Katherine Marianito – Lady with Courage
Navajo Name: Yiintbaah – Lady with Courage
Born: May 15, 1932
Clans: Redhouse Born for Edge Water (Tabahi)
Chii: Bitterwater, Naali – Nodo dine tachini
Kathy Marianito descends from a long line of some of the finest blanket weavers in Navajo history. A great-great-grandchild of Juanita, considered one of the finest blanket weavers in the 1870-80s, and Manuelito, a prominent leader of the Navajo who helped negotiate their release from Fort Sumner in 1868; she’s inherited a great legacy.
Fortunately, it’s a legacy she’s been proud to represent and has done so quite gracefully. A natural weaver and artist in her own right, she began stealing her mother’s yarn at just 8 years old so she could “weave” it on a nearby fence. Once she was discovered, what began as a difficult challenge quickly became a lifelong passion.
Her mother would gently push her to learn to do it on her own, with subtle gestures and guidance as she grew more confident in her skills. It wasn’t long before she’d made six blankets in a summer so she could trade them for shoes and clothes for boarding school.
Kathy reminds us that it was her mother’s words that were the biggest lesson in our success: “You have to learn it, so you know next time to do it better.”
“My very own hands, my designs…that’s how I got started.”
Before long she learned how to wash sheep’s wool, how to dry it, and how to spin and dye it using plants like sage, sunflowers and tumbleweeds as natural colors. She laughs and says, “We tried everything!”
By 15, however, things began to change and she was to be married in an arranged marriage to an older man. Always the one to strike out on her own path, she instead decided to take off. Taking with some clothes and what little money she had, she rode off on a horse and boarded a bus for Salt Lake City.
The excitement and adventure took hold and for the first time off the reservation, she began educating herself and became a seamstress. She eventually moved on to California, only going back to the reservation for quick visits, stating, “I’d come back to the reservation, but it was lonely because I was a city girl now.” Kathy would laugh.
Years later she did return at the behest of her mother, but she decided to use her newfound time to visit homes and take care of those in the community. While she admits to almost losing her language, it was her people and her mother that brought it and her love for weaving back to the forefront.
As she worked with those going through alcohol detox, she found that a good way to help them stay sober was teaching them different crafts and how to learn new habits.
“I taught grandmothers and young girls to sew and quilt; how to design them; even how to make tools for weaving.”
Along the way, Kathy met Lorenzo Marianito, a Navajo medicine man who also came from a family of weavers. This time, however, she found that marriage was the right choice; a decision that has withstood the test of time much like her weavings.
In 1998, Steve Getzwiller heard about Kathy’s beautiful rug-making skills and he convinced her to take her Navajo weaving to a new level. In fact, they were the first to use silk as a fiber in traditional designs, and the only ones incorporating alpaca into their gorgeous, unmistakable art.
Over the next 12 years, Kathy would hone her craft so much so that she became an award-winning weaver. In fact, by 2012, she won many awards including First Place and Best of Category at the Gallup Inter-Tribal All Indian Ceremonial.
Today, her work is highly sought after by collectors and at 85 years young, Kathy still excels in her artwork, the traditions of her past and her present are still there to behold.
She’s quick to recall listening to the tales of her elders, never forgetting the long walk, her search to find herself, while retaining the pride of her people. Kathy Marianito may have ventured out far beyond her mother’s teachings, but each weaving embodies the love she has for her ancestors and her family today.
- jamie getzwiller