Navajo Dragonfly Basket - Elsie Holiday (#404)

Navajo Basket
17" x 3" deep
Rounds: 27

If you are ever lost, lonely and thirsty in the high desert country of the Great American Southwest, find yourself a dragonfly.  This is what a Navajo might do, because dragonflies symbolize life by way of water.  Follow a dragonfly home and he will show you a way to survive.  Elsie Holiday is well aware of the attributes this zippity-doo-daa bug represents, and she wanted to express the idea through her art.  Elsie is an amazing weaver; her creativity and quality of weave are unmatched.  Do yourself a favor, have a cool drink of water and entertain yourself with a dragonfly.


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.

Water Creatures

A set of four creatures associated with water and rainfall are the main themes of two of the reproductions of Beautyway sandpaintings. These are White Water Monster, Blue Thunder, Big Otter, and variegated (or Many-colored) Water Monster ("Cloud Monster," "Land Monster"). White Water Monster lives underground, a denizen of the lower worlds, and spurts up springs, wells, and streams ("something like a whale"). Blue Thunder, like all of his kind, is associated with storms; he sends "good rain from above" (the "thunder bird"). Otter is an inhabitant of the rivers. Variegated Water Monster sends "cloudbursts and evil rain from above." In paintings he substitutes for a black being in the north. Sandpaintings of water creatures appear in the repertoires of Waterway, of Shootingway, and of Plumeway, but the rotund form of the Water Monsters Seems to be peculiar to Beautyway. Younger sister visited these creatures, who were living at Scattered Spring in Wilito Wilson's myth. Their picture is used for a person injured by lightning or water. In Singer Man's description of the prototype ceremonial, the second sandpainting is the "Water Horse painting"; but since this beast is mentioned. only in the water-bottom strung songs of this version and no picture of Water Horses has been collected for Beautyway, it seems likely that the water creature painting was meant. Singer Man admitted that he was none too familiar with the sandpainting ceremonies.

Frogs (Toads) as main themes in sandpaintings have been seen only in Beautyway. In the single reproduction by Wilito Wilson, they are accompanied by corn that they had planted when they were people. This picture commemorates younger sister's encounter with Frog (Toad) Man, the injury she received from him, and her restoration (by him, in one myth).


White Water Monster is male, blue Thunder is female, Otter is male, variegated Land Monster is female, she wears armor, and her head and feet are clouds. Corn, beans, squash, and tobacco have their roots in the central pool of water, which has bands of suds (foam), pollen, and rainbow around it. This sandpainting is used when a person has been thrown by lightning, drowned, or harmed in a corn, bean, squash, or tobacco field.