The musings of a landscape painter, art teacher, and art history lover
I recently noticed that my abstract paintings, from my "Written Picture," project resemble weaving. The marks look like stitching and the designs feel like those you would see on woven fabric. I didn't intend this to be the case, as I was focused on using the dashes as words, but the resemblance is, nonetheless, there. Upon making this connection, and having grown up in Arizona, my thoughts immediately went to Navajo rugs. The Navajo Nation has a long and rich history of weaving rugs from wool, and if you are in the southwest for any length of time, you will encounter them. Often, we anglos use them as decoration, but the symbols in the rugs have deep meaning for the Navajo tribe.
As I studied a few of the Navajo rugs, I immediately discovered that many of them have a cross, like a plus sign, in them. In my own paintings, I have also employed a similar cross, but I never had any idea of why or what it might mean, other than it felt strong and spiritual. However, after doing just a bit of research, I have discovered that the Navajo cross represents the Spider Woman. The Spider Woman is a Navajo Deity that acts as a helper and taught the Navajos to weave as well as how to use agriculture. As far as I can tell, she is a benevolent force in the Navajo culture.
I like this idea and will keep it in mind as I go forward. I think that symbols are important and even if they are not your cultural symbols, they must still be respected. I will continue to use the cross in my paintings, but I hope to do so with greater understanding. I'm not trying to duplicate or translate the Navajo tradition, but I certainly do not want to use their symbol with any disrespect. I also intend to do further research into the Navajo rug symbols, as I find them fascinating.
The Teec Nos Pos Trading post is located in Norther Arizona and is one of the best places to purchase authentic Native American goods, including woven blankets. They also have a small museum that is wonderful. If you are interested in learning more about Navajo rugs, I recommend them. The Heard Museum in Phoenix is also a great place to learn about Native American culture.
Author: Bruce Black
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