Introduction: A Tradition of Adaptation

 In MOA Features

In conjunction with the exhibition Weaving the Unexpected: Navajo Pictorials from the Lucke Collection, the graduate curatorial students involved in creating the exhibition each submitted an essay to be compiled into a book of the same name as the exhibition. This book is available for purchase at the MOA Store. Here we feature one of the essays.

Introduction: A Tradition of Adaptation

Nicole Ashley Vance

The Navajo have a deep and rich history that spans hundreds of years. Over time,
they have come into contact with multiple cultural groups and have adopted new artistic methods. Thus, Navajo artistic creation is in a constant creative flux, where artists, especially weavers, experiment with new designs found in the ever-changing world around them. Because Navajo pictorials, like those seen in the Lucke Collection, account for only one percent of all weavings, many believe that these illustrative textiles are inauthentic to Navajo traditions.1 However, pictorial weavings are just one link in a chain of artistic change over the centuries.
After migrating to the Southwest in the fifteenth century, the Navajo came into contact with the Pueblo people. This native community introduced farming techniques to their Navajo neighbors, who decided to stay in the region. The Spanish arrived in the area in the sixteenth century and taught the Navajo and Pueblo how to herd livestock, mainly sheep and goats. It is during this period that the Navajo commenced weaving tapestries.
The Navajo began with geometric patterns woven with natural wool often dyed with vegetable pigments. Once they came into contact with traders from the south, they began to incorporate indigo dyed wool that came from Mexico City.2 Although influenced by various cultures, these geometrically patterned textiles came to symbolize Navajo, or Diné, culture.
When Anglo Americans began to occupy the West in the nineteenth century, they brought new ideas and weaving materials. Synthetic aniline-dyed yarn made in Pennsylvanian textile mills was widely received among the Navajo. With this new material, weavers introduced new colors into Navajo textiles and decreased the total weaving time dramatically. With the introduction of aniline-dyed yarn, Navajo pictorial weavings emerged. The weavings

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