I’ve been to some fascinating parts of the world in pursuit of indigenous textiles and artisans. Traveling to Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Laos, Afghanistan, China—seeking out people and far flung places where traditions are maintained and sometimes crafting a book to tell the stories—has been a joy and a privilege.
But I had to go to South America to see what was right in my own backyard.
It’s 2013, and I’m in Cusco, Peru, attending Tinkuy, a gathering of weavers from all over the Americas and beyond. The auditorium is dark and hushed. The spotlight shines on a lone woman on the stage, calm and composed. “I was born to the Water’s Edge Clan,” she gently explains, “born for the Water Flows Together Clan. My mother’s father was of the Red Bottom People. My father’s father was of the One Walks Around Clan. I am a fifth-generation Navajo weaver.”
This was Barbara Teller Ornelas, a master weaver who lives in Tucson, Arizona, but who teaches her craft all over the country. Her sister, Lynda Teller Pete, also a master weaver and teacher, lives just fifty miles down the road from me. Talk about traditional textiles! Right here at home! These women represent the best. The best rugs, the stories, the lineage, the songs and prayers.
Creating a book with them and photographer Joe Coca and associate publisher Karen Brock was a trip like no other. We spent weeks on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and Arizona, visiting weavers from age 15 to 80-plus. Barbara and Lynda have nurtured such warm and generous relationships with family, clansmen and women, friends, and friends of friends, that we were welcomed into hogans, houses, trading posts, and museums all over the vast reservation. There was much laughter and much fry bread, an abundance of beautiful, well-made rugs and tapestries, and unforgettable weavers.
The stories we heard and that Lynda and Barbara tell so eloquently in their book are inspiring, saddening, maddening, and hopeful. Navajo weaving is alive. Most books about Navajo weaving have been written by “bilagáanah,” white people. Spider Woman’s Children: Navajo Weavers Today is an immersion experience in an important North American culture, told with honesty and authenticity. It will take you on a journey like no other.
Spider Woman’s Children is available now only at ClothRoads or pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite independent bookseller. Or buy a copy at the Santa Fe Indian Market August 18-19 and have Lynda and Barbara sign it for you.