Jonathan Black

Jonathan Black Jonathan Black - Basketweaver: Living and working in the shadow of the Twin Rocks has certain advantages. Our backyard is better than any other, and the view from the base of the the Twin Rocks formation is awe inspiring. We also get to explain to visitors on a regular basis that we worry more about being killed on the highway than being smashed to bits when the rocks fall. The best thing however is that we have the opportunity to interact with the local Indian people and to become familiar with their traditions. As you might guess, some of the locals are outgoing and flamboyant; more than willing to reach out and draw you into their world, while others are quiet and reserved; more comfortable to stay in the background. Jonathan Black, the sixth son of Mary Holiday and Jesse Black, is married to Alicia Nelson. Jonathan is the reserved type. As individuals, and as a couple, they are two of the most dynamic and inspired contemporary Navajo basket weavers.

Jonathan has been content to stand back and support his young wife's efforts to become recognized for her outstanding weaving abilities. In the meanwhile he creates baskets showcasing his tradition and culture. Visions of Corn Spirits, Rainbow Yeis, Sacred Corn and Masked Impersonators all come to life through his capable hands. It is most often Alicia who comes through the doors with Jonathan's baskets. When asked where her husband is, she generally replies, "Out in the car, watching the kids." "Well, get him in here, we want to talk to him and take a picture," is our most common response. Alicia will smile, walk to the front doors and wave him in. He certainly has to be expecting the call because it happens the same way practically every time. He breezes into the store, stands for pictures, then tries to escape. His reason is that he has to get back to the car to watch the children. We do our best to hold him up long enough to get an explanation of what he has woven. His interpretations are usually short and to the point.

On a recent visit, for example, Alicia made her way into the trading post with a very interesting basket, which portrayed an ear of corn on a white background, surrounded by a green and black border. There were a number of people in the store, and everyone was drawn to the basket, they all wanted to know what it meant. Alicia quickly let everyone know that she had not woven the basket; her husband did and he was in the car. The group wanted to know the symbolism behind the design. Having been through this scenario before, I knew what was coming. Giving me a nervous look, Alicia went to the door and gave Jonathan the, "Come on in wave." It seemed to have no effect. Waving a second and then a third time with more emphasis, Alicia finally drew Jonathan from the car. Slowly coming up the steps, with a look of apprehension on his face, Jonathan hesitantly entered the store. It was easy to see that he did not want to be here.

The people are happy to meet Jonathan, and they shook his hand, congratulated him on his artistic accomplishment and ask him to interpret the basket's hidden meaning. Poor Jonathan gulped, took a deep breath and began. Pointing to the ear of corn he said, "That's us." He then pointed to the white background and said, "That's the dawn." Finally he pointed to the encircling pattern and said, "This is protection." He smiled uneasily and exited the trading post, escaping back to the car and his child care duties. Everyone looked after him, feeling, I am sure, a little short changed. Their interest had been sincere, and they wondered what had happened. The small crowd looked to Alicia for an explanation. None was forthcoming. The poor girl was feeling a bit overwhelmed at that point. I felt sorry for her and stepped in to help if I could. Between the two of us we did our best to complete the interpretation. Everyone seemed satisfied at this point so Alicia beat a hasty retreat. I am sure Jonathan got an earful on the trip home for leaving her stranded like that.

The manner in which Jonathan "teaches" about his art forces us to do more research and to ask more direct questions. I guess that one can call it an effective way to educate; it certainly leaves a lasting impression however. Having been taught by his mother to weave gave Jonathan a head start with his art. The creativity he brings to basket weaving, however, is his own contribution. We look forward to many more years of working with Jonathan, and hope to gain a better understanding of his interpretation of a rich and meaningful culture.

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This site was last updated on September 19, 2020.

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