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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 29, 2002 - Issue 64


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"Dances with Wool" Exhibit Opens

credits: Toadlena Trading Post Meet Clara Sherman, master Navajo weaver, her weaving daughters and her weaving granddaughters.
TOADLENA, NM - Navajo mythology says it was the Spider Woman who taught the Navajo how to weave. In Mary Ann Foster's case, her mother showed her a loom under an Oak tree when she was nine years old and told her to weave a rug.

She made the rug and sold it for $10 to the nearby Two Grey Hills Trading Post. The year was 1935.

Sixty-seven years later, Foster continues to make a living from her rugs. She is one of a handful of artists featured in the Historic Toadlena Trading Post and Museum's new textile show, "Dances With Wool," which opened Saturday. It features rugs ranging from one month to nearly 100 years old.

The rugs known as sandpainting textiles are permanent records of sandpaintings made by Navajo medicine men. The sandpaintings are made to help heal somebody. They are not permanent because the patient sits in the middle of the painting during the healing ceremony.

The sandpainting textiles reproduce those pictures, but with a slight variation. It weakens the healing power to make the design exactly the same, Foster said, speaking in Navajo through an interpreter.

Foster would not explain what each rug meant because "It is a secret. It would take away from the healing."

Among the rugs featured are those by Hastiin Klah (1867-1937), a medicine man who was the first to weave sandpainting designs. A healing song also goes with each sandpainting and the rugs.

Saturday's opening drew a large crowd from the community who enjoyed a barbecue lunch and musical entertainment. The trading post, well-known for its Navajo rugs, is nestled high on the eastern slope of the Chuska Mountains halfway between Gallup and Shiprock. The post is located on Navajo 19 just across the bridge, 12 miles west of U.S. 666. The show will run until May 2003.

The historic post, built in 1909, recently completed a two-year show of Navajo rugs, called "Generations." That exhibit is now on display at Ft. Lewis College's Museum of Southwest Studies.

The show opened in 2000 in Toadlena and was meant to run for one year. Due to its popularity, trading-post owner Mark Winter extended the show until 2002.

The Generation's show was threatened last month by the 700-acre Chuska fire, which came within four miles of Toadlena. "We loaded 600-700 rugs in our truck and were ready to go," trading post manager Chuck Kinsey said. The fire never reached the community and the show resumed.

Among the entertainment Saturday was movie actor Wes Studi, who played guitar with the band "Firecat of Discord." Afterwards, Studi was surrounded by fans seeking his autograph and to have their picture taken next to him.

Studi was in "Dances With Wolves" and "The Last of the Mohicans," among other films. He also played a major role in the film adaption of Tony Hillerman's novel "Skinwalkers" as Lt. Joe Leaphorn. That show was filmed this spring in Superior, Ariz., as a Public Broadcast Service "Mystery!" episode set to be broadcast in October. It is the first time the British program has filmed an episode in the United States.

Other entertainment Saturday included the Toh-Nih Singers, singers Elsie Benally, Zane Speck and flutist Stephen Fadden. The posting of the Colors was done by Chester Taugelchee and Christine Benally.

The weavers featured in the "Dances With Wool" exhibit include Ruby Manuelito, Mary Long, Julie Pete, Sadie Ross, Arnold Begay and Elizabeth Bitsue. Also featured are Gladys Manuelito, Esther Etcitty, Mary H. Yazzie, Klah and Foster.

There are more than 40 pieces displayed in the trading post's museum. The show area occupies the original inner hogan, built before additions were made to the building throughout the years.

Toadlena Trading Post
The Toadlena Trading Post exists today for the primary purpose of inspiring future generations of Navajo weaving excellence.

Toadlena, NM Map
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