Loom With a View

Cultures all over the world have been making rugs for centuries. Whether woven or consisting of millions of tiny knots, rugs that have traditionally been either utilitarian or ceremonial items are increasingly making their move to the wall, where they hang as works of art that illustrate not just the skill it takes to make something so beautiful, but the history and stories important to the human behind the work. In conjunction with their current exhibit--Navajo Weaving at Arizona State Museum: 19th Century Blankets, 20th Century Rugs, 21st Century Views--ASM is offering "Culture Craft Saturday" from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, a chance to meet Navajo weavers and learn more about the craft and history of weaving, as well as try it yourself.

Don't let the kitschy alliteration of "Culture Craft" scare you; the two weavers who will be present at the Saturday event are the real deal--artists who have devoted themselves to their work, explored new ways to make rugs that are more personally relevant and who are enthusiastic about teaching and sharing the traditions of weaving with those who are interested.

Roy Kady isn't shy about pointing out that he's something of a paradox in the world of Navajo weaving. Women are the primary weavers in Navajo society, and the few men who do weave don't do it full time; Kady spends eight to nine hours each day weaving. Many male weavers, according to Kady, prefer to remain anonymous; Kady actively promotes both himself and his craft. (And, he'll have you know, he's a bachelor, a condition that--according to his Web site--allows him "the freedom necessary to immerse himself in his art, luxuriating in all aspects of his natural talents.")

Now considered a master weaver, Kady learned to weave at the age of 9 from his grandmother. His first rug was small and unfinished, because, "It was just stripes," Kady says. "My mom suggested that I start with stripes, but I said 'No, I want to do a design.' I went right into complicated design."

Because Kady's sisters weren't initially interested in weaving, it was to Kady that his mother gave her loom and tools when she retired; today, Kady is known for the complicated designs that he loves, which often manifest as "theme" rugs that represent Navajo stories and myths, thus preserving Kady's culture pictorially.

"I learned all the regional designs to accomplish more," he says. "In my last two pieces, you see the multi-pattern and different techniques that come with regional styles. I'm incorporating it into the designs I'm doing right now."

Weaving isn't the only activity that Kady's involved in--he also manages to continually research the history of Navajo weaving through books and other museum exhibits; work in other mediums such as charcoal, pastel and wood; and act as a consultant for the art programs of local schools--but it's perhaps the most important.

"If I don't weave for a while, I feel like I'm lost, like something that is a part of me is gone. I need to weave."

TahNibaa Naat'aanii was also introduced to weaving at a young age. In the evenings, she would card "endless wool 'roll logs'" for her mother, also a nationally acclaimed weaver. ("I did this primarily because fragments of wool would stick to my skirt," says Naat'aanii, "and I could go outside and twirl and twirl to get it off"); on family trips to visit her grandparents, Naat'aanii would play with her grandmother's red wool. One day, when she was 7 years old, Naat'aanii came home from school to find a loom set up for her.

She began her lessons under protest; her mother would only let her weave stripes, plus the occasional diamond or rectangle, because she wanted her daughter to "learn the process first." Three years later, at the ripe old age of 10, Naat'aanii sold her first rug and discovered that she loved working with her hands.

She continued to weave through high school, though she often found it difficult to live in both the biligaana and diné'e (Navajo) worlds. "People tended to make fun of what was perceived as superstitious," she says. "I taught myself to make the Navajo woman's hairstyle, and proudly wore it to school. The other kids laughed and made fun of me. But I didn't care. I just kept wearing that hairstyle."

Naat'aanii's determination carried her through the rest of her adolescence and through a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. The love of weaving, however, never deserted her; she recently left a position as a bioscientist to pursue weaving full-time. Currently, she weaves regional designs and pictorials, experiments with creating "historic second- and third-phase chief-style men's and women's shoulder blankets" and uses the wedge weave technique (also used by Kady) to connect to the past traditions of her people.

Both weavers will demonstrate their craft at the Saturday event, which will also feature activities for kids of all ages; admission is free. ASM is located at 1013 E. University Blvd; for more information, call 621-6302.

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