July 06, 2018

Traditional Textiles and the Navajo Tree of Life

By Raven Makes
Traditional Textiles and the Navajo Tree of Life

Traditional Textiles and The Navajo Tree of Life

Next week, our little town is transformed by the hanging and display of more than 1,300 quilts, representing textile artists from around the world. A week of this particular kind of energy--storytelling, teaching, critiquing, and the sense of fine craft--shows why Sisters draws thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Fiber artists follow a sense of tradition, infuse geometric details, and use cloth in fantastic, vibrant ways. The past century has seen quilts evolve from necessity items to elaborate works of art. Quilters use of textiles to preserve a story and express a deeply personal experience offers a medium also embraced by Native American quilters. Depicting a culture hero, a spectacular event, a meditation, or a healing process is often at the heart and soul of a quilt.

American Indian tribes of the Great Plains incorporated quilting to replace buffalo robes and blankets when the bison was nearly hunted to extinction. By the late 1800’s, Native women were working with fabric pieces provided by missionaries and traders to create quilts in the sacred symbol of the Star or Gods’ Eye.

Recognition of cosmic patterns and knowledge--along with skill of adornment of woven fabric, plant, material and quilling--was evident as a way to continue to honor and protect their loved ones who draped themselves in ceremony. Therefore, Native American quilts are gifted to newlyweds, cover the shoulders of soldiers with PTSD, drape alters, and cocoon the aged or sick as they journey to the Stars. In joy and with legacy, a prized quilt is displayed as a banner or it might cover a sweat lodge.  

For a Navajo rug weaver, the Tree of Life portrays a meaningful, joyous story of connection, honoring, and guardianship of sacred symbols in both their supernatural and physical worlds. The corn plant, rainbow, eagle feathers and the multitude of Holy Beings represented as birds indicate a sacred universe that is to be cherished and cared for in the present or upper world. The blessings of the super-naturals are reflected in the protection provided by the Four Sacred Mountains that sustain the Dine with water, powerful animals, and medicine plants for healing. The Blue Bird, a messenger from God, along with flowers, bees, and plants bring a sense of harmony and connection to the natural world. These elements are depicted with balance and beauty within Navajo textiles.

Raven Makes Gallery is honored to display a Tree of Life Quilt, by Diné Quilter, Joann Begay Flannigan, of Reno, Nevada. The quilt will be on display and for sale during the 2018 Sisters Quilt Show.