This style of weaving appeared first in the Shiprock, New Mexico area of the Navajo Reservation. The trader credited with developing the style was Wil Evans. He encouraged weavers to take figures from their ceremonial Sand Paintings and incorporate them into their weaving. The forward-facing Yei (Deities) were woven as single figures, or in rows. Later, cornstalks, feathers and a “Rainbow Guardian Yei,” figure which served as side and bottom borders began to appear.
The Yeibichai was a natural evolution of the Yei Style. The Yeibichai is a ceremony held after the first frost in the fall and features dancers, dressed as Yeis, that essentially loan their bodies to the spirit of the Yeis. Yeibichai rugs generally depict the dancers from the side and in motion.
The Lukachukai area, south of Shiprock, also was an early
source of Yei weavings. The rugs from this area tended to be larger and the
figures more massive in their presentation.
Sand Painting weavings were first made by a Navajo Medicine Man, Hosteen Klah, who did special ceremonies to protect himself and his sisters from harm. Sand Painting designs were intended for healing and ceremonial use and were not supposed to be created in permanent form. Klah felt that the designs would be lost if they were not preserved. Modern weavers will generally leave some element out of a Sand Painting's design in respect for their beliefs.
Navajo pictorial weaving, with depictions of animals and trains, began in the late 1800’s. This particular style of weaving has blossomed with artists taking their imagery to new levels. The pictorial, like the sand paintings, represent a small number of the weavings made, but they are highly collectible and unique styles of Navajo weaving.
Navajo Pictorial Weavings by H. Jackson Clark