Dibe’ e’i’ Dine’ be’iina’ a’t’e’ (Sheep is life) is still a big deal to most Navajo people. There is even an annual celebration built around the love of sheep and what they have provided the People who have maintained this life way for years. Textile arts, shelter, and a ready food source are just a short list of what sheep provide the Navajo. Peggy Rock Black has woven a wonderful modified ceremonial basket in honor of this great provider.
Born for the Many Goats Clan and to her maternal Arrow People Clan, Peggy Rock Black learned to weave from her mother, grandmother, and sister. As well as the weaving technique, Peggy knows the natural plant dyes and occasionally uses them when coloring the sumac strips she uses in her baskets. Now she is passing the difficult but rewarding lessons of the art along to her three daughters.
With great support from her family, Peggy is a prolific weaver. Her husband, Eddie, assists in gathering the sumac and preparing it for weaving. Eddie helps her in other ways, too. He is a herbalist and is studying with his uncle and grandfather, both medicine men, so that he may too be a medicine man. This is important to Peggy, who believes in the healing power of the sumac.
The sumac bush, which grows about 3 feet tall, is sometimes called the lemonade tree because of the tart drink that can be made from its unripe summer berries. The bark, leaves, and berries of the sumac have all been used by Native American people for medicinal purposes.
Peggy respects the traditions of her Navajo heritage. She weaves contemporary baskets but leans toward traditional Navajo designs of balance.
l'm really careful with what I weave," she says. She keeps to the positive stories of her people and uses the power of healing ceremonies to protect her from life's evils. Though she lives in a house, she often weaves her baskets in a traditional hogan close by.
Peggy has won many awards at shows at The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and at the Gallup Ceremonials in New Mexico, but she does not think of herself as a competitive person. "I only want to try different designs," she explains. And then, in a sentence that sums up Peggy's personality as well as the reason her baskets are so dynamic, she adds, "I want to experience the designs."
Looking at her baskets it is clear that each have her positive, healing influence. They are baskets that the observer can experience also.