “Tree of Life” or “corn plant and bird” design, which is a common Navajo style that usually portrays a cornstalk or tree growing from a basket. Emily also chose a bold color for the background, which is uncommon for this style rug. She did, however, give it a dark, plain border, which is standard with this type of design. Emily expressed her individuality in this piece by making the design in her own way. Birds are often shown perched on the central plant or the ground, or flying around. Colorful flowers and vines are often also featured, although not in this case.

How is it made?

This rug was made on a vertical or ”upright” loom. The vertical “warp” threads are tightly wound around the loom. Other threads are horizontally woven over and under the warp, and these are called wefts. This style of weaving is accomplished with the use of a batten, which is a long stick used to create space in the warp threads to push the wefts through. The wefts are then packed into place using a weaving comb. Note that there is a weaving comb woven into the textile on the bottom left. Emily used many different colored wefts to make the designs on this rug. To learn more about traditional Navajo weaving tools and practices, click here. To learn about a traditional Navajo rug from the late 1800s, click here. To learn about another contemporary Navajo rug, click here.