Gifts of Spiderwoman: Myth and Reality Regarding Spirituality in Navajo Weaving

IARC Seminar

September 16–21, 2001

The Native American Artist Convocation, “Gifts of Spiderwoman: Myth and Reality Regarding Spirituality in Navajo Weaving,” convened on September 16, 2001. Facilitated by Indian Arts Research Center Director Kathy Whitaker, who is also serving as Research Associate for the Convocation, and Dubin Native American Artist Fellow Kalley Keams Lucero, the Artist Convocation asked and explored answers to questions regarding specific contemporary issues in Navajo weaving. The twelve participants, all accomplished weavers, represented a broad range of age and experience. One of the weavers is ninety years of age and another is eighty-eight; the remaining participants range in age from twenty-nine to sixty-six. This Convocation marked the first time these weavers met specifically for the purpose of discussing their work. For some, it was the first time they have ever talked with another weaver about their work. One of the weavers is also a medicine man.

On Tuesday, September 18, friends and members of the School were invited to meet with the artists at a reception and to view the artist’s weavings; several weavers demonstrated their skill during the event. The weavers presented a lunchtime colloquium for scholars and others on Wednesday, September 19; each weaver spoke about his or her life and background in weaving. The Convocation ended Thursday evening with a public forum in the School’s Board Room where the weavers discussed their experiences at the School for Advanced Research. 

The discussions with the weavers about their work and the textiles in the collections at the Indian Arts Research Center focused on exploring how weavers incorporate ideas of spirituality into their rugs and tapestries and analyzed historic and contemporary textiles in the Indian Arts Research Center's collection. Questions were raised for consideration and discussion regarding recently published materials that discuss ideas of power and religious meanings in Navajo historic and contemporary weavings. Each individual weaver’s interpretation was paramount to these discussions.

These annual artists’ convocations are modeled after the SAR advanced seminars that convene leading scholars to discuss “cutting edge” concerns in anthropology and related disciplines. As with the seminar experience, a group of accomplished Native American artists are invited to reside at the Seminar House for several days, where they meet day and night, conducting discussions in the IARC vault and using objects from the collection to stimulate their exploration. A book, published by SAR Press, will memorialize each Convocation, making the experience available to the public.

Kalley Keams Lucero, Facilitator Glendale, Arizona
Kathy Whitaker, Facilitator Director, Indian Arts Research Center
Irene Clark Sand Springs, Crystal, New Mexico
Mae Clark New Lands, Sanders, Arizona
Glenabah Hardy Sand Springs, Crystal, New Mexico
TahNibaa Naat’aanii Table Mesa, New Mexico
Marilou Schultz Mesa, Arizona
Clara Sherman Toadlena-Newcomb, New Mexico
Angie Silentman Toadlena, New Mexico
Brenda Spencer Wide Ruins, Arizona
Anthony Tallboy Rock Point, Arizona
Barbara Jean Teller Ornelas Tucson, Arizona
Janet Tsinnie New Lands, Sanders, Arizona

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