Navajo Squash Blossom Turtle Basket - Elsie Holiday (#411)

Navajo Basket
19 1/2"

Elsie Holiday has taken a squash blossom design and overlaid a turtle motif on top of it.  Using Germantown colors to execute her vision, she created a basket that is based in Navajo legend and artistic history.  Who else would make such a stunning basket with such a rich backstory?  Not many, that’s for sure.


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.

Turtle & Frog

This episode appears in four versions of the attack on the Pueblo. It precedes the story of the main attack or constitutes this attack. The scalps which they obtain are, however, not the object of the suitor test. Frog and turtle kill the enemy or their young women. They have hidden in the "walled up water supply" which is drawn off to reveal them. When discovered by the enemy they are subjected to trials: Heated pit, chopping, fire in pit, boiling pot and tossing from cliff. They escape unharmed; in each case one or the other is able magically to avert destruction and protect them both. When put into heated pit or fire pit, turtle is mortally afraid but frog urinates, forming a pool of water or steam into they they can retreat. When put into a pot in the fire or attacked with an ax, frog is afraid, but turtle breaks the pot with his shell or blows glance off of his shell, under which frog has taken cover, and injure only the attackers. When the attempt is made to toss them off the cliff, the person holding them falls instead and they slip out of his hand. The Taos people realize that these are " not the ordinary kind" of people. They are finally thrown into the river and swim away, displaying the scalps they have taken, to the anguish and weeping of their attackers. Pgs. 214, 215: Enemy Way.

Navajo Chantway Myths, 1957; Katherine Spencer.

There also was a man made of stone who lay stretched out on a hill beside the river just west of the Aztec Ruins. When anyone walked past he would kick them into the San Juan River, and when they were drowned, he would feed them to his two children. He was called Tseh-ed-ah-eh-delkithly, which means Kicking Rock. His children lived in the river and ate the drowned people. Pgs. 70,71

Next day after breakfast, having found out from his mother where he should go, he started off to Tseh-ed-ah-eh-delkithly (the Rock-that-Kicks-People-into-the-River). He saw a man lying on his back with his head on a bluff and his feet near the river, and he was pulling the whiskers out of his chin. When Nayenezgani tried to pass, he kicked at him, and Nayenezgani said: "What is the matter, Sechai (Grandfather) ?" The Rock Man said : "My leg was cramped, and I had to kick to straighten it out." Four times he was questioned and he answered four times. After that Nayenezgani took his stone knife and hit the Rock Man on the head, and cut through his breast, hips and legs, chopping him into four pieces and then scalping him.
The Rock Man's children lived in the river and Nayenezgani threw the pieces of the Rock Man down to them, and heard them quarreling for the pieces of meat, saying: "That is my piece," not knowing that they were eating their own father. Then Nayenezgani went down into the river and killed all the children except two. One was called Kahtsen (Alligator) and Nayenezgani said to him: "You must never hurt anyone again, will you promise this?" And the alligator answered "I am not sure." Nayenezgani asked this four times but the Alligator would not promise. The other child who was spared was called Siss-'Tyel (Turtle), and was told to be good in the future, as he would be used for medicine by men, and his shell would be used to drink out of and also to make medicine in, and the turtle agreed to this and said that he would always be good. So Nayenezgani went home on the rainbow and they danced and celebrated his return as before. Pgs. 92,93

From Navajo Creation Myth; The Story of the Emergence: By Hosteen Klah, recorded by Mary C. Wheelwright (Navajo Religion Series, Volume 1).

A turtle valued for beads made from its shell. The shells of turtles are used as medicine cups. Pg. 157

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers.