21st Annual Navajo Rug Show
November 5, 2010
Julius Chavez has been weaving Navajo rugs for more than 20 years. Throughout those years, his method hasn’t changed.
"Weaving is a way of life," Chavez told The Park Record during an interview. "For me, it starts when you center yourself with the loom and you balance yourself inside. You can’t approach the loom without a sense of peace."
So it’s fitting the theme for this year’s Adopt-A-Native Elder Program’s 21st Annual Navajo Rug Show, beginning Nov. 12, is "World Peace."
The theme meant different things to different weavers, said Adopt-A-Native Elder Program executive director Linda Myers.
"One weaver used the symbol of a turtle to represent Mother Earth, which is her idea of peace," Myers said. "Another used a ‘Tree of Freedom,’ which she said represents her children. Another used a Navajo prayer and included different color hands that represented all people coming together, but most all of the rugs showed their homelands. And to them, peace begins at home when raising the children."
The idea of home and peace resonated with Chavez, who hails from Mini Farms, Ariz.
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"I think of two things when I think about peace," he said. "The first thing is the sheep, where the wool comes from. I think about when they eat the grass or the tips of the shrubs and how that becomes part of their bodies.
"I also think about our fire," he said. "All our traditional teachings about peace begin at the center of our home, the fire. It gives us warmth. It also gives us light. And those are the teachings we get from our grandparents."
Light also holds a deeper meaning for Chavez.
"When you get up early in the morning, you see the sunlight hit the top of the mountain and it gradually descends into the valley. That’s my grandmother and grandfather. They’re gone, but their knowledge fills the whole valley and the deepest part of the canyon.
"Those ideas are peace to me a deep sense of nature."
Chavez weaves to keep the tradition alive in his family.
"If I don’t do it, at least in my family, nobody else will," he said with a smile. "I grew up with my grandparents. I watched my grandmother weave, and watched my grandfather get involved with spinning, carding and washing the wool."
He also started weaving in earnest when times got tough.
"I didn’t always weave when I was younger," he said. "But when I lost my job because of the economic conditions, I had to do what I could. Poverty doesn’t know the difference between a man’s and woman’s work."
Chavez, one of the few male weavers represented in the rug show, said weaving is traditionally known as a woman’s craft.
"If you want to be a male weaver, you have to balance yourself in different worlds," he said. "In my case it’s four worlds the Native world, the white world, the woman’s world and the man’s world. That’s why I say you have to be balanced in order for the patterns to come out."
"A lot of men know how to weave, but they’re ashamed of it," Chavez said. "They’ll weave in the back room, and when there’s a knock, they’ll throw a blanket over their loom and come out. They don’t want to show it. It takes a lot of courage for a man to do this."
Still, Chavez knows how important weaving is for the future of the Navajo culture.
"There are teachings you learn from weaving. There are stories within the tools. The baton, the spindle and the card all have stories that get into ceremonial teachings of the loom.
"You have to keep weaving for the younger generations behind you. And if they find they have the desire, it’s always there for them to learn."
Chavez usually has an idea when he sits to weave.
"A lot of the rugs have regional styles," he said. "But also when you sit at your loom, it always depends on what you have within the wool.
"Of course, the loom will also speak to you. It has its own mind. I never understood that until later in my life. My mom said, ‘The loom will bring it out to you. It will see what you have and see your experience.’"
"I like to use the natural colors of the sheep. And I like the older styles that my grandma wove.
"I find when I try something modern it causes stress in my life," he said with a laugh. "I’ve noticed if I try to force it, they weaves become wavy and I’ll have to undo it."
This year marks the first time Chavez has participated in the rug show.
"I’ve been attending since the beginning when they were still at the Kimball Art Center, 21 years ago," he said. "But I needed to mature. I used to be a wild child. But now after a few miles and years of experiences, my world has calmed down enough so I can do this, and I’m excited."
This year’s show will feature 700 weavers, Myers said. And all the proceeds of the rug sales will go back to the elders.
"We will be auctioning off six of these rugs, but the rest of the rugs will also be up for sale on the wall or on their table," she said "There is no way to put a value on these rugs. They’re one of a kind. I’ve always said don’t buy a rug for it’s beauty. You need to feel it. When you do, you can feel the weavers hand.
"Sometimes when a weaver dies, a family will call to see if I still have a rug from the weaver. Then they’ll say, Can I just hold it to feel their hands?"
The Adopt-A-Native Elder Program’s 21st annual Navajo Rug Show auction and fundraiser will take place at the Deer Valley Snow Park Lodge, beginning at 6 p.m., Nov. 12. Tickets are available for $30 at the door or by calling 435-649-0535. The event continues Nov. 13 and 14, at 10 a.m., admission is $5, or a canned food donation at the door.