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Press: Native American Art Magazine - Sandpainting weavings - A Sacred Subject - April/May 2016


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Always in demand, they are an art form considered rare and highly prized by collectors of Native American art. Navajo weavings, specifically pictorials centered on sandpaintings, Yeis and Yei Be Cheis, are the stars of Woven Holy People now on display at Nizhoni Ranch Gallery in Sonoita, Arizona. While it’s pretty unusual to find more than a handful of this particular style of weaving in one place, this current show features more than 60 of these intricate and incredibly complicated weavings which hold truly special meanings to the Diné, the Navajo people.

Sandpaintings are considered an integral part of blessing or healing ceremonies to cure a person’s physical or spiritual ills. While sandpaintings themselves are temporary, a weaving like this is permanent, which is why sandpainting rugs or blankets can be controversial as it depicts certain revered figures. The Yeis and Yei Be Cheis are isolated elements of the ceremonies themselves, and considered to be sensitive and sacred imagery, according to gallery owner, dealer and collector Steve Getzwiller.

“A weaver has to have gone through the ceremonies and received clearance so to speak from the medicine man and the spirits of the Diné,” says Getzwiller. “The design will flow then through them to the loom.”

 Getzwiller says it’s the detail and depth of the pieces on exhibit which is so impressive, partly because of the total scarcity of material to begin with.

“Less than 1 percent of Navajo weavings even go in that direction,” according to Getzwiller. “That’s always been the case, and that’s why they are so rare. Some of it dates from 1900 to the present time, which predates what’s conventionally thought to be the time frame the earliest ones were made in. It’s the best things I’ve been able to put together… and have seen in my career.

One piece, Beauty Way Sandpainting Weaving, which won Best of Textiles and Best of Category in sandpaintings last summer at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, took weaver Selena Yazzie two years to create (some sandpainting weavings often take longer). However, this 2015 winner is actually based on an old design.

“It’s taken from an antique piece I had years ago,” says Getzwiller. “It would have been woven in the Lukachukai area. If you look at how some of the headdresses are coming out of the border…I’ve seen three or four in this style. That was the weaver’s particular signature, and what it does is add dimension.”

Another piece, Storm Pattern/Yei Be Chei, is from the 1930’s, and is one Getzwiller considers rare. “The proportions are pretty unusual. The three Yeis in the center are females and the guy with the green shirt, he’s the Talking God, the head of the Yei Be Chei ceremony.

All “I’m a collector first and foremost. That’s why I’m in this business,” he adds.

Unlike Getzwiller’s earlier exhibits, all pieces in this show are for sale. He simply feels it’s time. “You only have the opportunity to own something for 20, 30, 40 years, and then it has to pass on to someone else. That is my goal and objective with my collection now is to place it in the hands of somebody else who’s going to appreciate it as much as I did for a period of time.”

The setting for this could not be more perfect, in the spacious gallery, which is also Getzwiller’s home in the ranching grasslands of southeastern Arizona. The peace and tranquility of the location only adds to the experience; a perfect spot to view something so sacred and meaningful to the Navajo culture.

Woven Holy People runs through May 28th.