17" x 25"
Navajo weaver Doris Duncan makes some of the most precise and attractive Storm Pattern rugs available. They are clean, symmetrical, and have outstanding eye appeal. What looks to be a simple, straight-forward design is much more complex. The imagery is based on some of the most elemental symbolism of Navajo culture. The awakening of the Navajo consciousness is the main theme. There is the center of the Navajo universe; thunder bolts and lightning, rain and water bugs are portrayed, as well. Each element is based in the natural world and is deified. These higher powers have the ability to effect humans in a positive and productive manner.
Weaving has been carried to a high degree of perfection by the Navaho. The art as it exists among them today is not an invention of their own, as nothing similar is found among any other tribe of the Athapascan stock. It is pretty safe to say that the Navaho learned the art of weaving from the Pueblos. Their own legends, however, account for it in their own way. The hanelnaeheke hani', or moving upward chant legend, records that the art of weaving was taught by the Spider Man and Spider Woman in the following manner. "The Spider Man drew some cotton (ndaka') from his side and instructed the Navaho to make a loom. The cotton-warp was made of spider-web (nashjei bitlol). The upper cross-pole was called yabitlol (sky or upper cord), the lower cross-pole ni'bitlol (earth or lower cord). The warp-sticks were made of shabitlol (sun rays), the upper strings, fastening the warp to the pole, of atsinltlish (lightning), the lower strings of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), the heald was a tsaghadindini isenil (rock crystal heald), the cord-heald stick was made of atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and was secured to the warp strands by means of nltsatlol billdestlo' (rain ray cords)." "The batten-stick was also made of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), while the beidzoi (comb) was of yolgai (white shell). Four spindles or distaffs were added to this, the disks of which were of cannel-coal, turquoise, abalone and white bead, respectively, and the spindle-sticks of atsinltlish (zigzag lightning), hajilgish (flash lightning), atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and nltsatlol (rain ray), respectively." "The dark, blue, yellow and white winds quickened the spindles (beedizi) according to their color, and enabled them to travel around the world."
Presumably, this legend accounts for the now vanishing tradition that weaving should be done with proper moderation. Overdone weaving (akeitlo) is ameliorated by a sacrifice offered to the spindle (beedizi). Its prayerstick (bik'et'an) consists of yucca, precious stones, bird and turkey feathers, tassels of grass (tlo'zol) and pollen, and forms part of the blessing rite (hozhoji). The hach'eyatqei, or ch'aeyatqei (prayer to the gods), is recited with the sacrifice. The custom withholding maidens from weaving before marriage, which was formerly observed, is also explained by the fear of overdoing weaving. Little or no attention, however, is paid to this tradition today. Pgs. 221, 223
For references to steps in weaving, coloring and dyeing of wool, setting up of loom, weaving, Implements, use of loom, designs and knitting refer to below Pgs. 223-256
Take, for instance, the famous art of Navajo weaving. If you ask a member of the tribe today when weaving was learned, she - for Navajo weavers are women - will tell you that they were taught by Spider Woman, "in the beginning." Yet the Navajo weaving technique, point for point, exactly duplicates that of the Pueblos, who have been weaving since A.D. 600. It is a complicated art, and Navajo girls today need years to learn it from a female relative, practicing every day. It is difficult to believe that the Navajos had worked out the loom, the spindle, and all the other equipment before this era of "learning by marriage." A blanket got in trade, a loom glimpsed on a visit to some pueblo would never have given them enough information. Then there is the problem of sex etiquette, for most Pueblo weavers today are men. Indian proprieties would surely forbid a Navajo woman to receive daily instruction from a strange man. But if she married him! It is possible to imagine the skilled weaver working in a Navajo home, trying to teach his sons who were still wedded to the life of hunting and fighting and, finally, imparting the art to his daughters. That this did not happen too early in Navajo history can be gathered from the fact that all known specimens of Navajo weaving are in wool. Therefore they were made after the Spaniards had come and after the Navajos had sheep. And sheep did not come to the Navajos in any quantity until after the Pueblo revolt. Pgs. 46-47
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 weaver leaves a small slit between the threads. Pgs. 225-226
The Navajos believe in the Greek maxim "Nothing to excess " believing that overdoing a thing brings bad luck as an offense to the spirits. For the same reason nothing must be too perfect. A rug or basket design with a solid border must have a break in it or flaw to let the spirit of the maker, who has spent so much time and energy, escape. It is natural that things which bring one a livelihood should also have some restrictions. Many commercially minded weavers and other craftsmen have begun to ignore the taboos of their trades as being too restrictive. The large number of taboos relating to pottery making have been given credit for the decline of that craft, and none are listed here.
Don 't hit anyone with weaving tools - crack the tools.
They will be paralyzed in the future.
Don't spank your children with weaving tools.
They'll get sick.
Don't have a weaving comb with six points.
Your baby might have six fingers.
Don't go between the poles of the loom when a woman is weaving.
You won't grow - cause evil - won't get much for the rug.
Don't have the loom of the weaving stand too long.
It will tire and hurt you.
Don't eat or drink while you prepare the loom for the rug.
You'll get poor - won't get much for the rug.
Don't eat while you are weaving.
It will go slow - won't be any good.
Don't weave a Yei figure with one eye smaller or one leg shorter.
It will affect you that way in later life - affect your baby.
Don't leave a Yei figure in a rug unfinished.
The Yeis will get angry - bring bad luck.
This is interesting as a compromise taboo. Yeis are Holy People and as such are supposed to be represented only in the sandpaintings which are used and destroyed before sundown but never done in any permanent form. The famous hermaphroditic medicine man Hosteen Clah was one of the first to weave rug versions of the sandpaintings. In the Shiprock area Yei rugs and other pictorial tapestries became increasingly popular after WWII.
Don't be stubborn while weaving a rug.
It won't be worth much.
Don't throw weaving tools.
You 'II never finish the weaving.
Don't burn weaving tools.
The "Yeis" will get angry - bad luck.
Don't weave if you don't know a weaving song.
It won't be any good.
Don't leave tools in the loom when they are not in use.
You won't finish right away.
Don't weave when it is raining.
It will cause the loom to fall.
Don't stand by the loom when it is raining.
Lightning will strike you.
Don't pass things through the loom.
Anything you pass through will be lost -food, yarn, beads.
Don't bump into or move around a loom you are preparing for a rug.
It will be crooked - you won't be able to get it straight.
Don't leave carded wool too long.
When you start weaving it won't like it and you'll have trouble.
Don't make fun of your weaving.
It will get worse - you'll be poor.
Don't leave a loom outside.
It will collect bad things.
Don't cut off a loom once it is made.
You will have a short life.
Don't steal a rug - wool - weaving tools.
You'll never be lucky - always have bad luck.
Don't weave immoral things in a rug.
You'll be sterile.
Don't weave any taboo animal into a rug.
You will have all the bad luck associated with that animal.
Don 't hang rugs out in the sun.
The sun will take it as an insult.
Don't weave at all (boys).
It will affect the reproductive organs.
Don't weave on the north side of the hogan.
The rug won't be worth anything.
Don't drag your rugs on the ground.
Don't leave an unfinished rug outside at night.
It might be witched - you won't be able to finish it or sell it.
Don't put a rug over your horse's face.
It will go blind.
The principal occupation of the present-day Navajo is raising sheep, goats, and a few cattle. And yet four hundred years ago he had seen no sheep or horses. Under the treaty of 1886, each Navajo was given two sheep - about twelve thousand sheep altogether, since not more than sic thousand Navajos survived Bosque Redondo. Now a million sheep graze on the Navajo land. Since the introduction of sheep to this country by Coronado's men, Navajo women have been weaving rugs on crude hand looms - an art which was not entirely new to them, since they already wove with yucca and other vegetable fibers. Pg. 167
There is a saying that a rug is not good unless a weaver puts her "soul" in it. Like Changing Woman, the Holy Person whom the Navajo woman personifies, the weaver is an eternal creator who weaves both an individual product of her own mind and a more universal product from the mind of the tribe. Pgs. 10-11
Whatever their murky beginnings, Navajo storm rugs have since become one of the most popular Navajo rug designs and invite many interpretations as to their meaning.
Explaining the Navajo storm design presents a bit of a dilemma. The pattern is created by weaving artists from all corners of the Navajo reservation and beyond, yet pinpointing its origin and meaning is a different story, or I will say, several stories.
Although storm pattern rugs later became associated with Tuba Trading Post on the western side of the Navajo reservation, many feel it first made its appearance and was first popularized by J.B. Moore, a short-lived but influential trader at the Crystal Trading Post in the nineteen-teens. In his first catalogue published in 1911, he featured two weavings with the quincunx (I love this word...it was one of Kira’s spelling bee words last year) layout and attributed the pattern to one family designated specifically to weave what became known as the storm design.
Our culture loves asking the question, “...but, what does it mean?” The first story comes from Cameron Trading Post: Jean Mann, a weaver from the area explained that the center of the rug, in the square part, was the weaver’s home or the weaver’s hooghan. Lightning connects the weaver to the four sacred mountains that form the border of Dinetah. These mountains are the squares in each corner of the rug. The rain is the warp of the rug. Centipedes flank the hooghan on each side. In early versions of storm weavings, above and below there were whirling logs close to the hooghan. This symbol, similar to and because of, the Nazi swastika was later changed to look like another centipede. Outward from this element is the 6-legged water bug. The whole rug symbolizes a storm and also portrays the storm as a sacred occurrence.
My understanding is that J.B. Moore had a fondness for Oriental weavings and possibly introduced Eastern rug patterns to the local weavers. An explanation given by the Navajo Rug Repair Company, experts in cleaning and repairing Oriental and Navajo weavings, lends credence to this theory. They state, “One story about the design origin is that it was derived from the labels on flour sacs sold to Navajos in the early years. This author has not been able to find any flour sac labels that show anything like this design (the same story is often written concerning the swastika design as found in some Navajo rugs). I theorize that the Storm Pattern's origin lies within Kufic script that is found in Persian, Caucasian and other Mid-eastern rugs, particularly in the borders of those rugs. The "Storm Pattern" design shows the favored quincunx pattern, a ubiquitous design styling in the Orient.”
I like what Ann Hedlund, a cultural anthropologist and director of the Gloria F. Ross Center for Tapestry Studies at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson has to say about J.B. Moore’s introduction of the design:
“In 1911, trader J.B. Moore published a catalogue showing a Navajo rug with a central rectangle, four zigzag arms radiating to the corners, and bold, isolated geometric motifs along the ends and sides. Stating, ‘This pattern is one of the really legendary designs embodying a portion of the Navajo mythology,’ Moore started his own legend that has yet to be unraveled or understood. No earlier Navajo design resembles this one—in weaving, sandpainting, or any other medium.” Professor Hedlund’s explanation supports the idea of outside influences on Navajo weaving and to me, belongs in the category I have endearingly titled “Great White Trader Stories”.
Ann Hedlund chimes in again with the following thoughts:
“Weavers today differ in their interpretation of the motifs and layout. Some deny knowledge of any symbols and say the stories came from traders. Others suggest that maybe the center symbolizes a Navajo hogan, a lake, or the center of the universe; the corner elements are spoken of variably as the four sacred mountains, the four winds, or the four cardinal directions. The radiating zigzag lines are usually called lightning lines or whirling logs. The individual motifs at both ends are called water bugs or pinon beetles.”
---Georgiana Kennedy Simpson