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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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The history of the development of a religious belief system in the Navajo tribe isn’t well known. Most of the present-day information comes from the data recorded by the Europeans who came into North America in the sixteenth century, but even the records are not completely accurate because the Europeans were neither familiar with Native American cultures and nor they did they understand any. This issue was further amplified by the fact that even the tribes themselves were reluctant to divulge any information.
The Night Chant or The Yeibitchai Dance is one such ceremony for which you may not come across a lot of detailed descriptions. An ethnologist and linguistic expert, Washington Matthews, is one of the very few people who wrote extensively about it in his book The Night Chant, which was published in 1902. Dating back to around 1000 BC, the ceremony takes place over nine nights, and it is believed to have been first performed in Canyon de Chelly. One of the most sacred festivals for the Navajo tribe, it is a healing ritual that seeks to cure the ailing and also restore the delicate balance and order of relationships between people within their universe. It is a difficult ceremony to learn, and it requires you to memorize hundreds of songs, prayers as well as intricate sand paintings. It can take someone as much as five to six years to become competent enough to conduct their first ceremony. It is led by a medicine man and involves the use of shock and arousal techniques to eliminate the disease, and once that has been done, songs, prayers, and sand paintings are used to restore balance and order. Four major rites are carried out throughout nine nights. They are:
- In the Rocks (Tseh’nn-jihHatal’)
- From the Timber (Tsin-tzahn’jihHatal’)
- Danced Across the River (Klay-chah’jihHatal’)
- Big God Chant (Hash’jaytso’hihHatal’)
Even though an extremely demanding ceremony, Night Chant plays a pivotal role in Navajo life, and just one blog is not enough to explain all the rites and rituals associated with it. So, make sure you keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs about Night Chant or The Yeibitchai Dance.
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To better appreciate the beauty of modern Navajo art and culture, it is also important to educate yourself about those who made it what it is today. Here are some of the most prolific painters from Navajo Nation who created a lasting legacy in Native American art with their impressive legion of work:
Quincy Tahoma was a Navajo painter and muralist in addition to being one of the Indian Code Talkers who played a crucial role in World War II. His early paintings saw soft and serene tones but with time, they began to depict scenes of war and hunting. He made use of bright, vivid colors and sharp lines that reflected the style of Native American paintings in the early 20th century.
Gerald Nailor Sr.
Gerald Nailor, born in Pinedale, New Mexico, had a formal degree in art, which he obtained at the U.S. Indian School in Santa Fey. He also studied for a year under the famous Swedish muralist Olaf Nordmark. Most of Nailor’s works are characterized by a lucid imagination that stemmed from his vast knowledge of various Navajo myths. In addition to that, he was also inspired by the colorful beauty of nature and wildlife.
Harrison Begay is arguably the best-known contemporary Navajo painter. His work, spanning over 50 glorious years, includes paintings, book illustrations as well as screenprints. Begay’s paintings depict a peaceful world and the idyllic beauty of the Navajo way of life. A keen observer, his work leaned mostly towards sentimentality and expressiveness.
C. Gorman, born in Chinle, Arizona, is one of the most famous Navajo painters. Gorman’s artistic style was a blend of subjects such as the interpretations of Navajo pottery designs and rugs but his main subject was women. Some of his most prolific works include paintings of Navajo women, whom he portrays as nurturing “earth mothers.” His style reveals influences of his time in Mexico and that of Mexican muralists.
Beatien Yazz, a self-taught painter from the Navajo Nation, was responsible for coming up with a traditional painting style that was highly valued by art collectors. The subjects of his paintings were always inspired by Navajo culture and religion. Some of his most important pieces were watercolor paintings that contain important cultural records.
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If you’re not jump-starting your mornings with a steaming cup of coffee, are you even doing it right? Mornings are all about fighting heavy lids and welcoming positivity. Mornings are also about sipping coffee and drawing inspirations from your Navajo mug. Not sure where that came from? The Navajo tribe is one of the thriving Native American tribes in the southwestern US that sports a timeless culture bursting with life and vigor. Bubbling with vibrant tribal motifs, this evergreen collection has left behind quite an exquisite collection of fine arts for us, some of which now reflects on contemporary shelves of your urban home!
The urban trends are tracing their roots back to vibrant tribal rituals in contemporary homes, and if this Navajo Indian art on coffee mugs doesn’t steal the spotlight for you, we don’t know what will!
An electrifying kick-starter to beat Monday morning blues looks something like this.
Your love for black knows no bound and your monochrome mornings show that.
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The enriching cultures oozing from authentic Navajo art finds a forever home in your coffee mug.
Intrigued yet? The list doesn’t end here! Navajo art has always been a sight-soother with their intricately weaved fine arts are now seeping into contemporary household items. From morning coffee mugs to bewitching pieces pf jewelry, your love for everything tribal has a home right here!
In ancient times, the people of the Navajo community were not communicating through writing. Instead, they told oral histories, created symbols, and drew pictures to communicate. And all these symbols give us a complete and reverent language of life, nature, and spirit. This language is also unmatched in its depth and power.
Why “language” in the Navajo community is so powerful?
The Native American people such as the Navajo tribe believe that the language derives its power from the way they view things- whether seen or touched – living or inanimate – as possessors of a spirit. Everything in nature is saturated with sacred energy, and they deserve respect and honor. Earlier, and even till date, many Native American’s are intimately connected with all of nature. They have a firm belief that a person is part of the whole, and mankind cannot function without the cooperation and harmony of all things in the universe. Navajo symbols also reflect this kind of unity with surrounding and environment. Every symbol in art holds a deeper meaning and is an integral part of the culture. Art symbols also convey profound beliefs and perceptions.
Symbols and their meanings
The Native way is mainly a holistic way of life. Navajo’s symbols or other Native American symbols for that matter are often used to represent inclusion, totality, and a broad picture of organic life. For instance, a symbol of an animal not only represents a particular animal but also its role in the universe, its environment, its unique language, and its message to all other living things.
Let\’s take a look at a few Native American symbols and what they represent:
In the Navajo culture, a bird is a representation of internal peace. The display shows that anxiety no longer controls the mind and the heart. Overall, the Navajo community believes that birds symbolize light-hearted freedom.
The symbol of a circle represents the cycle of the seasons. It also represents the cycle of life to death to rebirth and the four elements which are the milestones in a person’s life- their birth and infancy, their youth and adolescence, their maturity in middle age, and their wisdom in their old age.
An arrow symbolizes protection and defense. If an arrow faces to the left, it means to ward off evil. Meanwhile, if it faces to the right, it is a sign of protection, and if it faces down, it means peace.
Drawn in the “zigzag” shape, the lightning symbol embodies power and strength. Earlier, this symbol was commonly painted on the faces of Native Americans as war paint. It was also meant to give power and speed to the warrior when they were on the battlefield.
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More than twenty years ago, no one thought that Navajo culture would gain so much popularity among modern Americans as it has today. Thanks to the constant effort made by innovative minds towards bringing back the slowly-disappearing Native American Indian tribes. However, amidst all of this, one side of Navajo that is still behind the curtain is the Navajo medicine man.
Known as Hatalii, the Navajo medicine man is dominant in the Navajo culture ever since its inception. Holding great respect among the Navajo people, he performs the main healing ceremonies on which the Navajo people rely at times of sickness. Also, with extensive knowledge of the Navajo heritage and culture, he acts as a bridge to the past. A bridge to the people\’s history, legends, and myths that slowly fade away as the old ones die.
The great significance of Hatalii is not because of his healing practice or knowledge about herbal medicine, but because he teaches people the principles of goodness and prosperity, preserving the Navajo’s traditions and beliefs.
Whenever the Medicine man is called to perform a \”sing\”, or a healing ceremony, along with healing the sick member, he shares the story of the people and how they emerged from the first world into the fourth world. During this time, he usually answers questions about life and anything related to man\’s existence on earth. He tells the young and reminds the old about the supernatural forces necessary for universal harmony and balance.
It’s believed that one in every eight Navajo men is a Hatalii. To become one, training as an apprentice to the old medicine man is the first step. The training includes years and hours of learning ceremonial procedures, assembling medicine bundles (or Jish), and assisting the teacher until an apprentice is ready to conduct independent practices.
The medicine man has to learn songs and prayers crucial to ceremonies and he must gain knowledge in different types of healing herbs. Most important, he must have faith in the higher powers and the Great Spirit, which is of utmost significance in Navajo culture. Once he is prepared, he renders his healing services.
Today, the medicine man is paid with money for his services. Earlier, when money wasn’t available, he used to be paid with livestock, turquoise, and rugs.
The bottom line is that just like other Native American tribes, the Navajo tribe has been relying on spiritual and religious healing as depicted in their art and craft.
If you are interested in Navajo art and culture, we have the best of collection to help you embrace this indigenous culture and delve into their belief. From Navajo coin purses to rugs and more, we have you covered. Make sure you check out our collection today.