Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest

Hadley Jensen

I found a new appreciation for the complexities of Navajo weaving when I took a two-week workshop, taught by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas, at Idyllwild Arts Foundation in 2016. As fifth-generation Diné (Navajo) weavers who grew up at the fabled Two Grey Hills Trading Post in northwestern New Mexico, their knowledge of this art form is deep and personal, and has, in turn, enlivened my own understanding of its histories, materials, designs, and techniques. Supported by a Craft Research Fund Project Grant and inspired by historian Pamela H. Smith’s work on the Making and Knowing Project, I was interested in exploring what craft knowledge can bring to academia. Crucially, how might Indigenous ways of knowing related to the process of weaving—as art form, cultural practice, and lived experience—deepen one’s interpretation of its finished product? After many frustrating and humbling days spent plotting designs with pencil and graph paper, training my unskilled eyes and hands, and learning to accommodate a stiff back and sore fingers, I finally emerged with a small woven piece of my own.

Through that workshop and in our subsequent collaborations, Lynda and Barbara have helped me understand the importance of embodied and sensory craft knowledge, and of the weaver’s tacit expertise and material literacy. By engaging in the bodily rhythms of weaving, becoming attuned to the hand feel of different yarns and the distinctive “thump” of the weaving comb (at a different force and pace for every weaver), I learned to both listen and see. I began to recognize the practice of weaving as a way of making knowledge and as a mode of storytelling, even if its capacity for holding and carrying such knowledge is variously conceived and understood. The philosopher and historian Etienne Gilson contends that “knowing is making”; these connections between thinking, making, and knowing ultimately became the currents that molded the themes of this exhibition.

About the Author

Hadley Jensen’s research addresses the intersections among fine art, anthropology, and material culture, with a particular focus on Indigenous arts of the North American Southwest. She is currently a research associate at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. Her curatorial project Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest, opening at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York, in spring 2023, is the first exhibition to showcase the American Museum of Natural History’s collection of Diné (Navajo) textiles. Together, she and Rapheal Begay (Diné) are cocurators of Horizons: Weaving Between the Lines with Diné Textiles, opening at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in summer 2023. Her work has been supported by the Autry Museum of the American West, Center for Craft, Lunder Institute for American Art, Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives and National Museum of Natural History, Terra Foundation for American Art, Textile Society of America, and Wyeth Foundation for American Art. In addition, she has hands-on experience learning Indigenous weaving and natural-dyeing practices, which has strengthened and enlivened her work as an academic researcher, curator, and teacher.