San Francisco

“Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild”

M. H. de Young Memorial Museum

Authentic Navajo Indian rugs and silver jewelry from the reservations in northern New Mexico shown under the auspices of a tribal enterprise organized in 1941 with head­quarters in Window Rock, Arizona. Num­bering about 90,000 persons, the Nava­jos are the largest Indian tribe in the United States and as such have retained many of their tribal arts. Experts at weaving, they borrowed the skill about the beginning of the 18th century from the neighboring Pueblo Indians, who had acquired sheep from the early Spanish colonists. Weaving was a man’s craft among the Pueblos, but the Navajos delegated it to the women who then began developing the spontaneous ab­stract designs for which they have be­come noted. Legend has it that they were assisted in their. skill by advice from a spider, and the “spider hole,” in tribute, is still woven into some of the blankets. Their beautifully geomet­ricized patterns in soft desert colors found their way to tourists and city mar­kets via white traders near the turn of the century. And commercial dyes, to speed up the process, found their way onto the reservation, almost ruining In­dian art. One value of this current show is to point up the fact that the Indians are returning to the use of their native vegetable dyes from which their first mellow colors were developed. The “Sand Painting” rugs are a marriage of the weaver’s art and the medicine man’s magic rites, and it is a question­able one in some respects. The unfortunate aspect of this exhibition is the art-in-action program. When the work, as an art form, can stand on its own (and this work can), costumed “per­forming” Indians are only a distraction.

E. M. Polley