Visitors to the 56th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture jockeyed for parking spaces early on July 30--many were forced to park along the shoulder of Fort Valley Road for lack of space. As always, there was more to see and do than one could take in.
Over 60 artists filled the nooks, crannies and courtyards of the Museum of Northern Arizona offering a vast array of items including dolls, paintings, jewelry, cradleboards, moccasins, purses, pillows and music.
Museum Director Robert Breunig spent the day mingling with guests and artisans.
"I love these shows," Breunig said of the Heritage Program exhibits, which include both the Hopi and Navajo shows. "They are an in-depth mix of art, music and culture. My dream is that the museum can facilitate the communication between cultures that is so desperately needed in northern Arizona."
As Breunig spoke, the melodious voice of Clarence Clearwater, a popular Navajo folk singer, filled the air. Clearwater has recently been nominated for the Indian Summer Music Awards, which will take place in Milwaukee on the 10th of September.
Other performances under the big tent behind the museum included the band Blackfire, Aaron White and the Blue Stone Project, the Pollen Trail Dancers and Radmilla Cody.
Near the tent, the Navajo Churro Sheep Association offered a demonstration of rug weaving from the very beginning--the shearing of several genuine churro sheep--through the cleaning and dying of the wool, the spinning of yarn, and finally the actual weaving. Roy Kady, a fourth generation Dine master weaver and fiber artist, Mary Kady Clah, a third generation master weaver and spinner, and other members of the association were on hand for the demonstration and work.
This was just one of the many available demonstrations.
Carlos Begay spoke about the Navajo healing process, Baje Whitethorne spoke of the influence of traditional culture on modern art, and Larry King described the resilience of the Navajo language in the 21st Century. James Peshlakai shared features of Navajo philosophy, Tammy Begay discussed the history and meaning of the Navajo cradleboard, and Ida Yazzie offered traditional food demonstrations.
There were also numerous demonstrations of artistic techniques. Sally Black demonstrated basketry techniques, Elsie Joe shared the art of pottery making, and Janie Brown discussed and demonstrated Navajo-style beadwork.
Potter Romaine Begay of Silver City, N.M., caught the attention of many. Begay's pottery is an obvious mix of contemporary style and Navajo culture. His work, created under the label "Nizhoni Pottery," includes rug designs he learned from his mother and grandmother, and stories that he learned from his family.
His second-place winning teapot, "Spiral of Life," had been purchased the evening before, but other delightful pieces were available for sale. His tall, slender sculptures representing First Man and First Woman were interspersed with other functional pieces such as soup tureens, bowls and mugs. Begay's work will also appear at the Pinetop Art Festival in September and at the Santa Fe Indian Market next month.
John and Barb Copenhaver of Bloomington, Illinois, were just two of the hundreds of visitors looking for something special.
"We've bought a condo in Sedona three years ago. Our goal is to move out here at the end of this year," John said. "So we are almost permanent residents here. We are looking for items for our home that will make the connection between the culture and style here."
The item they chose, which Barb described as "mystical" was the folk art carving "Mother Earth, Father Sky" by Dan Yazzie of the Hardrock area of Black Mesa.
Yazzie pointed out the details of the carving, including representation of the Four Sacred Mountains of the Dine, the four sacred plants, the place of emergence and the sun, moon and constellations.
Redwing Nez took the Painted Desert Trading Company Best of Show Award with his entry "Journey of Whiteshell Woman." Sally Black took first place in the Basketry Awards division. Jack Tom took Best Master Artist for the array and quality of his jewelry.
Artists 18 and younger distinguished themselves in the Best Youth Artist Division. Hadiibah Anna John took first place for her painting "First Horse." Evangeline Begay took second place with a Burnt Water mini rug. Delberta Descheny's rug took third place.
Textile artists competed for the Cameron Trading Post Award for Best Textile Weaving. Mae Jean Chester took first place with her Klagetoh Red Eye Dazzler. Charlene Laughing took second place with a Child's Wearing Blanket. Brenda Spencer and Amy N. Begay each received an honorable mention.
Redwing Nez's "Journey of Whiteshell Woman" took first place in the Fine Art Division and Marlowe Katoney's triptych painting, "Oasis" took second. Jack Gene and Brando Williams both received honorable mentions in this category.
In the Pottery division, Damon H. Tso Jr. took first place with his Water Storage Jar with Interconnecting Design. Romaine Begay took second place for a teapot he called "Spiral of Life."
Marilyn Preston took first place in the Jewelry Division for her "Sheep Pin." Paul Arviso took second place with a bracelet, "Story Time." L. Bruce Hodgins took the Bahti Indian Arts Award for 3rd Place for a cuff bracelet. Amelia Joe-Chander received an honorable mention and Jack Tom took two honorable mentions in this category.
Elizabeth Whitethorne-Benally's "Chicken" brought her an honorable mention in the Folk Art division.
Finally, Suzanne Harvey took first place in the Sacred Mountain Trading Post Award for Cultural Items award for her "Storytelling Sash Belt." Arista LaRusso's evening jacket, "Blue Maize," took second place. Nelson Lewis Sr. and Dolly Beaver each took an honorable mention in this category.