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Southwest’s Native American cultures portray a beautiful and varied heritage through their fine arts. Most of the designs and symbols prominent in Navajo craftwork represent ideas that are significant to their cultures and traditions. Images of rain, crops, animals, feathers, lightning, and other elements of nature are an important part of the centuries-old Native American art. This blog is to introduce you to a variety of Navajo arts and crafts, as well as the cultural, religious, and economic influences that have shaped their development.
From pottery to weaving to silver-work to turquoise, Native American’s visual work is vivid and has been celebrated by Navajos for decades. However, changing markets, new ideas and the introduction of new tools and materials have impacted the development of the artwork. Traditionally, Navajo artists made their creative pieces using organic, ephemeral materials. Extraordinary craftsmanship and intricate designs containing motifs and symbols honor the rich heritage and each craft has its own distinct history and spiritual meaning. But, as all craftwork has an economic purpose –to use, to buy or to trade, Navajo artists have traded their creations with various other tribes, such as Apache and Pueblo for centuries. The crafts were used by the Navajo people for their utility as a functional part of their everyday life or in religious ceremonies to barter for trade.
Navajo even adopted the use of materials not native to their culture and it is still practiced. The contemporary Native American artists use modern paints on commercially- tanned hides instead of earth paints on brain-tan. According to some artists, new materials simply work better. Others, especially Pueblo potters, have different opinions on the topic. They believe that there is still no replacement for the same materials that have been used in the past. However, If an artist tries to reproduce an existing museum piece by practicing a finely honed craft and fusing traditional and contemporary art, it becomes their own expression and rises to the level of Navajo. Modern-day Navajo nation arts and crafts blend traditional art with modern trends to pay respect to the centuries-old art form.
One can visit Navajo art galleries or shop for Native American art-inspired items to get a glimpse into the soul of the rich Navajo culture.
Kinaaldá is the coming of age ceremony for Navajo women. It celebrates the maturity of a girl and is held after her first menstrual period. The tradition originates from the ancient story of Changing Woman, who was one of the Holy People in Navajo belief. When her body began to transform so that she could bear children, the other Holy People marked the occasion by celebrating the first Kinaaldá. The First Woman physically molded Changing Woman into the shape of a woman, after which the latter baked a cake that was made of ground corn and offered the first piece to the most powerful Holy Person, the sun. Changing Woman conducted four ceremonies, which marked each of her first four periods, out of which she performed two for herself, and two for all Navajo women to come.
In the modern day, the ceremony is conducted over four days to represent the four seasons and the four sacred mountains of the Four Corners of the Navajo homeland. During the first night of the ceremony, the girl stays awake all night, with her legs stretched out in front of her, while the men in her family chant prayers. On the next morning, the girl takes a bath and dresses up in a dress made up of traditional Navajo rugs and jewelry made of shells and turquoise. Her mother dresses her hair in a particular kind of knot and wraps it in strings made out of deerskin, which is known as tsklólh. Later, she lays down on a blanket in front of the hogán, with her head towards the door. A female relative such as a sister or aunt or a male relative other than her father than proceeds to mold her symbolically.
During the four days of the ceremony, the girl is supposed to remain in abstinence, eating the simplest of foods without salt or any other flavoring. In addition to that, she will also have to run several times a day towards the east and then back to the hogán. This ritual assures the girl of remaining strong, lithe, and active throughout womanhood.
On the second morning, she has to make an Alkan, which is the ceremonial corn cake. This is a difficult task as the cake has to be big enough to feed the entire tribe. However, to make it easier, she is given special stir sticks that are very important for the Navajo women as they are passed from generation to generation. The girl also has to dig out the oven in which the cake will be baked overnight. There is also a particular way in which the cake is to be cut. It is cut from the east in a circular motion. The middle part of the cake is given to the most respectable members of the tribe.
The ceremony ends on the last day with a final run, a final molding and the distribution of the Alkan.
Ceremonies such as Kinaaldá have been in practice for many years now. Today, the Navajo people take part in these ceremonies as a way to remain connected to their culture and heritage. If you visit American Indian art galleries, you will find depictions of Kinaaldá in various art forms.
To learn more about Navajo culture, you can check out our online gallery by a Navajo artist as well as our other blogs.
From Farmington, New Mexico, an hour’s drive on dusty, unmarked roads will take you across Largo Canyon to the Crow Canyon Archaeology site. This stretch of land marked by gleaming reddish brown rocks is home to many archaeological ruins. In the American Southwest, the Crow Canyon Petroglyphs are known to be the most extensive collection of ancient Navajo rock art from the period between the 16th and the 18th century.
This archaeological site is situated in a remote and quite obscure area in the heart of Dinétah. The Dinétah is the ancestral homeland of the Navajo people. They lived within this area for more than 200 years, until the 1700s when they forced out of it by the encroaching Spanish colonizers.
The petroglyphs, like the stained glass windows in churches, are a representation of the Navajo story – their land, their culture and their religion. The artwork preserves a vestige of the people that once called that place their home. You will find some of their earliest creation stories beautifully narrated through these images.
As you explore the area, you will come across panels of ornate and intricate carved images on the lower cliff faces of the canyon. There is a striking image of a life-size corn stalk (the corn is an important part of the Navajo tradition) and another of a warrior donning a headdress and one holding bows and arrows. The figure with the bow and arrow is a representation of Monster Slayer, who was one of the Hero twins during the time of creation. There is also a peculiar drawing of concentric circles, the center of which, according to experts, is pierced through by the sun’s shadow on an equinox. The Navajos also created images of sword-wielding Spanish soldiers on horseback. This is believed to represent a battle that took place in Dinétah in 1705.
You will find hundreds of such images of humans, animals and supernatural beings on the south and east-facing walls of the canyon. Many of the panels are thought to be associated to traditional Navajo ceremonies because they are similar to the ceremonial sand paintings. There, you will also be able to see much older Ancestral Puebloan rock art mixed in with the petroglyphs. It has been found that Navajo rock art was influenced a great deal by the Pueblo rock art, which was a result of the close association of the Pueblo and Navajo while the Navajo inhabited the Reservoir District. However, one of the biggest differences between the two is the prevalence of much greater complexity and dynamic qualities in the Navajo creations.
The rock art practiced by the Navajos in the past continue to inspire modern day Navajo artists as well. Visit our website if you wish to buy products created by native Navajo artists. We have an extensive collection of mugs, jewelry and even Navajo design wallets.
Jewelry has been one of the most sacred parts of Navajo culture and continues to hold much significance in the modern times as well. It is believed that they learnt the art of jewelry making and silversmithing from the Spanish. Even in the present, they use many of the traditional tools and techniques to create exquisite and distinctive pieces. The Navajos believe in teaching such methods and techniques to their children so that the craft get passed down through generations. Today, there are many talented artists who continue to honor the art of traditional Navajo jewelry making.
The history of Navajo jewelry has been influenced by many events over the centuries. In the ancient times, the most common form of adornment was stone or wooden beads and sometimes even plant fibers that were woven in different designs. The Navajo people, or the Diné, first started working with silver in the 19th century. It is said that the first Navajo silversmith was a man named Atsidi Sani, who mastered the craft under the tutelage of a Spanish smith in 1853. However, if we were to look at some of the earliest creations, they were mostly made of cheap metals like copper. In the mid-19th century, the US government forced the Navajos into being imprisoned in Bosque Redondo. It is here that they began to experiment more with silver, especially sheet silver.
By the time the Navajos settled in their reservations after the Treaty of 1868, silver jewelry had started to become popular. There emerged many talented jewelry makers who further developed new techniques of making silver jewelry, thus creating their own unique style. Turquoise or “Doo tl’ izh ii” was first used in 1880 and in the subsequent decades, it etched its place as a quintessential Navajo jewelry element. This stone, which is often referred to as the “stone of life” holds a lot of significance for the Navajos. It is perceived as a harbinger of good fortune and is also used as a central part of many rituals and ceremonies.
During the early 1900s, with the increase in tourism in the South West, Navajo jewelry entered a new phase – it became a tourist-favorite. Semi-precious stones like coral also started to be used during this time. With this, the jewelry began to evolve and styles began to change to accommodate market demands, and Navajo jewelry transformed into what is now. Much of the jewelry that we see today feature intricate designs made using turquoise and other semi-precious stones as well as native Navajo art designs.
An anthropologist named Uriah Hollister wrote about the Navajos in 1903; he said, \”Belts and necklaces of silver are their pride…” We believe that the best way to appreciate a Native American art like jewelry making is to learn about its history. And if you wish to buy authentic products like Native American beaded cuff bracelets, this is where you should look.
Over the years, Native American tribes have seen a drastic disappearance in the languages that were once used to communicate. However, it’s almost impossible to estimate the number of the languages that have been lost. The loss of these languages has led to a loss of some of the greatest works of oral communication ever produced. There has been a consorted effort to preserve these languages with the help of the Internet. Nevertheless, the sad truth is that these languages are on the verge of extinction. Out of the many languages spoken, one of the most common was Navajo.
Navajo is so far the most commonly spoken Native language in the U.S., with about 170,000 speakers. Navajo, firmly associated with Apache, is in the Athabaskan language family, which incorporates 44 dialects spoken in the U.S. The Navajo Nation has started a few bilingual language immersion schools for children and the Navajo vocabulary has been extended to accommodate modern technological terms. Diné College, Navajo Technical University, the Institute of American Indian Arts, South-western Indian Polytechnic Institute, the Arizona and New Mexico community colleges and a few junior colleges teach the Navajo language. Moreover, to pay a tribute to the language, the Superbowl was communicated in Navajo in 1996 and in 2013, the motion picture Star Wars was translated into Navajo to try and promote the language.
Central Alaskan Yupik has the biggest number of speakers of any Alaska Native language. Nearly 50% of the Yupik population is native speakers. This means that there is still hope for Yupik. Kids grow up speaking Yupik as their first language in 17 of 68 Yupik towns, as indicated by the Native American Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. However, the entire Siberian Yupik population in Alaska is much smaller with around 1,100 individuals. This is why it is still the second most spoken Native language, after Navajo.
This incorporates three dialects, spoken in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska. As indicated by the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World\’s Languages in Danger, the Yankton-Yanktonai tongue is fundamentally spoken in the Yankton and Crow Creek Reservations and in the northern region of the Standing Rock Reservation. Teton (Lakota) is spoken on the Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Sisseton Reservations, and the southern region of Standing Rock. Off-reservation speakers live in Rapid City, Minneaoplis, and other upper Midwest urban communities. Sioux is also spoken in a few Canadian territories.
Apart from these, Apache, Rio Grande Keresan, Cherokee, and Choctaw are each spoken by around 10,000 and 15,000 individuals only. Clearly, these languages are slowly vanishing and it won’t be too long before we come across a generation that raises eyebrows at even coming across the names of these tribes that would only seem like mumbo-jumbo not long from today.
The need to preserve these languages is strong. If you want to feel connected to your tribe, it’s important that you take certain measures, like investing in authentic Navajo art and jewellery to store them as souvenirs. You could use these to introduce younger generations to the ideologies of Native American Indian tribes. If you’re looking for quality Navajo merchandise, check out the wide selection of products at Navajo-Artist. The aesthetically pleasing and abstract representation of the tribe can be seen in the form of Navajo Indian art on canvas and crafts.
Jewelry has played a significant part of Navajo culture and the people’s way of life since time immemorial. When the soldiers returned in the 18th century, the Native American people were able to get German silver items and coins from them, which they later melted down into certain articles and made them into jewelry pieces that we see today. The creation of silver jewelry dates to the mid-19th century and is said to be first learned by Navajo artists from Mexican smiths.
Stones were mined and also traded with a lot of tribes, which were living around where we today have a lot of turquoise mines – Nevada and South Arizona lands. Navajo jewelry had a lot of unique marks – mountains, sky, horses put by the silversmiths, which carried significant meanings and defined Navajo’s cultural identity. Navajo jewelry items usually have a cluster design, which is the most precious piece of joy to the Native Americans.
Navajo jewelry started gaining tremendous popularity in the 1940s. Back in those days, most of the jewelry work was made of sand-casts and rocks and melted silver. Silversmiths were working with bigger turquoise pieces and there was a significant expansion in marketing. From the 1960s to 1970s, Navajo jewelry pieces became smaller and were very much inspired by other tribes, especially the Zuni tribe from New Mexico.
With beautiful patterns, spiritual themes, and vibrant colors, Navajo jewelry pieces mark the very core of centuries-old Navajo heritage. If you are looking to incorporate the ethnic beauty of the alluring Navajo art in your wardrobe too, shop for the Native American Indian jewelry online from Navajo Artist.