Navajo Basket "Four Sacred Plants" by Joann Johnson (#123)

Navajo Basket "Four Sacred Plants"


This basket was designed by Navajo graphic artist Damian Jim.  Damian's inspiration was the Four Sacred Plants - corn, beans, squash and mountain tobacco.  The Four Sacred Plants are assigned to the cardinal points and amongst the Navajo people, corn is the plant of the north and beans of the east. This means that both are male and as such are grown for edible seeds. Squash is the plant of the south and is female. Tobacco, which the Navajos put on the west, is female because it is used to make smoke which is blown out with the breath, and that is a female characteristic. Showing the plant’s roots signifies they still have their home in the lower world.  Master weaver, Joann Johnson brought Damian's design to life over ten years ago.  It was sold originally in 2005 and has spent its time in a collection in New York state.  The collection is now being dispersed and we were lucky enough to be called upon to help find this exceptional Sacred Plants basket a new home. 

Joann Johnson

Joann Johnson - Basketweaver: A fourth generation Navajo basket weaver, Joann Johnson has a passionate awareness of her heritage and history. Born and raised in Monument Valley, she has spent her life in the Navajo heartland, surrounded by the sacred mountains and monuments that tell the stories of her people's past. Joann feels a responsibility to help preserve that past by preserving her culture. Basket weaving is one way she demonstrates her commitment to her convictions. "It's a gift", she says of her weaving abilities, "I learned it from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, my great-grandmother Ida Bigman. I feel close to her when I am weaving a basket."

Joann Johnson received an Associate Degree in Business from the College of Eastern Utah, a two year college, then went on to a university, where she became interested in history, especially Native American history. "I would like to go back and get a degree in history," she says. In the meantime she is preserving history by carrying on a family tradition, that of Navajo basket weaving.

Joann was taught to weave rugs and baskets by her mother when she was about 8 years old. She also learned to crochet and became quite adept at crocheting without having to watch her hands. But of all her talents, basket weaving is the one that has brought her the most satisfaction. "Weaving comes naturally for me," she says. Her first place award at the Gallup Ceremonials backs up her statement.

She only works on her baskets when she is drawn to them- usually in the evening when she is ready to sit down and rest. "When I'm busy then weaving doesn't relax me," she says, "I do it when I get in the mood, when I want to relax."

Joann also says the money she gets from selling her baskets is not a driving force for her. "It's not the money as much as it is the accomplishment," she asserts. She enjoys creating beautiful things, taking the ideas that come to her and making them real, bringing them to fruition.

This may be one of the reasons her baskets are so beautiful, because she has such a love for her art. She is modest and yet candid about her baskets. Speaking of the unusual gray color she often uses, she recalls her favorite piece was the first gray basket she finished. "It was really nice," she speaks honestly, "It came out nice."

Nice is good word to describe Joann. She has a pleasant personality and infectious laugh. But she is serious when she speaks of her legacy. 'The breaking of tradition creates a downfall for people," she says, then emphasizes, "All people. We must stick to our culture."

Joann loves education, developing her talents, and learning new things. She has learned how to make an unusual single rod basket, even though it takes more time and uses more materials than the conventional double rod basket, just because she enjoys a unique undertaking. "I like the challenge of a new design," she says.

Joann hopes that the people who buy her baskets will sense the creation of life in them, the energy she gives to them. "I just want them to know it's a part of me," she emphasizes, "I hope they can enjoy it. It's a gift-I hope they will cherish it."