Master Weaver: Katherine Marianito
Master Weaver: Katherine Marianito
Navajo Name – Yiintbaah – Lady with Courage (this is a lady with courage!)
Born: May 15, 1932
CLANS : Redhouse born for Edge Water (Tabahi) Chii : Bitterwater Naali – Nodo dine tachini
In 2010 Kathy picked up more awards at the Gallup Inter-Tribal All Indian Ceremonial, including a First Place and Best of Category. At the Indian Market, her work is always sought-after by collectors, as she is one of the few Navajo weavers using silk and alpaca in addition to traditional Churro yarn.
For the Navajos weaving is an inherited occupation. Traditionally little girls learn from their grandmothers, or in Kathy’s case, from her own mother, who learned it from generations before. Kathy Marianito is a true descendant of master weavers.
Kathy's heritage is full of Navajo history. Her great-great-grandmother Juanita was considered one of the finest blanket weavers in the 1870s and 1880s. Juanita’s husband, Manuelito, was one of the most prominent leaders of the Navajo people.” It was Manuelito, Kathy’s great-great-grandfather, who was instrumental in negotiating the Navajos release from Fort Sumner and Bosque Redondo in 1868, returning to their homeland, the only displaced tribe allowed back on their true native soil.
Kathy grew up hearing about her famous ancestors, as well as tales of The Long Walk. The excruciating walk to exile, and then their triumphant return. Growing up on the reservation in New Mexico, she also watched her mother weave. “When I was really young, maybe 8 or 9, I stole her yarn. I would put it on the fence and would ‘weave’ it there, until my grandfather found out and told my mother.”
Her mother finally taught Kathy how to set up a real loom and weave…lessons which at first did not come easy to the rather headstrong little girl. “When I really started, it was difficult. She told me to put it up on my own, and that was rough, but she just kept telling me to do this and that, and fix this and that… ‘You have to learn it, so you know next time to do it better.’”
“I used to make six of them in the summertime, and I used to take them to the trading post and buy my shoes, my clothes, that I needed to take back to school. When I go to boarding school, we don’t come home for two years!”
Kathy never forgot her mother’s words about how these lessons on the loom would stay with her, so she would always have her own income. “I never forgot how to weave or to do things my own! My very own hands, my designs… that’s how I got started.”
There were other lessons too, such as how to wash the sheep's wool, and then dry and card it, spinning and dying it different colors using plants such as sage for green, sunflowers for yellow or green tumbleweeds for black wool. “We tried everything,” she says with a laugh.
When she was 15, however, lessons such as these came to an abrupt end. That’s when she was told she was about to be married to a man she didn’t really know. “That was tradition,” she says. “But I don’t want to get married at 15 years old.. got a lot of dreams and all that.. didn’t have time to hang around and be a wife. So.. I took off"
The teenager rode her horse to the trading post, taking with her some clothes and what money she had, and boarded a bus for Salt Lake City. And so her new life began, learning firsthand about the world outside the reservation, educating herself and becoming a seamstress. She moved to California and had her own apartment, with only occasional visits home. “I’d come back to the reservation, but it was lonely because I was a city girl now!”
Years later, during one of those visits, her mother told her she missed her and asked her to stay. Kathy did, but returned to the reservation with purpose. “I got a job as a health representative. I used to visit homes and take care of people in the community, working with the doctors, the policemen, the lawyers, and I’d talk to the people. I’d almost lost my language, but that’s how it started. Then I went back to weaving, to help my mother and to finish her weavings.”
Part of her job was working with alcoholics going through detox and she discovered helping people learn different crafts also helped them learn different habits. “I taught grandmothers, young girls… I’d teach them to sew, 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 she did not run away, and their marriage was strong up until his death in 2021. Her eyes always sparkled when she looked at him, and there’s a definite twinkle when she watches her grandson Sean, who often is by her side as she weaves.
Steve Getzwiller came into her life in 1998, after hearing about Kathy’s weaving skills. That’s when she was making rugs. Not anymore. Since then the two have continued to raise Navajo weaving to the next level, being the first to use silk as a fiber in traditional designs, and the only ones incorporating alpaca into “wearable art.”
There are very few weavers who understand how to weave a blanket and not a rug.” Says Getzwiller. “A rug would not be comfortable when worn, while a blanket will drape and fit your form. It has to do with how she warps her loom and how she packs it, and that sort of thing,” he explains.
Getzwiller calls their work together true collaboration. “How it really works,” he said with a laugh, “is I tell her what I want, and then she does what she wants!” He’s the first to tell you, though, that the results are timeless. “Her work is a major departure from contemporary Navajo weaving. I hate to use the term ‘revival’ but it’s about bringing some of the best things that came before back to the forefront.”
As Kathy excels in new forms of her art, the traditions grow stronger. She recalls when she was little, listening wide-eyed to elderly women relatives, the nieces of Manuelito. “Their stories about ‘The long Walk” …they never forgot the walk,” she says. “And I used to think, “What a wonderful way to be so strong, to walk that far and come back.”
It’s not just the mechanics, but the passion from within which truly sets an artist apart. Such is the way with Kathy Marianito, who is strong enough to walk so far and still come back to her roots. …………excerpted from the Western Art Collector Magazine August 2011.
We recently asked Kathy some questions about herself and weaving. We thought you might enjoy reading her candid answers, now that she is 90 years old.
Who taught you to weave, and did you have any other training?
Kathy… My mother taught me and my mother learned from her mother.
When did you start Weaving?
Kathy… When I was 9 years old.
Are you related to other weavers in family or Clan?
Kathy… My biological mother and grandmothers, also I have 5 sister-in-laws that weave: Laverta Marianito, Lucie Marianito, Jalucie Marianito, Elaine Upshaw, and Julia Upshaw.
Do you have a favorite design?
Kathy… I can’t say, I have all kind of design I like. I create my own design on my own and dream.
What is it about weaving that you enjoy and how important is that to you?
Kathy… Very Important! My weaving means a lot to me and what I make – makes me happy and proud. My way of survival.
What would you like to communicate to others about your work?
Kathy… I like to teach young people, it doesn’t matter what age. Weaving is a wonderful experience. It’s traditional to me because my ancestors did it and I enjoy it.
What most excites you about your work?
Kathy… To create designs that are more than the usually accepted design. I like to add different designs or use the wool differently that make my weavings unique. I try to be perfectionist.
Who has been a major influence for you?
Kathy… My mother, Elizabeth Casuse, this was my mom’s dream and she talked about the future. She saw this, I am living it.
Have you had any related experience in the art field?
Kathy… Yes, I love to draw, I can do beadwork, sewing and create other arts and crafts as my hobby. I can pencil draw pictures and like oil painting.
Have you won any awards and if so how many - for what?
Kathy… Yes, at Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial with many awards for my blanket weavings and my bead work was recognized as superior work, as well.
What designs do you think you are known for?
Kathy… Mostly Chief Blanket styles. I like to weave my family old time design – Manuelito blanket.
Do you have ideas in your mind you would like to incorporate into your weavings?
Kathy… I want to weave a buffalo in my rug one day – also creating cross with rug design. I like to use old style blankets with pictographic or animals, mesa and people on my designs. I also have made handbags and vests because I enjoy sewing them.
Do you have original designs you have not woven yet but would like to?
Kathy… Yes, Something new in today’s technology or graphics.
Do you come from a large family?
Kathy… No, only from one great-grandmother (only child); I have few siblings but more grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Have you always lived on the Navajo Reservation?
Kathy… No, I went over the United States, but I never forgot my traditional way of life. I got to know different people, (races and tribes)
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