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Navajo rugs support tradition, next generation of weavers

An "X" marks the spot where a 13-year-old Navajo girl left her twin infant daughters in 1950. Unable to read or write in English, the young mother unwittingly signed papers that allowed a hospital in southern Utah to put her premature babies up for adoption.

Thirty years later, after being raised by a white family in nearby Brigham City, one of the twins, Rose Johnson Tsosie, decided to return to the reservation to find her biological family.

Her task was overwhelming. One of the largest Native American settlements in the country, the Navajo Nation is home to a quarter of a million people fanned across 2,500 square miles of Arizona, northern New Mexico and southern Utah.

The most amazing part of the story is that she succeeded.

The memoir that emerged from Tsosie’s struggle, "Finding Helen: A Navajo Miracle," will be on sale at the annual rug show Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Snow Park Lodge in Deer Valley. The author will be there, too, to sign books and chat with visitors.

But it’s the rugs that attract the crowds. "The Ceremony of Weaving" features wares from tribal elder Elizabeth Clah, who is 76, and many other experts. For the past 15 years, the program has helped Clah eke out an existence from her home in Many Farms, Arizona. She lives humbly, but has nevertheless been able to send some of her grandchildren to school.

A few hundred tribe members will sing, dance and share their stories as rugs dangle from the wall, a kind of Bayeaux Tapestry infused with the jagged sun stripes and profound vistas of the Navajo repertoire. For the first time this year, weavers have written brief anecdotes to describe the symbolism of the rugs they spent hours creating.

The stories, simple and sacred, offer patrons who purchase rugs insight into the culture that produced them. , organizer Linda Myers said. "What I hope to see at the show is that we can put their rugs and stories together," she added.

Myers, a Park City resident who started the rug sale 19 years ago to benefit tribe members, gave the weavers two themes to use as inspiration: "offerings" and "moon over the corn."

Myers decided to do something she had not done in the previous 18 shows: She had a contest and awarded the winners with prizes. The concept of a contest puzzled some of the elders, but they went to work on their looms.

"This was really hard," Myers said. "The challenge was the theme. Many had never woven a rug like this."

The results are impressive. Each rug is one of a kind, a variation on the traditional patterns some weavers have created hundreds of times. One rug pictures an American flag fluttering in one of the ochre-colored mesas of the Southwest.

"My story of the rug is the arrowhead all around us for protection," writes weaver Darlene Furcap. "I put a feather for prayers and bible prayers. All this represents prayers I put out daily for blessing on the reservation for our grandmothers and grandfathers. I put a flag up for our country, soldiers, and for all people of America."

The rugs share a palette of reds, blues, yellows, turquoise and brown as well as some common symbols. Weavers sign their rugs with symbols: the weaving comb, the horseshoe. All proceeds from the rugs go directly to the weavers. Proceeds from the price of admission — $30 on Friday go to a general fund to help the aging.

About 25 Navajo families will be on hand to weave, sell jewelry and crafts and powwow.

Families price their own rugs, which range from about $50 to $1,000. "All of these people are dependent upon weaving," Myers explained. "It’s an important part of how they get through the winter. Selling rugs allows them to sustain their way of life."

Myers first visited the Navajo reservation 21 years ago and found difficult conditions and delivers staples to the Navajo reservation. Many of the elders lived, and still live, in rural parts of the reservation where it’s difficult to distribute necessities food, water, medicine and wood to them. Myers decided to launch Adopt A Native Elder, the organization that puts on the rug show each year. Some of the weavers she helps are more than a century old. The program reaches 525 elders in 11 areas with bathroom products, wheelchairs and walkers. "Some things haven’t changed since I’ve been going there," Myers said. "Other have improved dramatically. The bottom line is that there are still people living in poverty."

If you go

Who: Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program and elders of the Navajo reservation

What 19th annual rug show and sale

Where: Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley Resort

When: Nov. 7-9

Friday, Nov. 7, 6-10 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 8, and Sunday, Nov. 9 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Admission is $5 or canned food


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