Since I first began working with Navajo weavers, I have been intrigued by how many ways the same basic pattern can be interpreted. In today’s world, it is easy to see how that happens. The traditional trading posts are gone. Except for Teec Nos Pos, Toadlena/Two Grey Hills, and the Hubbell Trading Post at Ganado, there aren’t many posts left that were initially responsible for the regional patterns that developed.
Weavers today can travel hundreds of miles to sell their weavings, or they can do it using their phones.
I would never have thought, even twenty years ago, that I would get a text from a weaver in Crown Point with a picture of a weaving and a message, “Jackson, I just finished this weaving. Do you want it? $500.”
And, knowing the weaver and the quality of the work, I can reply, “Sure. Send it up and I’ll put a check in your Wells Fargo account.” Or not. Who would have thought?
The bottom line is that weavers today are not tied to a particular trading post. They aren’t tied to any one style. A weaver has total control over the pattern and style they weave, and it doesn’t have to be a traditional pattern. Weavers have the freedom to sell their work anywhere they want to.
That is very different from the early part of the century. In a large sense, it was a function of transportation. Back in the 1930s, not many Navajo people had vehicles. Horses and wagons were the way they traveled. Today, nearly every family has a pick-up truck. Less than 30 percent of Navajo people spoke English. Today, English is the common language for all but the older generation, although most young people have a good knowledge of Navajo. You cannot run for the Navajo Nation presidency if you are not fluent in the language.
Because it was hard to get to a trading post that was even thirty miles away, the weavers generally took their works to the closest trader, who was almost always fluent in Navajo, or they wouldn’t be doing much business.
So, it’s easy to see why two different weavers today could weave a Storm Pattern, as an example, and have entirely different interpretations. It’s a little different to imagine how the weavers in the early part of the 20th century came up with interpretations and were able to sell their pieces. I guess that if a weaver did something dramatically different, but it was still attractive, the trader would buy the piece but maybe not pay as much for it. He knew he could sell the traditional design, but he might not have felt as comfortable with something dramatically different.
Of course, these are all my personal thoughts and interpretations of a different time. Still, when I run into weavings, like the Storm patterns featured in this newsletter, I can’t help but wonder if the pieces that varied from the norm were woven by younger weavers or was it an older woman that stepped outside of the expected box to make a statement.
We’ll never really know, but It’s a question to ponder.