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 Tuesday, June 16, 2009 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Exhibit reveals woven treasures from historically significant collection
by Kenna Bruner, Office of University Communications

An exhibit of Navajo Indian textiles at the CU Museum of Natural History showcases the breadth and beauty of the museum’s extraordinary Joe Ben Wheat Southwestern Textile Collection, considered to be one of the most important collections of southwestern weaving in the world. The Navajo Weaving: Diamonds, Dreams, Landscapes exhibit opened May 29 and is being presented over the course of a year in three distinct installations, each focusing on a different design element:

Diamonds, May 29-Oct. 1, 2009
The first installation of the exhibit features textiles of vibrant color and design focusing on the diamond motif commonly used in Navajo weavings.

Dreams, Oct. 2, 2009 – Feb. 4, 2010
In the second installation, textiles include narrative and image-based weavings that focus on the cultural stories of the Navajo people.

Landscapes, Feb. 5 – May 30, 2010
The exhibit’s final installation will present rugs depicting the southwestern landscape with motifs of lightning lines and spider woman crosses, elements that are related to Navajo cultural stories.

“The visuals in this exhibit will knock your socks off,” said Steve Lekson, curator of anthropology at the museum. “It’s more like an art exhibit than a history exhibit.”

Named in honor of Joe Ben Wheat, curator of anthropology from 1953 to 1987, the collection contains about 900 textile pieces, including rugs, sashes and blankets dating from the late 1700s to the present. During his career, Wheat earned an international reputation as a preeminent authority on southwestern prehistory.

Beginning in 1972 and continuing until his death in 1997, Wheat studied textiles in museums, private collections and obscure archives to analyze the materials, dyes and weaving structure used by the Navajo and Pueblo Indians. Wheat built a collection of outstanding and rare weavings for the museum representing all styles of southwestern weaving.

Although many treasured pieces from the collection have been displayed at the museum, it’s been 20 years since a major exhibit has been shown. The current exhibit features textiles that have never before been displayed for the public.

In conjunction with the exhibit’s textiles, monotypes by associate professor of art Melanie Yazzie will be displayed on the second floor. Yazzie’s prints were inspired in part by the museum’s weavings.

Guest curator for the exhibit is Judy Newland, exhibit director at Arizona State University’s Museum of Anthropology. In her curator’s statement Newland wrote, “In this exhibit you can experience the art and creativity of Navajo weavers. We do not always know who made them, but each textile was woven with amazing designs and colors that reflect the life and culture of the weaver.”

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