Eleanor Yazzie

Navajo Rug Weaver Eleanor Yazzie

Eleanor was born in 1963 at Keams Canyon, Arizona to Joe and Ella Benally. She has two sisters and five brothers. When visiting her grandmother on her mother's side who lived at Smoke Signal, she would watch her weave. Her grandmother, Bah Begay, especially loved weaving storm pattern rugs. Eleanor helped her grandmother who, at that time, made handspun rugs. Eleanor learned every step from shearing the sheep to washing and dyeing the wool to spinning the yarn. Because her grandmother especially loved the storm pattern weavings, this style was the first type woven by Eleanor. Her mastery of complex geometrics and diagonal lines comes from this experience in weaving the storm pattern.

One of the added dimensions to this particular style of artwork is the manner in which weaving is learned. Rather than being taught in a formal setting, Navajo weaving is usually part of the overall fabric of their lives. Children are raised watching grandmothers, mothers, and aunts working at their looms. After years of helping and watching her grandmother and her mother weave, Eleanor attempted her first rug at the age of fitteen. A pattern seems to run in her family for weaving starting in the adolescent years. Her brother, Gabriel, wove his first rug at the age of fitteen. He is one of a handful of Navajo men who have taken up the art of waving. Two of her sisters, Shirley James and Geraldine Benally, are weavers as well. Her daughter, Carnelda, started weaving when she was twelve years old and now, at the age of sixteen, is capable of weaving some of the more complex geometric designs. Eleanor says of her daughter's weaving development, "Carnelda would help me either weave part of my rug or warp the loom. I am still helping her learn how to properly string the warp. She likes to weave rugs in natural colors and red with stairstep designs."

Eleanor weaves every day, except for the days she is traveling to sell her rugs. She has five children ranging in ages from nine to sixteen years old, so she takes advantage of the quiet time when her children are in school. When asked why she weaves, Eleanor responds, "I like weaving. I don't want to just sit around. My kids are all in school and it keeps me busy." Her favorite size to weave is 4' X 6' rug, although she can make one up to 5 1/2' wide and as long as needed. the size of her current loom doesn't allow for any wider weavings. When weaving she likes to listen to gospel music. She looks at her weaving as a way of praising the Lord.

She is currently working on a number of new designs like the corn figures woven in the rug she is holding. Her father, Joe Benally, likes the designs she is weaving today as they remind him of old patterns. She used to work in the natural and red colors and would never have thought of making a rug with a black background until a couple of years ago. Her creativity has been rewarded at the 1998 Gallup Ceremonial, she swept the award for the Special Design or Function category.

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This site was last updated on November 19, 2017.

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