If you have been following our newsletter a while, you know the story of the Burnham weavers. In a chapter house area south of Shiprock and across the road from Two Grey Hills, a group of five sisters, Anna Mae, Marie, Helen, Alice and Sandy, began creating unique Navajo weavings in the 1970s.
There really is not a clear definition of a Burnham weaving, but essentially, they combine traditional designs from all of the different weaving areas, including pictorial elements, and they break rules, like not having symmetrical borders and designs that are found in most contemporary Navajo weavings.
Since we first started to work with this wonderful family of weavers, in the 1970's, dozens of women from the area and across the reservation have emulated and created their own versions of the "Burnham" weavings.
John Rich, a good friend and the operator of the Jacob Lake Lodge near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, tells the story of one weaver who came in with an entirely different type of weaving than she normally brought to him.
John has been familiar with Burnham weavings for decades, but didn't know how this weaver had heard about them.
He asked her what style of rug she had woven and she replied, "It's a Burnt Ham rug!" She continues to work in the style today.
Helen, the actual originator of the design, once told me that a friend and neighbor visited her on a regular basis when Helen had a rug on the loom. When Helen went to her home, she said that the woman's rug was always covered up.
One day, Helen stopped in unexpectedly and saw that the neighbors weaving was very similar to hers with the exception that it was not made with hand spun wool. She didn't say anything to her friend, but was pretty upset when she told me about it on her next trip to Durango.
"Twin Warriors", Helen Begay Burnham
Helen is an extraordinary weaver and artist. The only thing I could say to her was the she knew she was a better weaver than her friend and that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!
Helen Begay and her able assistant
I told her, "I guess this means you are going to have to get better all the time!" She laughed and shrugged the incident off, knowing that, yes, she was a better weaver and she had nothing to worry about with her friend copying her work.
"Night of the Yeibichai", Bernal Begay
These women have created some amazing pieces over the years and now, several cousins and daughter's are weaving Burnham rugs. What happens is that when a weaver is working on a larger piece, they often have a smaller one on the loom to take a break from the main piece, or perhaps they are doing a small one to take to one of the auctions at Crown Point, Farmington or Gallup. These weavings create income for them while their larger weavings are on the loom.
"My Two Ladies", Ursula Begay
These smaller pieces have become some of my favorites. They are always attractive and unique, embody the essence of the Burnham style and are, when you consider the time involved in making them, very reasonable. The smaller Burnham weavings offer the collector, or casual rug buyer, the opportunity to purchase a very nice weaving by a name artist.
Bernal Begay, This is clearly a beautiful, wedding themed weaving
This weaving, by Laverne Begay, came in the gallery with Laverne and her grandson today.
Today, we are offering a selection of these small Burnham pieces. Some we bought from the artists and some have come from estates, but, they are all really nice weavings!
"The Season" (of the Yeibichai dances), Laverne Begay
So, take a look and give us a call if you would like to try one in your home. We are in the process of getting a new web site up and running, so many of these are not on our site and you will have to reference them from this blog.
Alice Begay, Burnham Weaving, "Rainbows and Butterflies"
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