Viewing page 14 of 82

This transcription has been completed. Contact us with corrections.

Among the whites who helped keep the real Indian talent alive, probably none wrote a more lasting record than Lorenzo Hubbell, called "Naakai Saani" (Old Mexican) in Navajo, and "King of Northern Arizona" in Yankee lingo. He lived in the company of good books and fine paintings in a sprawling adobe trading post, which he built in 1880 at Ganado, Arizona. To encourage Navajo silverwork, he imported Mexican silver, which is soft and easily worked; ans it is said he once brought a Mexican platero, or silversmith, to live at his store and teach any Indian who wanted to learn. Among the first to work under Hubbell was the grandfather of Ambrose Roanhorse; now Ambrose is known by his people as "Beshlakai Natani" (the Leading Silversmith).

Other Indians may work well with silver, but when it comes to rug weaving the Navajo artist stands alone. The weaver, always a woman, shears her own sheep, scours and cards her wool, spins with a hand spindle, dyes with vegetable roots and leaves, and weaves at the side of her hogan on a simple vertical loom. Primitive? Possibly so, but the Navajo rug defies duplication. A remarkable part of its story is that vegetable-dye making was almost forgotten after the introduction of German aniline dye and commercial yarn (for brighter colors and quicker sales). Yet in the past twenty years a generation of young women, who has to be taught anew, have surpassed their grandmothers in dye making as well as in originality of design. 

The genuine Navajo rug is practically indestructible and will last at least fifty years. It should not be acquired as a curio, but as a house furnishing. Scarcely anywhere can one purchase more hours of human labor and artistry. Some textile manufacturers have chosen Indian designs for products merchandised and carelessly bought as "Indian blankets." In the real things, the warp is wool (many rugs are woven on cotton warp to save time), and the weft is twisted and battened down tightly. The best guarantee is a "certificate of genuineness" issued by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, attesting that the article is made altogether of local wool, locally handspun, woven entirely on a native Navajo loom. 

The Navajo weaver has no pattern to cope but works before the loom with a preconceived vision fixed in her mind's eye. Varieties of rugs are identifiable by types of weave, design and color and are named for the section of the reservation where they are made or the trading post nearby. The Two Gray Hills, made throughout the central part of the reservation, uses only natural wools - white, mixed with darker wools to form gray and brown - with fine close weave, intricate design, and a border of symmetrical right-angle patterns. It is expensive: you can find and attractive Two Gray Hills measuring 34 by 62 inches for about $175, but they run to as much as $1600. Crystal, made in the area around Crystal Springs, is generally woven with large weft and conservative colors in a tweed effect; it is most often used as a wall decoration and is medium priced. The Wide Ruins is light and finely woven, with soft natural and vegetable colors, in the ancient striped style. Prices begin at about $130. The Tecnospos, from the northeast corner of the reservation near Shiprock, features many threads to the inch, with busy-looking zigzag lines in various colors; actually, this pattern came into popularity with new commercial yarns in the early railroad days. The rug is thin but finely made and high prices. The larger, heavier Yeibeichai rug depicting symbolic figures of the healing ceremonial usually is not so fine in weft size, but is well woven and thoroughly battened down. It normally costs from $75 to $300. 

Of all the world's pottery makers, only the American Indian has never turned to the potter's wheel. The work of Pueblo women, master potters for 1500 years, shows little white influence. They still create their pots by rolling native clay into coils, painting them in earth colors freehand with a yucca leaf, and firing them over a bed of coals (with the vessels often covered in dry dung). 

The pottery of each pueblo has its own style and uses. The best sources of utilitarian ware are Acoma (distinguished by its thinness), Zia, Zuñi and Hopi. Among the most beautiful designs are the graceful, fanciful animal figures on the curving rainbow band of Zia ware. Best for decorative use are the heavy-walled wares of Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Tesuque. 

The ranking artist of the pottery world is still aged Maria of Ildefonso. In 1908, when Dr. E. L. Hewett was excavating the cliff ruins in Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico (now part of Bandelier National Monument), he observed the young wife of one of his workmen making utility pots of great beauty. He asked her to duplicate vessels newly unearthed from ancient cave rooms, and so encouraged this woman, Maria Martinez, to take a leading role in renewing the art of Pueblo pottery. Maria undoubtedly is one of the great Indian personalities of our time. Among her many honors are the Palme Academique of the French Republic and the Craftmanship Medal of the American Institue of Architects. Through accident or experiment in firing, she and her late husband, Julian, create their black pottery, with a dull design against a polished body. The deep black is applied not by painting but by smoking - by enveloping the red-hot jars in caked manure. Other women have taken up the art; Legoria Tafoya, of Santa Clara, to name one, produces highly respected vessels that sell for $5 to $40.

The Indian School in Santa Fe includes a department of painting founded by the energetic Dorothy Dunn. It was she who encouraged Indian painters to study their graphic heritage - the high-spirited paintings on the great buffalo hides, the designs on shields and costumes, the motifs of quillwork and basketry. "Talk with the old people of your tribe," she urged, "and enlist their help in interpreting, preserving and developing Indian art. Then, from your own enriched knowledge, create and recreate."

Out of such study, pursued long and faithfully, emerged the so-called two-dimensional Indian style. It looks contemporary, though actually its strong lines and areas of flat opaque color have been characteristic of Indian art for centuries. Its subjects are equally ancient - sacred symbols such as the rain, rainbow and clouds, or expressions of the rhythm of the ceremonial dance, the grace of the horse, the speed of the antelope.

Mrs. Dunn's students have included Oscar Howe, Quincy Tahoma, Andrew Tsiihnanjinnie, Allan Houser, Richard West, Harrison Begay - men whose work adorns the walls of the finest museums.

Before leaving the Southwest, let us mention the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial, held at Gallup for four days in early August, Thousands of Indians, representing tribes from Alaska to Florida, come to watch and participate in rodeos, dances and exhibitions. Artisans work at their crafts in full view, competing for prizes before an exacting board of judges.

The Seminole, living in southern Florida's grass prairies, adapted white man's craft to create a dress of striking effect. It began when the Seminole women took a liking to patchwork quilting. They tore cloth into strips, strips into pieces, then sewed hundreds of pieces together on hand-operated sewing machines. They have been doing it ever since and the "traditional" Seminole patchwork yields a rich variety of blouses, sports shirts, swim trunks, aprons and stoles. Price is determined by the number of "design strips" in the garments: skirts cost $15 to $35, aprons $3.50 to $5.

Twenty-five years ago, Tommie Parker, a Seminole woman living near Lake Okeechobee, began making and selling dolls. Others did the same, business grew and the Seminole Crafts Guild was organized.

Recently, at Dania, between the reservation in the Everglades and booming Fort Lauderdale, the Tribe constructed a replica of an Indian village for tourists who had been getting most of their ideas of Seminoles from chickees (thatched huts) along the Tamiami Trail, and commercial "monkey jungles." Craftsmen demonstrate patchwork sewing, carve model canoes from cypress and make necklaces, earrings and baskets. In mid-July, ceremonials are staged; these give some idea of the real feasting, fasting, and purification rituals, held deep in the glades, removed from the public eye.

I have saved the Cherokee of North Carolina for last because these great people synthesize the Indian's determination to survive and advance, as Indians, and to perpetuate their own crafts. Tremendous odds have been against them. Once their domain covered virtually the entire Southern Appalachians. Their lands were stolen, their treaties violated. In the 1830's most of the tribe were forcibly moved to the West by Federal troops over the infamous "Trail of Tears," - a horrifying chapter of American history. Those remaining are descendants of the few who hid in the mountains and scratched the barest existence by farming the steep slopes. They endured official and public apathy and unending, frustrating changes in Government policy. Yet in the 1930's they achieved a revival of basket art as fine as anything done earlier, and today almost 20 percent of the Eastern Band derive some share of their income from a healthy, growing crafts industry.

Basketry owes much of its vigor to Lottie Stamper, a slender, soft-spoken but extremely determined Indian, a native of the town of Cherokee. Years ago the secret of the complicated double-weave was dying out, known to only one old woman who taught Mrs. Stamper to a certain point but refused to go further. Lottie struggled alone until she mastered the craft, then undertook to teach it to others. In 1939 she began teaching at the Cherokee Indian School. She showed her students how to collect their own materials - river cane, split oak and honeysuckle vine, gathered early in the year before the snakes awake in the woods - and how to use roots and leaves for syes. Consequently, many Cherokees now make fine baskets using the double-weave as it was 

Continued on Page 184