Geneva Shabi

Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Artist/Scholar Fellowship


Geneva ShabiGeneva ShabiPhotograph by Katrina Lasko
Geneva Shabi
Geneva Shabi WeavingGeneva Shabi WeavingPhotograph by Katrina Lasko
Geneva Shabi Weaving

Sallie R. Wagner’s belief that “handsome simplicity in design is often more pleasing” seems to be the model by which Wide Ruins and later Pine Springs Navajo rug designs were developed. Sallie and her husband Bill Lippincott operated the Wide Ruins trading post on the Navajo reservation from 1938 through 1950, encouraging weavers to use vegetal dyes and develop a greater aesthetic in their rug patterns. In tribute to Ms. Wagner, who passed away on August 30th, the School for Advanced Research is pleased to announce that the 2006-2007 Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Fellowship is awarded to Geneva Shabi, a weaver from Wide Ruins.

Ms. Shabi lived most of her life in the Wide Ruins area, and the art of weaving for her family is multi-generational. Ms. Shabi follows in the footsteps of her mother, Marjorie Spencer, and late grandmother, Mamie Burnside, who worked with Sallie Wagner in the 1930s. She was taught to weave by them and is proud that her “rugs are always Wide Ruins style, [although] I’ve worked with many different patterns in my designs. The colors I work with are vegetal dyed. I use rich earth tone colors, like brown, beige, different shades of green, orange, yellow, and grey. My weaving is traditional... The wool I use is the thinnest pre-spun wool, and I dye some of [it]. I also do some spinning. My rugs are more intricate than my grandmother’s.” On occasion, Ms. Shabi also creates rugs in the Two Grey Hills and Ganado red styles.

Her interest in weaving began one summer during a break from school. “I decided to weave. I asked my mother and grandmother to help me put a loom together. Grandmother helped, but they weren’t too sure I would finish the rug. The rug was two feet by three feet, and I was determined to weave and finish it—and I did! I sold it and bought some school clothes. Thereafter, I wove a rug every summer break until I finished high school.” Ms. Shabi raised four boys and one girl and supported them through her weaving and employment with the U.S. Postal Service.

The significance of the Wide Ruins rugs made by Ms. Shabi and her family transcends simple artistic expression. Through the creative as well as spiritual aspects of weaving, Ms. Shabi beautifies her world and integrates her art into the Navajo “web of life.” Navajo people believe the culture hero Spider Woman taught them to weave and create with patience, understanding, and sensitivity. Over the centuries, the distinct style of Wide Ruins reflects unique historical and individual experiences, which can be observed in Ms. Shabi’s work. Her textiles reflect the fascinating evolution of Wide Ruins patterns and colors, and they illustrate the rich interplay not only between weavers and families, but also exchanges with individuals like Sallie Wagner.

The weavers in Ms. Shabi’s family are widely known and respected. “My mother Marjorie Spencer, sisters Irma Owens, Brenda Spencer, Vera Spencer, daughter Celesy Shabi, and I have been recognized in numerous books and magazines.” Geneva is featured in such publications as The Weavers Way: Navajo Profiles of 1994 Contemporary Navajo Weaving. Her work has been awarded Best in Show at the 1995 Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial and Best in Show at the 1995 Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona, where she was also awarded Best in Category and 1st Place. She has won numerous first-prize awards at Intertribal Ceremonials, the O’odham Tash Arts and Crafts Show, and the Museum of Northern Arizona.

The Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research is pleased to welcome Geneva Shabi as the 2006-2007 Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Fellow.

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