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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
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Navajo textile designer/weaver to demonstrate techniques

By Jessica Moskwa

Renowned Navajo weaver, respected textile designer and innovator D.Y. Begay will present her knowledge of Navajo weaving in a public demonstration and lecture on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Museum of Art.

D.Y. Begay will share her extensive knowledge of Navajo weaving at the Kennedy Museum of Art.Her work, which accentuates simple patterns, bold colors and is strongly influenced by 19th-century Navajo wearing blankets, has been exhibited at museums and weaving venues nationwide.

Weaving is not a hobby for Begay; it is a way of life. She writes, "What I do as a wife, mother, artist, business person and community member, all ties in with my weaving."

Learning how to weave is a crucial aspect of being a Navajo woman; it defines her role in the traditional family structure and in the culture as a whole. Often, the weavings are an important source of income for a Navajo family and the women take this responsibility seriously from an early age.

Begay wove her first rug when she was twelve years old. Kóó t' éego means allowing people to watch and to learn from watching, according to Begay. She would watch her mother gather plants for making dyes or listen to her while she worked at the loom, eventually learning to weave through her observations. This practice creates a special bond between mother and daughter and sustains an important tradition.quote

Once outside the reservation, Begay's weaving education continued. In high school, she was encouraged to pursue weaving by her art teachers. She became interested in different weaving traditions, including Chilkat blankets from the Northwest coast. Continuing her education at Arizona State University, where she received her teacher's certificate, she took fiber art classes and studied different weaving techniques, processes and materials.

Begay's influence on her weavings begins long before her fingers touch the loom. She is involved in all aspects of materials collection and the process of creating the yarn. She shears her own Churro sheep and cleans, cards, dyes and spins the wool.

Begay, who divides her time between homes in Tselani on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and Scottsdale, Ariz., uses plants native to the reservation to naturally dye the fleece and experiments with more unusual plants. She writes, "Everything in my weaving is natural. I use the same techniques passed from my ancestors to me to create designs that have artistic and traditional values."

Begay's weaving accentuates simple patterns and bold colors and is strongly influenced by nineteenth-century Navajo wearing blankets. Although rugs like these are traditional, Begay derives her ideas both from classic Indian blankets and her own sketches, and her new projects draw on diverse influences.

Begay's work is influenced by 19th-century Navajo blankets.Besides creating new rugs, Begay is interested in documenting stories about Navajo weaving techniques, materials, dyes and tools. She hopes to organize a facility to collect and maintain information about weaving techniques, styles, dyes, plants, sheep and individual weavers, and eventually offer weaving workshops.

Begay's lifestyle bridges the gap between life on and off the reservation, giving her an advantage over older Navajo weavers in assessing the market value of Navajo weavings. Sometimes, language and age can work against Navajo weavers. Begay writes of a grandmother she knows who will sell a weaving below its value so she will have money to buy treats for her grandchildren. To counteract this trend, Begay is establishing a business that will sell Navajo rugs woven by family and friends.

She writes, "I believe that Navajo weaving should be presented, sold, taught and preserved by the Navajo people, and I have found a lot of support for this approach among weavers and friends."

Jessica Moskwa is a student writer with the College of Fine Arts.
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