Mary Johnson

Mary J. Johnson - Basketweaver: Born beneath the shadows of the great rock monoliths of Monument Valley, and into a family of basket weavers, it was expected that Mary Jean Johnson would learn to weave Navajo baskets like her mother and other female relatives. When she was small she watched as her mother, Betty Rock Johnson, gathered the sumac reeds and prepared them for weaving. When she was nine years old her mother showed her how to start a basket, and then sat beside her while she wove. Mary's aunt, Evelyn Rock, another well known basket weaver, also helped her. But unlike her relatives, Mary weaves more as a hobby, not for income. Neither does she enter her baskets in competitions. "I'm a private person weaving baskets," she describes herself simply.

Born for the Manygoat Clan and to the Red Streak Clan, the heritage of woven Navajo baskets is dear to Mary Jean Johnson. "I have one of my grandmother's baskets in my house," she confides. "I've treasured it for quite a long time. She gave me this one she made. She doesn't make them anymore. I have it hanging up. It's a ceremonial basket."

Mary seems reserved, willing to talk but not exuberant in her descriptions. She often substitutes a shy laugh for words, but occasionally reveals her quick wit with delightful responses.

A graduate of Monument Valley High School, Mary spent one year at the College of Eastern Utah, where she majored in Business. Then, having depleted her financial resources, she returned to her home in Mexican Hat, Utah, where she now works full time as a motel clerk.

In the evenings, as she watches T.V., Mary will work on her baskets for several hours. It is a weaving together of ancient and modern worlds. Her mind may be on the programing while she does the middle part of the basket, but when she is finishing off the edge she says she has to concentrate. It is then she thinks of her heritage. Mary was raised traditionally. "My grandfather Yazzie Rock used to tell us stories," she says, "when we used to visit them."

Now she preserves those traditions through her baskets, thinking of her love for her parents and grandparents even as she looks at her finished product. "I'm proud of myself when I'm able to make the baskets," she says.

As Mary begins thinking about making a basket she may look through a catalog or magazine featuring Southwestern art for ideas. "I get an idea and I sketch it out, then put it on the wall," she confesses. "Sometimes, when I work on it, it comes out different than I planned, and I think, 'next time'."

Having woven baskets for over 20 years, Mary says she wants to do more designs, but she isn't adamant about it. She usually weaves the traditional ceremonial basket, and for good reason. Some of her baskets have been purchased by other Navajos for use in ceremonies. That is, after all, what the baskets are about.

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This site was last updated on September 25, 2020.

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