Museum exhibit a tribute to Navajo weavers

By Karen Francis
Window Rock, Arizona (AP) 6-09

It’s one of the largest exhibits of fine Navajo rugs ever displayed at a museum, and the only word that can describe it for Navajo Nation Museum director Manuelito Wheeler is “overwhelming.”

Museum curator Clarenda Begay concurred.

“People just are overwhelmed when they see the textiles,” she said. “The way it’s presented in these panels, people really pay attention to it.”

The Diyogi t’aa bil Anooseel or Generations exhibit, which opened in a gallery of the museum on May 14, has more than 300 rugs on 32 panels on loan from the Toadlena Trading Post in Toadlena-Two Grey Hills.

The exhibit came about by working with guest curator Mark Winter, owner of the trading post, and co-curator Linda Larouche. It came together at the most appropriate time as this is the 100 year anniversary of the trading post.

But the museum definitely did not need a reason to display the beautiful rugs, Wheeler said.

“It’s really the most documented exhibit of Navajo rugs,” Winter said.

The exhibit began, Winter said, because he wanted to try to give credit to some of the old-time weavers that have been forgotten.

“So I brought old rugs out and started interviewing different weavers and started trying to figure out weaving styles,” he said.

There were more than 1,000 interviews conducted to put together genealogies of weaving families, he said.


After an early version of the exhibit first went on display at the Toadlena Trading Post in 2000, more people came forward to fill in the gaps and provide photographs and information on their relatives who wove.

The result of his 20 years of research and the displaying of the rugs in the community is the exhibit currently at the museum.

The rugs are divided into panels by families – many of which are well-known for their fine textiles.

One of the most unique features of the exhibit is the inclusion of the weavers’ clans. Many Navajo people look for their own clans among the families as they examine the exhibit, Begay and Winter said.

The displays also indicate if there are any young weavers in the family who are carrying on the fine weaving tradition.

“The most important thing about this exhibit is the weavers. It shows the genius it takes to weave the rug,” Wheeler said.

Winter said what makes the Toadlena-Two Grey Hills rugs special is that the weavers still make them in the traditional way, including using natural material.

“The weavers from this area only work with natural material,” Begay said. Most of the wool was made from churro sheep, she added.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” Winter said about the weaving process.

There are several extra features that are part of the exhibit such as the carding station where visitors can try their hand at carding wool.

A documentary on master weaver Clara Sherman plays in the gallery among the hundreds of rugs.

“Clara is one of the finest weavers from that area,” Begay said.

Visitors also get the opportunity to try weaving for themselves with the demonstration loom set up in the museum lobby. The exhibit is open until Jan. 23 and admission is free.

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