Navajo weaver and Medicine Man Anthony Tallboy came to the gallery yesterday with a beautiful Storm pattern.
We had been expecting him. He called on Friday to say he would have the weaving done by Monday. After he called, I started thinking about how long I’d known Anthony.
It had to have been at least 15 years, maybe more. He was a little thinner back then, but in reality, he is one of those guys who doesn’t seem to age much. He is always so stoic and quiet when he comes in that I make it my goal to get him to laugh. Once that ice is broken, we usually have a pretty interesting conversation.
During the Iraq wars, he was pretty busy doing healing ceremonies for returning Navajo soldiers. He also did protection ceremonies for them before they went to war.
He does ceremonies to cure people of different diseases. Years ago, when I had not seen him for quite a while, he came in and said he would be weaving a lot as he was taking a break from being a Medicine Man.
I asked him why.
Anthony is one of those really thoughtful people that doesn’t answer a question without giving it serious consideration. After a moment, he replied. He told me that he had been doing so much healing and that he had to be careful as the diseases he was extracting from people’s bodies could come into his and that he had to be careful not to wear himself down.
Yesterday when he came in with his two sisters, his small niece and his mom, we bought the Storm pattern, which is really lovely, and then sat around the rug room and talked.
I wanted to find out more about him. I was a little embarrassed that it had taken me so many years to dig deeper into who he really was, but for some reason, it had never felt comfortable. For some reason, it was the right time.
It turns out that Anthony is only 40 years old. I was struck by how wise this man seems for such a young guy. He started weaving when he was twenty. There are many male weavers and I was curious about why he started.
My father died and my mother didn’t feel well. My sisters were in school and someone needed to make some money. I had learned from watching my Mom weave so I set up a loom and started a rug.”
His mom, Mary Elsie, was one of 8 sisters and 8 brothers. She is a real sweetheart and sometime she will weave a rug to bring up when Anthony comes. She learned to weave from her mom who died at the age of 112!
Four years earlier, when he was 16, Anthony had started his studies to be a Medicine Man under the guidance of his uncle, Little John Benally. All of his uncles were Medicine Men. It is a tradition Anthony wanted to carry on. Benally lived to be 103 and was a mentor to Anthony until he died.
The same year he started weaving, he became a Medicine Man. He takes both of them very seriously.
I have occasionally asked him about the meaning of certain symbols in healing sand paintings. He always says he doesn’t know which would not be unusual as most Medicine Men are familiar with a limited number of ceremonies. Once, we had a large sand painting rug and I asked about something in it. When he said he didn’t know, Mary Elise took him aside and they talked for a while. Then I heard her say, “You tell him.” They had decided that whatever it was the symbol meant, it was ok to tell me. I never shared it with anyone else. After what he told me next, I am glad I didn’t.
In much of the Navajo Nation, the schools are getting better and the education that the children receive is leading them to better jobs, colleges and trade schools.
I asked him how the schools were at Rough Rock, Arizona where he lives.
It is different since the schools started teaching things they shouldn’t,” he said. “In the 70’s and the 80’s we had good schools and people were normal. Now they are wild.
It is because of some of the sacred words that are being taught. Schools are teaching the stories of the Talking Gods and other stories that people should not know until they learn the songs and the prayers. It makes them wild because these prayers and songs are sacred and are not meant to be taught to people who don’t know the meanings of the words.”
It started in the 90’s,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen.”
He is obviously concerned and I understood his reluctance to share his secrets with me, a complete outsider to that culture.
He is a fascinating man and I look forward to future visits and taking the time to learn more about him. One of the pitfalls we have in modern society is getting so wrapped up in our business, school, sports, social life or whatever, that we forget it is important to just sit, listen and learn.
Today was a good reminder for me. It is hard to learn something when you are not quiet, focused and giving your attention to the teacher. It also helps to ask the right questions!
I hope you like Anthony’s new weaving as much as we did at the gallery. It measures 70 inches by 46 inches and is for sale for $5400.00. It’s a great piece by a really unique individual.
Thanks for following our blog.