Colors in Navajo Art — Their Significance and History

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One of the most significant ideas behind Navajo art is the persistent focus on believing that beauty is all around you. Every piece of art — whether it is a silver bracelet, a handwoven blanket, or a sandpainting — all these are considered to provide us a glimpse of the artist’s vision and her understanding of beauty. That is why even though all the art pieces exhibit similar themes, cultural elements, and styles, each is unique in their own way.

While this is a subject of interest for American anthropologists, there is another element that intrigues them even now — the history of Navajo art coloration that is used to bring beauty into life and the significance of each of the primary colors that we see on Navajo-inspired everyday items in the present times.

As you might have noticed, the colorful, geometric Native American rug designs have made their way on modern-day objects such as wallets, mugs, cup sets, and coin purses. The Navajo artists who are now using their designs on such items have ensured that the artistic legacy of the tribe lives on by following their ancestors. So, the objects that have original Navajo designs on them adhere to the color schemes that were used by the ancient weavers. Let’s look at the commonly used ones:

Significance of Colors in Navajo Art

Colors have always been considered a precious gift of nature by Navajo people and specific colors hold symbolic cultural meanings even now. However, it is important to keep in mind that the context in which the color is used is also significant because a single color might be used for different purposes.

If you have observed Navajo crystal rug designs, you must have spotted that most of them primarily use four different colors — black, white, yellow, and blue. These colors connote the four different directions and are closely tied with the spiritual beliefs of the tribe.

Countless Navajo myths explain why these colors are so important. One of them is that their homeland is enclosed by 4 mountains that they consider sacred and each color is supposed to signify one mountain. The color black is associated with the mountain in the north, white is the eastern mountain, blue indicates south while yellow is connected to the west. Thus, there is also an emotional attachment with these colors because these immediately remind them of their homeland.

In addition to this, one must also pay particular attention to the easy availability of such colors prior to the 1850s. While the three colors were available easily, Navajo weavers got indigo dyes, especially through trade. Later on, they were able to obtain different colors after coming in contact with people from other lands and also learning to mix unfamiliar colors with indigenous dyes.

When the railroad era began, weaving styles and forms witnessed a radical change because aniline dyes were made available and a different set of clientele with different tastes and demands settled in the region. Now, it is extremely difficult to find art pieces that have traditional designs and colors on them. However, many notable artists have stuck to the original themes and use the same organic materials, although their mediums and canvases have witnessed a monumental change!

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