Navajo Interlocken Basket - Elsie Holiday (#117)

Navajo Basket
Interlocken
16"


$2,500.00



Elsie Holiday

Elsie Stone Holiday - Basketweaver: Considered one of the best of the best Navajo basket weavers, Elsie Stone Holiday married into the famed Douglas Mesa family of weavers. Weaving baskets has become almost an addiction for her. "When I go two or three days without weaving I get anxious to get started again," she says. She weaves 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. "Sometimes I think, 'How long can this last?'", she wistfully states, but for now she is content with her art, finding immense satisfaction in creating premier quality baskets.

Learning the art of basket weaving from the family that is famous for the Navajo basket renaissance is certainly an advantage for Elsie Stone Holiday, and she has added talent and dedication to that advantage, with remarkable results.

Elsie knew how to weave rugs before she married, so weaving baskets was fairly easy for her to master. She learned from such renowned artists as Sally and Lorraine Black, Rose Esplain, and her mother-in-law, Betty White Holiday. Then she simply made the art her own by using her natural intuitive creativity.

The mother of six children, Elsie has only been weaving for about eleven years, since her children became old enough to allow her the time. Now they watch her, and sometimes help with the non-weaving tasks connected to the work, learning as they do so.

Elsie gathers the sumac strips used for her weaving along waterways in Hanksville or Moab, Utah, and Farmington, New Mexico. She says the reeds grow well along irrigation ditches, and are most pliable in the spring and fall months. She gathers about a six-month supply and then takes them home and readies them for weaving by stripping off the bark and splitting the reeds. Then Elsie does something few other weavers care to do- she takes the split reed and pulls it through a hole in a can, to strip away any excess, making the strips uniform size. It is this, and her propensity for a uniform, tight weave, that makes Elsie's baskets premium quality. If she notices any irregularities, Elsie picks out her weaving and begins again. She truly cares about making her baskets as perfect as possible.

Elsie's technique is not her only fine point, she also has a wonderful imagination for new design ideas. Elsie is modest when praised for her work and eager for any suggestions. She has an enthusiastic desire to please those who buy her baskets.

Elsie's father is a practicing medicine man, but it is her mother-in-law who has helped her with her weaving by performing ceremonies for her. A crystal gazer, Betty knows much about traditional Navajo medicine. She sprinkled corn pollen on a spider web and placed it on Elsie's head, all the while saying a prayer. The spider web represents the weaving done by spider woman, an important personage in Navajo mythology. Elsie confirms the validity of the ceremony by proclaiming how much it has helped her in her weaving.

Navajo Basketry

Basketry is a woman's industry, which is also pursued by the nadle (he changes), hermaphrodites, or men skilled in the arts and industries of both men and women. Basketry, however, is not classified with textile fabrics (yistl'o), but with sewing (nalkhad). It is of interest also that, while the basket is in progress, the sewer is untouched and avoided by the members of her family. The material, too, of which the basket is made is placed beyond the immediate reach of the household. Finally the sewing is accomplished with the utmost expediency, and is undertaken by skilled sewers only. Should an unskilled person tamper with this occupation, it is believed that sickness and rheumatic stiffness affects the wrists and joints. This is remedied by the singer who, in the course of a ceremony, clothes both arms of the patient with the skin of a fawn (bi'yazh), whereupon a hole is broken into the south side of the hogan through which the patient extends her hand and wrist. As soon as the wrist appears on the outside, her younger sister takes it between her teeth, pressing them lightly into the skin, which supposedly removes the stiffness (nasdo'). At present this rite is rarely necessary, but suggests a reason for the taboo (bahadzid) placed upon anything connected with basketry and for the readiness with which the Navaho decline to pursue the industry.

 

 

The dimensions of a basket often exceed twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, and are usually a fraction more than three inches in depth. As a material, the twigs of sumac (ki, or chilchin) are used. A triple incision is made into the butt end of the twig, one part of which is held between the teeth while the other two are torn off with the fingers. Each part is then scraped clean of its bark with a knife of piece of tin, and the twigs to be dyed are laid aside in a heap, while the natural color of the twig furnishes the lighter shades of the designs. The dyes used are identical with those used for coloring wool, though, obviously, the mordant of boiled sumac leaves (ki) becomes superfluous. Cedar ashes supposedly add luster to the color and contribute to its adhesive quality. Black was obtained from surface coal (lejin), added to boiling sumac leaves (ki), or from a sulfurous rock (tsekho), slightly roasted (ilt'es) with pine gum or rosin (je'). When ready this was added to the boiling twigs giving them a lustrous black color similar to charcoal (t'esh nahalin). The root of juniper (gad behetl'ol) and mountain mahogany (tseesdasi behetlol) are boiled together, after which the ground bark of alder (kish yikago) is added to obtain a pale red, into which the twigs are immersed. At times the joint fir (tlo' azehi, Ephedra trifurcata) is substituted for alder bark, while cedar ashes add luster to the color.

Blue was frequently obtained with indigo, though a native blue is also prepared from a bluish clay or ocher called adishtl'ish, which is pulverized and mixed with water. Various shades of yellow are obtained with plants like Bigelovia (kiltsoi), the sneeze weed (naeeshja ilkhei, Helenium hoopesii), or the sorrel (jat'ini), the flowers of which are crumpled and boiled, with cedar ashes thrown in.

The dyeing done, the twigs, both colored and uncolored, are placed in water to render them moist and pliable. The butt ends of the first twigs are wound around a small stick known as the bottom of the basket, and secured there with yucca. An awl, made of deer-bone (bi' bikhetsin), is now used in sewing the basket for which an iron awl is found impractible. The sewing is always done sunrise, or from left to right, giving the basket the shape of a helical coil when finished. Much deftness and constant application are required to obtain a close weave which will hold water after a few minutes moistening, while baskets of inferior quality require moistening much longer. The designs are, of course, woven with the colored twigs. Yellow and blue, however, are now rarely used, and the usual pattern is a band three to six inches wide, woven with zigzag edges in black with a line of red running through the center, and set, as it were, on a light background made of the natural color of the twig. Or, this band is sometimes displaced by a set of four or more square figures woven at intervals, with a colored circle entwining the lower part of each square. The colors in this and the first pattern might be increased to two or more according to taste. Both patterns are designated as tsa', basket, without reference to their designs. Of the two extinct patterns, the tsa' netse', or coiled basket, presented a design of vari-colored coils following each other, while the tsa' hokhani, or basket of enclosures, presented a set of four triangles whose apices rested on the center or bottom of the basket. From the base of each of these triangles three squares, increasing in width, extended to the rim of the basket, giving the whole design a shape similar to the Maltese Cross. While no special rules were laid down with regard to the blending of colors, or the number of figures and circles in a design, it was essential that every design be broken or intersected by a line of uncolored twigs. In baskets with circular designs this was comparatively easy, but in the tsa' hokhani, or basket of enclosures, it was found necessary to intersect one set of squares in order to make this line quite apparent. It was therefore called qaatqin (qatqin), the way out, or chohot'i, the line leading out, and was prescribed lest the sewer, in bending all her energies and applications upon her work, enclose herself and thus lose her sight and mind. A parallel is found in overdoing weaving, singing, in amassing fortune, or in the opening left in the figure of the queue and bow. This intersection always runs in a radial line with the close of the seam on the imbricated rim of each basket, which in turn serves as a guide in the directional assignment, as the close always faces eastward. Hence the singer always looks or feels for the closed rim, designated as bida' astl'o, where the rim is woven (instead of sewed). The details involved in mending this rim, as well as the taboo placed upon the wearing of a basket as a headgear, the legends of the origin of the basket, and relative subjects, are beyond the scope of the present work. Suffice to say, that the basket is made exclusively for ceremonial use, and is an integral part of every rite, as none is holy (diyin) without it.

The strength and elasticity of the Navaho basket renders it serviceable as a drum, in other words, it is turned down and beaten with the drumstick. Should it be turned up again before the close of the ceremony, it indicates that the singer has suspended the continuation of the ceremony. The basket is also used as a receptacle for the rattles, prayersticks, stones, herbs, medicines, and like ceremonial paraphernalia. The ceremonial bath is administered in the basket. The mask of the Fringed Mouth (zahodolzhai) is supported on a basket from which the bottom has been cut out. At the marriage ceremony a new basket is required in which to serve the porridge. As it is frequently impossible for the couple to consume its contents, the basket is passed around to the visiting guests. Whosoever consumes the final portion of the porridge also takes possession of the basket, wherefore baskets thus obtained are designated as tsa' na'obani, or the basket which was won. It is otherwise referred to as danakhan bi'odani, the basket from which they eat the porridge. The so-called wedding basket is therefore unknown. In the early days baskets were woven of yucca braid. The pith of the yucca leaf was extracted and dyed in the same manner as sumac twigs today. It was also permissible to use the designs of the basket in the decoration of the uppers for moccasins made of yucca. The remnants of twigs used for baskets are employed in constructing the so called owls (naeshja). Pgs. 291-296

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.

Even such everyday tasks as weaving must be done only in moderation. Many women will not weave more than about two hours at a stretch; in the old days unmarried girls were not allowed to weave for fear they would overdo, and there is a folk rite for curing the results of excess in this activity. Closely related is the fear of completely finishing anything: as a "spirit outlet," the basket maker leaves an opening in the design. Pgs. 225-226

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

According to Washington Matthews the Navahoes have many legends with which baskets are connected. Here is a description of the first baby baskets ever made. Surely none but a poetic and imaginative people could ever have conceived so wonderful a basket. Their gods of war were born of two women, one fathered by the sun, the other by a waterfall, and when they were born they were placed in baby baskets both alike as follows: The foot-rests and the back battens were made of sunbeam, the hoods of rainbow, the side-strings of sheet lightning, and the lacing strings of zigzag lightning. One child they covered with the black cloud, and the other with the female rain.

Another form of this story says that the boy born first was wrapped in black cloud. A rainbow was used for the hood of his basket and studded with stars. The back of the frame was perihelion, with the bright spot at its bottom shining at the lowest point. Zigzag lightning was laid in each side and straight lightning down the middle in front. Niltsatlol (sunbeams shining on a distant rainstorm) formed the fringe in front where Indians now put strips of buckskin. The carry-straps were sunbeams. Pg. 23

In many Indian ceremonies baskets play a most important part. For nine days these ceremonies last, the first day being devoted to the building and dedication of a medicine hogan and a sweat house. Around this sweat house wands of turkey feathers were placed, which were brought hither in one of these sacred baskets; and when the sweating process was over the wands were collected, placed in the basket and removed to the medicine hogan. On the fourth day two of these baskets figured prominently in the ceremonies. A medicine basket containing amole root and water was placed in front of a circle made of sand and covered with pine boughs. A second basket contained water and a quantity of pine needles sufficiently thick to form a dry surface, and on the top of these needles a number of valuable necklaces of coral, turquoise and silver were placed. A square was formed on the edge of the basket with four of the turkey wands before mentioned. The song priest with rattle led several priests in singing. The invalid sat to the northeast of the circle, a breech cloth his only apparel. During the chanting an attendant made suds by macerating the amole and beating it up and down in the water. The basket remained in position; the man stooped over it, facing north; his position allowed the sunbeams which came through the fire opening to fall upon the suds. When the basket was a mass of white froth the attendant washed the suds from his hands by pouring water from a Paiuti basket water-bottle (Fig. 20) over them, after which the song priest came forward and with corn pollen drew a cross over the suds, which stood firm like the beaten whites of eggs, the arms of the cross pointing to the cardinal points. A circle of the pollen was then made around the edge of the suds." This crossing and circling of the basket of suds with the pollen is supposed to give them additional power in restoring the invalid to health. The invalid now knelt upon the pinion boughs in the center of the same circle. "A handful of the suds was placed on his bead. The basket was now placed near to him, and he bathed his head thoroughly ; the maker of the suds afterwards assisted him in bathing the entire body with the suds, and pieces of yucca were rubbed upon the body. The chant continued through the ceremony and closed just as the remainder of the suds was emptied by the attendant over the invalid's head. The song priest collected the four wands from the second basket, and an attendant gathered the necklaces; a second attendant placed the basket before the invalid, who was now sitting in the center of the circle, and the first attendant assisted him in bathing the entire body with this mixture; the body was quite covered with the pine needles, which had become very soft from soaking. The invalid then returned to his former position at the left of the song priest, and the pine needles of the yucca,or amole, together with the sands, were carried out and deposited at the foot of a pinion tree. The body of the invalid was dried by rubbing with meal." This taking out of the sands, pine needles, etc., used in the ceremony was supposed to take away so much of the disease that had been washed from the invalid.

Later in the day at another most elaborate ceremony baskets filled with food are placed in a circle around a fire in the medicine lodge. One of the priests takes a pinch of food from each basket, and places it in another basket. This is then prayed over, smoked over and thus made a powerful medicine by the song-priest. After the priest has gone through several performances with it, the invalid dips his three first fingers into the mixture, puts them in his mouth, and loudly sucks in the air. This is repeated four times. Then all the attendants do likewise, with a prayer for rain, good crops, health and riches. This food is afterwards dried by the chief medicine man, made into a powder, and is one of his most potent medicines. On the sixth day a great sand painting is made in the medicine lodge, and the invalid, as he enters, is required to take the sacred medicine basket, which is now filled with sacred meal, and sprinkle the painting with it. The chief figures of the painting were the goddesses of the rainbow, whose favor it was desired he should gain. Again and again in the ceremonies these sacred baskets are used, and on the ninth day in the concluding dance the invalid takes it full of sacred meal and sprinkles all the dancers. The full description of this wonderful series of ceremonies is found in the Eighth Annual Report of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology.

If the margin is worn through or torn, the basket is unfit for sacred use. The basket is one of the perquisites of the shaman when the rites are done; but he, in turn, must give it away, and must he careful never to eat out of it. Notwithstanding its sacred uses, food may be served in it by any other person than the shaman who has used it ceremonially. Fig. 29 shows the other form of Navaho sacred basket. It is also made of aromatic sumac, and is used in the rites to hold sacred meal. The crosses are said to represent clouds, heavy with rain, and would indicate that this basketry design may have had its origin in its use during ceremonies intended to bring the rain. Another important ceremony of the Navahoes in which this basket figures is that of marriage. Another interesting thing about this Navaho wedding basket it is well to notice, and that is that the finishing off of the last coil of the basketry always comes directly opposite to the Shipapu opening. This is for the purpose of enabling those who use the basket at night to determine where the Shipapu opening is, so that they may hold the basket in the proper ceremonial way, which requires that the Shipapu opening shall always be turned towards the East. This finishing off place on the rim of the basket is called by the Navahoes the a-tha-at-lo. According to Matthews, the sacred basket used in all these ceremonials has another important function to perform. It is used as a drum. He says: "In none of the ancient Navaho rites is a regular drum or tomtom employed. The inverted basket serves the purpose of one, and the way in which it is used for this simple object is rendered devious and difficult by ceremonious observances." Then over a page of description is required to tell how the shamans proceed when they "turn down the basket" to make a drum of it at the beginning of the songs, and "turn up the basket" at the close. Everything is done with elaborate ceremony. "There are songs for turning up and turning down the basket, and there are certain words in these songs at which the shaman prepares to turn up the basket by putting his hand under its eastern rim, and other words at which he does the turning. For four nights, when the basket is turned down, the eastern part is laid on the outstretched blanket first, and it is inverted toward the west. On the fifth night it is inverted in the opposite direction. When it is turned up, it is always lifted first at the eastern edge. As it is raised an imaginary something is blown toward the east, in the direction of the smoke-hole of the lodge, and when it is completely turned up hands are waved in the same direction, to drive out the evil influences which the sacred songs have collected and imprisoned under the basket."

Even in the making of this sacred basket many ceremonial requirements must be heeded. In forming the helical coil, the fabricator must always put the butt end of the twig toward the center of the basket and the tip end toward the periphery, in accordance with the ceremonial laws governing the disposition of butts and tips. Pgs. 33-37

Indian Basketry and How to Make Baskets; 1903, George Wharton James.

By 1973 there were over 100 basket weavers on and off the reservation, and 125 potters in Chinle Agency alone. At least in part, commercialization stimulated the revival of these crafts. . . . . In the Oljeto area, basketweavers began producing baskets with yei figures woven into their designs. While such baskets could not be used in religious ceremonies, they found a ready market with non-Indians. Pg. 252

A History of the Navajos, The Reservation Years; 1986, Garrick Bailey and Roberta Glenn Bailey.

The Navajo wedding basket also reflects many values of traditional life and so often contains all six sacred mountains, including Huerfano and Gobernador Knob, though the size of the basket may determine the number of mountains in the design. The center spot in the basket represents the beginning of this world, where the Navajo people emerged from a reed. This is where the spirit of the basket lives. The white part around the center is the earth, the black symbolizing the sacred mountains upon which are found water bowls. Above them are clouds of different colors. The white and black ones represent the making of rain. A red section next to the mountains stands for the sun's rays that make things grow. Pg. 19

Sacred Land, Sacred View; 1992, Robert S. McPherson.

The basket for the emetic in the first War Ceremony was of crystal.


An indispensable requirement of a chant is the basket; at least one is believed to represent whiteshell. All the precious stones are mythical basket materials. Frequently the basket is of one stone with a contrasting rim - whiteshell rimmed with turquoise or the reverse; abalone rimmed with redstone or the reverse, jet with an abalone rim or the reverse.

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The fibers of baskets used to be of yucca. Baskets are not used much secularly but have a prescribed place in ceremonies.


They are often called "wedding" baskets because one holds the ceremonial mush which the bride and groom eat alternatingly. The function of the basket in curing ceremonies is perhaps greater, but not as well known. When preparations for a ceremony are made, one of the questions asked is, "How many baskets must be provided?" They become consequently an important item of trade. Their manufacture is surrounded with such a number of taboos difficult to keep that Navajo rarely make them, preferring to trade them from their neighbors, the Ute and Paiute, who have not the prescribed taboos.


Another form of purification is the yucca bath. The "one-sung-over" bathes from head to foot in the yucca suds which fill a ceremonial basket. He is careful to stand within the limits of a platform made of sand from the cornfield which has been carefully spread. On it special places are designated for the basket and for the patient's knees and hands, for he kneels to get his hair in the basket. The water which drains off of him must fall on the sand. When all is over, this may be gathered up like a blotter and the evils may be carried out and dissipated.

Dezba: Woman of the Desert; Gladys A. Reichard, 1939

An indispensable requirement of a chant is the basket; at least one is believed to represent whiteshell. All the precious stones are mythical basket materials. Frequently the basket is of one stone with a contrasting rim - whiteshell rimmed with turquoise or the reverse; abalone rimmed with redstone or the reverse, jet with an abalone rim or the reverse.


The basket for the emetic in the first War Ceremony was of crystal.

Navajo Religion, Vol I; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

Basket (tsa') has already been extensively treated. There are, however, certain points that have not been stressed; one concerns the number of baskets necessary to a ceremony-the discussions often imply that there is only one (Ch. 14). A part of the agreement between chanter and sponsor is the provision of the baskets, as important as the payment to the singer. When the chant is over, some baskets are presented to the chanter or some other participant in the ceremony; borrowed baskets are returned to the owner, who may be the chanter or almost anyone who can provide them. Certain taboos, some very strict, attach to the basket. Nowadays it has become an article of trade, procurable at a trading post. Baskets so bought may be considered neutral, having no restrictions and no evil attached to them; the ceremony gives them blessing value.

Because of the 'drawing power' of the earth, sacred objects should not touch the ground; consequently, ceremonial properties-War Ceremony rattlestick, prayersticks, hoops, bundle equipment-must be placed on or in something; it is often a basket, especially for assembled bundle equipment.

I had to provide five baskets for the Shooting Chant Prayerstick branch. I paid for four and borrowed one from RP, the chanter. One was used for the layout of branch symbol prayersticks during their preparation and for the subsequent bundle equipment layout, one for the emetic, one for the drum, one for the bath, and one for the ceremonial mush. After the bath the chanter put his bundle layout in the basket that had been used for the bath. Every ceremony undoubtedly has similar requirements; some have more, some fewer.

The basket represents jewels and therefore the potentiality of wealth, with its provision for proper offerings. Baskets are often thought of as consisting of one of the precious stones, rimmed with a contrasting jewel (Ch. 12); such baskets are prescribed for the Hail Chant. In addition, one of Heat and one of Mirage (aragonite) are required. The War Ceremony emetic was prepared and the unseasoned mush was served in a rock-crystal basket. Since the mush was inexhaustible, there is a relation between the rock-crystal basket and the yellow bowl.

The Flint Chant baskets represent jewels; the plants put into them ceremonially became meat which, with other plants eaten by rare game, became gruel (Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 44, 60; Matthews 1894b, pp. 202-8; 1897, p. 211, 5n; Haile 1938b, pp. 33, 105, 207, 243; 1943a, pp.15, 184, 190; Goddard, pp. 142, 164; Reichard 1944d, p.49; Shooting Chant ms.; Tschopik, pp. 257-62).

Basket drum was described by Matthews and Kluckhohn-Wyman (Matthews 1894b; 1902, pp.59-63, 163, 165; Kluckhohn-Wyman, p.44; Haile 1938b, pp.33, 243).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950