Nizhoni Ranch News
We're Still Here, by Susan Sorg
WE’RE STILL HERE by Susan Sorg
Over a year later, memories of the global pandemic are still here, raw and fresh.
Something else is still here, surviving and in some cases thriving. This is what so many incredibly talented Native American artists want the world to know: Despite how people of color were hard especially hit by covid-19, they are still creating art. They are still here.
What is normally the first major show of the year, the annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market went off as usual in March, 2020. Afterwards, Jemez Pueblo potter Glendora Fragua packed up and headed back home to Albuquerque. “As we drove out, there were only one or two cases (of covid) in the Phoenix area. And when we got back, that’s when the whole thing started.”
18-year-old Navajo painter Penelope Joe says the pandemic came to Navajo
Nation during her high school’s spring break. “I remember that announcement on KTNN (Navajo radio station) that morning. When you’re young you never thought something like this could happen at all.”
Penelope says the first three weeks, they locked their gate and didn’t go
anywhere. “I’m not gonna lie. We were scared ‘cause my grandparents are elders. My mom and me had to protect them.”
Barbara Jean Teller-Ornelas is a Navajo tapestry weaver living in Tucson. Her
nephew was a home health care worker living with Barbara and her son. He caught covid at the end of March, 2020, unknowingly bringing it home to his cousin and aunt. “Around April 5 th , we all got sick,” she recalls, “but my nephew was worse than us. So I called an ambulance on the 14 th (of April). They took one look at us and said ‘You all need to go in. You’ve got the virus.’ We had no idea this was happening.”
All three went into ICU. Barbara had pneumonia as well, and was hospitalized
for nearly three weeks. Her nephew, however, was intubated right off. He died nine days later.
“My son was ok for the first couple of days,” Barbara recalls, “and then he went
downhill real fast. They intubated him, and he was on a ventilator for 50 days. He was in a coma the whole time…and was in the hospital for three months, then three months in rehab. He had to re-learn how to walk and talk.”
Elvie Vanwinkle, a master weaver of Navajo textiles says the sickness spread like wildfire across Navajo Nation. “I think because we didn’t understand much of what the virus was about,” she says. “In the beginning, people continued to get together, visit each other, shake hands because shaking hands and saying hello is big amongst the Navajos…we didn’t know that much about the virus.”
“It hit hard with those that live out in the rural areas, those with no running
water, no electricity,” Vanwinkle says. “Some of the leaders and some of the community people delivered hand washing stations to some of the individuals who live out in the rural areas.”
Steve and Gail Getzwiller, owners of Nizhoni Ranch Gallery work closely with
about two dozen Navajo weavers, some being the second and third generation in their family weaving exclusively for the gallery. “We did work with Red Feather (a non-profit) donating to them to help during this time,” says Gail Getzwiller. “They had an organized group and on-the-ground success in providing washing stations, etc., across the Navajo reservation.”
The Getzwillers normally send churro wool and other rug-making material to
weavers, but were now tucking in hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and other essentials.
Alex Sanchez, a Navajo/Hopi jeweler living in Gallup, New Mexico saw another
need on the reservation: Masks and gloves, which he said the elderly especially didn’t understand. “They’d share (masks) husbands and wives would,” he says. “Some of the masks were old and just dirty. I bought (some), and whatever people helped with I matched…5,000 masks, 5,000 gloves. I went out to communities and passed them out. Three times I did that.”
“So many people donated so much, truckloads of water, bottled water, hand
sanitizer, masks, you name it,” says Elvie Vanwinkle. “People helped out…our
The economic blow to artists was immense. Reservations were on lockdown.
Galleries closed, and, even more importantly, suppliers artists used for materials closed.
Penelope Joe started painting when she was 12, and winning first place awards
when she was 13. This young woman with big dreams creates big art, on big canvases kitchen-table sized. Ordering online was a problem, since most only deliver to physical addresses, which remote areas on the reservation simply don’t have.
Thema Tsosie, Penelope’s aunt who has helped raise her was trying to find
canvases from smaller art online shops. “They have the hardest time with the post office to even deliver to the house. At times, we had to wait by the main road, but then you couldn’t be on the road for anything, so it was a real struggle. It wasn’t easy.”
Tanner’s Indian Arts in Gallup specializes in jewelry crafted by Native American
artists. Joe and Cynthia Tanner and their daughter Emerald learned suppliers of silver, gold, and lapidary materials were closed like galleries and other retail. Then Joe Tanner had an idea. “What I remember,” he said, “was reviewing the uncompleted silver and gold work in the safe, waiting to be set.” Joe decided to give these unfinished pieces to certain young jewelers he worked with.
“Dad has a long history of being that sort of catalyst putting artists and talents
together,” says Emerald Tanner. “I think really why we drew on that and why we did so much of it is of course because the silver was limited, but it really gave us an opportunity to couple this new, modern talent with these granddaddies of contemporary Native American jewelry like Preston Monongye, Lee Yazzie and Loloma.”
Emerald says their headquarters became the Taco Bell parking lot, where she’d
meet up with the cadre of young jewelers who now had the opportunity to take
unfinished pieces, some older than they were, and bring these pieces to life.
“That’s what really sparked the concept,” says Emerald. “It’s something we felt
could be our contribution to keeping these artists that were so focused and excited to be on board with us.”
As the year and the pandemic continued, show venues and galleries were either
closed or operated virtually. The Tanners used Zoom to stay in touch with their clients. Nizhoni Ranch Gallery already had a strong online presence. “Internet sales actually increased during Covid," says Gail Getzwiller. “We have been blessed that we can continue to help and be a place for weavers to market their works.”
And for that, Elvie Vanwinkle and the other weavers in her family are grateful.
“We are probably some of the lucky ones, to work with Steve, because he’s continued to buy from us in this pandemic.”
Glendora Fragua depended on shows to sell her pottery, and after the Heard, it
became pretty apparent there weren’t going to be any more for a while. She had never posted any of her pots for sale on Facebook before. She tried it…and quickly sold out. “I was really surprised!” she says. “So I was thinking ‘What other things can I do?’”
She bought black masks, and painted her designs on them. When those sold, she tried women’s hats and men’s baseball caps, then earrings, and purses, even shoes, all with her designs beautifully painted on. Her new business model worked.
For Penelope Joe, she had to put her painting on hold for about two months until
canvases finally came in. But the first ones she received were 8” x 10”, tiny when compared to the 5’ x 7’ dimensions she had been working on. “I was so mad,” she recalls. “But my mother told me maybe this is just telling you to learn how to do smaller art and teach yourself. That’s what I did.”
She was working hard on her art and with her aunt to finally have an online
presence. That plan derailed in November when her grandparents caught the virus, which spread to Penelope and her aunt. All four were hospitalized, and when they came home, it was Penelope who looked after everyone. Her painting, which brought her such joy, was back on hold.
In January, Alex Sanchez became sick with covid, as did his wife. Doctors in
Gallup said he needed to be on a ventilator and was flown to an Albuquerque hospital. Fortunately, his breathing improved there without a ventilator, but he remained on oxygen for several weeks afterwards. He’s off of it now, thankfully, and is back to creating jewelry.
Elvie Vanwinkle also caught it in January. “I didn’t want to touch my rug,” she
says. “I didn’t want it (the virus) to come in contact with my work. But I’m one of the ones who recovered.”
It was a long time before Barbara Jean Teller-Ornelas could even sit beyond two
hours at her loom. “I realized it affects my whole body…and your body’s telling you ‘I can’t help you.’ We learn how to stay in tune with what is happening, and we learn how to stop and relax.”
Barbara’s family cheered when she finally finished a piece a year after she’d first
put it on the loom. Her son, also a weaver, isn’t fully recovered, but he’s getting there.
One thing this experience has given back to Barbara is the joy she used to
experience with her art. “I’d sit in front of my loom every day, and I touch it, and I feel it…I’d hear my grandma’s songs coming back, and I could hear her prayers coming back to me, coming, and repeating it…it moved my sense of balance back.”
Glendora is excited about the Bernalillo Indian Arts and Crafts show in July, the
first show she’s been to in 16 months. She knows now her art can be improvised with other mediums successfully and sold online. Her one take-away from this is knowing where her artistic heart lies: “I’m definitely going back to pottery. That is my passion, pottery.”
Penelope Joe’s grandfather, already weakened by covid, died after a heart attack this past March.
His young, artistic granddaughter is now looking forward, embracing the art that is embracing her in return.
“When I finally got back to it,” says Penelope, “it brought me so much peace, joy,
comfort, love, because I know they’re my healers…and they’ll always be healing me.”
Native American Art Magazine - for art lovers around the world.
- Beth Barth
Happy 4th of July
Happy Birthday America!
We salute the Red, White and Blue!
A few weavings to inspire you!
Germantown Optical Navajo Weaving : Historic : GHT 2203 : 49 1/2″ x 68″
JB Moore Crystal Plate VIII Navajo Weaving : Historic : GHT 569 : 53" x 78"
3rd Phase Chief Blanket : Historic Navajo Blanket : PC 148 : 72" x 78"
Crystal Navajo Weaving : Historic : GHT 2101 : 59″ x 72″
3rd Phase Chief Blanket : Historic : GHT 2126 : 57″ x 77″
Crystal American Indian Rug : Historic : GHT 2090 : 40″ x 62″
- Beth Barth
Chief Blankets, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Phase
Chief Blankets circa 1700-1900, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Phase
One of the most iconic weavings in American history, Navajo Chief Blankets were a distinguished status symbol during the 19th century.
Traded and prized throughout the Southwest and Great Plains, these gorgeous weavings were not only valued for their horizontal stripes of rich Cochineal reds, Indigo blues and deep blacks, but because of their supreme quality.
Often worn across the shoulders of a Chief, clan leader or men and women of prominent social or financial status, these Navajo wearing blankets were tightly woven to shed water and to keep you safe and warm during cold, rainy and snowy seasons.
Below are the three distinct phases in which Chief Blankets are separated due to their style, color, and weaving patterns:
First Phase Chief Blankets: 1700-1840s
The “Ute” style or First Phase hail from the classic period of Navajo life. A simplistic version adopted from Pueblo wearing blankets, narrow horizontal bands of rich, natural dark browns and blacks, these chief blankets were woven with white churro sheep wool yarn. They are also known for their unique indigo-blue or red raveled yarns that were sourced from dyed English baize trade cloth.
Second Phase Chief Blankets: 1840-1860
The second phase of the Chief Blanket moved quickly over the next 10 years. And while it was sandwiched between phases 1 and 3 . This style saw weavers adopt smaller design elements with rectangles and horizontal bands; often in a 12-spot position format. In essence, weavers were placing these new elements on “top” of the phase 1 style, creating a background effect that made each blanket stand out with more vivid color and style.
Classic Third Phase Chief Blankets: 1860-1868
The third and final phase was the shortest of them all, lasted just 8 years. These new designs featured elements in a “9-spot” design that covered the top, middle and bottom of each blanket with new, exciting patterns. Based on the weavers’ discretion or style, different shapes would begin to take hold with rectangles, squares or even diamonds becoming central figures.
Blankets woven after 1868 are referred to as Late Classics, later giving way to the Transitional Period of the 1880s and 1890s.
Sitting high on the neck and draped around the shoulders, these prestigious items commanded a respectable price even during the era because of their use of costly raveled Bayeta cloth and Indigo dyes.
What’s more, weavers sometimes took up to a year to weave each one, making them as rare as they were functional and beautiful. This mean that you could see a single wearing blanket in the 1860s command $50-$60 in gold or a great many horses; thus, the designation, Chief Blanket.
Today original Chief Blankets remain a one of the Navajo’s most sought after pieces for collectors all over the world. And even those made today are valued for the high-quality weaving precision, gorgeous colors, and iconic design.
- Beth Barth
Special Honors to Master Weaver Helene Nez
AYA Optical celebrates Indigenous Art. Founder and president, Carla D’Angelo founded Claudia Alan Inc. in 2003 with a vision to create beautiful eyewear and accessories that make a difference.
Master Weaver Helene Nez's work has been chosen to grace one of AYA's newest frames. Not only is it an honor to be chosen, AYA pays a royalty to the artist. Congratulations Helene!
To support AYA/Claudia Alan Designs and Helene please go to their website at: Claudia Alan Inc
Below is the award winning weaving which influenced the frame design:
- Beth Barth
What's In It for You?
Well, it is up to your interpretation. We are talking images in Navajo weavings. It is said that only 1% of Navajo weavings from the late 1800's to present have pictorial images. If pictorials or weavings with pictorial images have been off your list, you might want to re-think the design style.
Starting in the 1870's weavers were encouraged to move away from weaving only wearing blankets to weaving rugs, items for the tourist trade, commission pieces and more. As time passed weavers began to incorporate personal expression. Objects they saw or imagined would make their way into a weaving. It could be something as simple as letters of the alphabet, numbers, spiritual image or an object they saw. What do the images mean? That is where interpretation comes into play.
Below is a selection of weavings with pictorial elements. Click here to view our entire pictorial collection.
- Beth Barth
Not Just Another Pretty Face!
A dear client who lives in England recently lent one of his historic Navajo saddle blankets to his friend Julia Roberts and her award winning dressage horse Crunchie. Douglas thought Crunchie would look smashing wearing the saddle blanket. We agree. We also think Crunchie is absolutely beautiful au naturel. Love of Navajo weaving knows no borders - thank you Douglas, Julia and Crunchie for sharing.
- Beth Barth
Red Feather Changes Lives
Got a minute? Well, 2 exactly. Check out this uplifting video update from Red Feather - Giving Tuesday. It's been a long hard year, we are grateful for Red Feather and all those who support this outstanding organization. It is wonderful to see light during such a dark time.
- Beth Barth
Holiday Gift Picks of the Season
We have made shopping for the special people in your life even easier. Our Holiday Gift Picks for the Season gift guide showcases a few of our favorite pieces from many different categories and price ranges. To view our Holiday Gift Picks of the Season click here.
Even better - if you like we will wrap the gift along, add your personal message and ship direct for FREE! The order date deadline for December 25th arrival (for delivery in the U.S.A.) is December 17!!
Don't forget our 25% off sale is on. The discount will be applied to the price when the item is added to your cart! Be sure to provide the ship to address and in the order notes area of your shopping cart provide your gift message. If you have something in mind and can't find it - call Beth and she'll help!
- Beth Barth
November 27th, Native American Heritage Day
The month of November is more than Thanksgiving. It's also Native American Heritage Month, a time designated to honor and recognize the contributions Indigenous people have made to the United States.
"Our resilience and our strength as the first peoples of this land should be celebrated every day," said IllumiNative founder Crystal Echo Hawk.
"As Indigenous peoples, we stand in our power every day. We continue to pass down traditions through ceremony, protect the wellness and health of our communities, and fight for clean air and water," she said.
Native American Heritage Month provides a national platform for Indigenous people to shed light on their communities by leading discussions about culture and tradition, educating the public about tribal communities or celebrating culture by wearing traditional footwear for a week.
"The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people," according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
"Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges."
On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey released a proclamation, first signed on Oct. 16, recognizing November as Native American Heritage Month in Arizona.
“Native American communities play a critical role in the growth and prosperity of our state,” Ducey said in a news release. “Arizona is enriched by the many diverse contributions from people all across our state, and this month, we are proud to celebrate the Native American community’s vibrant heritage, civic leadership, and history of service to our state and nation."
Arizona is home to 22 tribes, and tribal land makes up approximately 28% of the state’s land base, according to the governor's office.
- Beth Barth
A Francis Begay off to Oklahoma
We love to see how our customers are displaying their weavings! Thanks for sharing!
- Beth Barth
Teec Nos Pos Gallery Show 2020
History of Teec Nos Pos Rugs
Widely considered to be the most intricate and detailed of all Navajo rug designed, Teec Nos Pos Rugs offer a truly exceptional and distinct look. Named after a location important to the Navajo, this “Ring of Cottonwood Trees” has produced two distinct styles that have both long been influenced by the tightly-woven, brightly-colored Persian rugs of the Middle East. Large, bold and colorful, Teec Nos Pos boast a weaving unlike any other. Located in the northeast corner of Arizona, Teec Nos Pos rugs rose to prominence in 1905, spinning off of J.B. Moore’s Crystal Weaving Style. Since that time, Teec Nos Pos rugs have most often displayed one of two unique stylizations—one boasting elaborate geometric motifs and the other a collection of zig zag patterns with distinct borders. The zigzag patterns being the only designs to be carried forward from the pre-1900 blanket designs.
The most amazing aspect of Teec Nos Pos rugs is the fact that weavers working in this area, were some of the most technically skilled weavers working on the Navajo reservation at this time. Traditional weavers often create the finished rug simply from a vision they have in their head and rarely from something drawn to paper. This unique choice lets the adventurous spirit, instinct and beauty of the Navajo culture shine through with each hand woven expression of art.
Navajo weavers are still using the same longstanding techniques passed down from generation to generation, even as it comes to shearing and cleaning wool, carding, dyeing and hand spinning. That’s why Nizhoni Ranch Gallery rugs feature an array of colors seen nowhere else in contemporary Navajo weaving, allowing weavers to deftly capture shapes, images, designs and styles.
The Navajo that create the Teec Nos Pos rugs for the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery are highly-experienced weavers and craftsmen that perfectly balance the fineness of each woolen strand with the tightness of the weave. This allows highly-detailed patterns to shine through on each piece without sacrificing comfort, durability or overall artistry. In fact, the amount of work that goes into each of these handmade Navajo rugs means that every single one is completely unique. Some weavings can take up to 2 years to create on the traditional loom. NRG supports and encourages each weaver to work as long as it takes to accomplish their masterpieces.
- Beth Barth
Thanks for Sharing!We love to see how our customers are displaying and using their weavings. If you have a Nizhoni Ranch Gallery weaving, please snap a photo and email it to us! Steve@NavajoRug.com
- Beth Barth