Navajo pictorial weaving has been around since the early 1900s. The original pieces were simple. Scenes of railroad trains were a popular early pattern in the rugs. Some weavers still create this type of pictorial. The weaving below uses an old Navajo wearing blanket as a background for a train!
Over time, pictorial weaving has become more and more unique. Two sisters who have played a part in that change are Florence Nez Riggs and Jane Hyden. They were born in Tuba City, Arizona. They learned to weave at a young age with the guidance of their mother, Louise Nez and Grandmother, Laura Nez. Their brother, Billy Nez and sister, LaVerne Nez Greyeyes are also weavers.
What is interesting about their pictorials is that they tell a story, something is happening in their work. Most pictorials are scenes of Navajo home life, much like someone took a photograph of someone’s homestead. These ladies step outside of that camera frame and create an event that makes you feel as if life is happening right in front of you.
This trading post scene by Hyden puts us inside one of those iconic businesses and captures all the action. A weaver is selling a rug to the trader, people are leaving with their groceries, a young couple is sitting on a bench (maybe courting?), a man is stocking the shelves and an exchange is taking place over a coffee cup on the ice cream counter. Pots and pans, groceries, tools, and weaving supplies are on display. And the view out the back window is of the red rocks and a stream coming through the pasture.
This is a picture of what trading post used to be, the center of commercial and social life for the Navajo people. Today there are a handful of trading posts still operating. It’s a scene from the past.
Her sister Florence wove a very unusual weaving with a scene from a Hopi village. The Kachina dancers are moving back into the Kiva during a break in their dancing. Men are carrying lanterns to light the inside of the Kiva. The dancers are lined up, climbing the steps on the outside of the Kiva, preparing to descend on the ladder the comes out of the opening on top. The lone Mudhead in the scene is carrying a painting of a Kachina.
The Mudheads provide levity and humanity to the Kachina ceremonies (they are always goofing around!) and you just know he was somehow using the painting to make fun of the Kachinas during the dance!
It is very unusual for a Navajo pictorial weaver to depict a Pueblo scene in their work. I have only seen this once before in a weaving that is in the collection of the Center of Southwest Studies.
Florence is one of those women who is willing to step out of the normal! We received this weaving on consignment and when my sister Antonia showed it to Florence, she was really pleased to see it again saying it was one of her most unusual pieces.
There are many different types of pictorials. Some people
include the Yei and Yeibichai styles in that category and I think there is
justification for that. These are depictions of Navajo Holy People and dancers.
The variety of interpretations on these pieces are endless.