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When Spanish explorers moved into the American Southwest, their native guides, often from other tribes, referred to the Diné as Navajo, which is a Zuni term for “invaders” or “enemy people.”
During this time, the Navajo (Diné) peoples have lived and thrived in the American Southwest in close harmony with Mother Earth. Much of their copious artistic works reflect this relationship. The land is often rugged and bold, making it fertile ground for artistic inspiration. The Diné refer to this land as Diné Bikeyah.
This exhibition is intended to celebrate the wide diversity of art produced by the highly talented artists within the Navajo Nation. Within the exhibition, we will showcase examples of Diné artistry in fine art, basketry, pottery, jewelry, and sculpture.
the people, the history, and the culture of this
amazingly versatile and resourceful people. The
images contain stories and meaning far below the surface iconography.
often portrayed as they
are seen in the dances
and ceremonial regalia
of the Diné.
Diné lands, are viewed as
messengers from the holy
spirits to the elders of the tribe.
The horse and rider
are representative of
the close relationship
between Diné and
Sharp blue skies, combined with brown and ochre landscapes, give a pleasing harmony of colors for the artist.
Artists must be very careful to show only elements of the culture that are acceptable for non-Diné to view.
Among Dorothy’s art students were Harrison Begay, Allan Houser, Pablita Velarde, Alfonso Roybal, Julian Martinez, and many others.
were encouraged to
paint what they knew
– scenes from their
homes and from
found in weavings, pottery, jewelry, baskets,
and other elements of Diné art.
design, adapted from the Navajo creation story. The black
design symbolizes the darkness (night) and clouds that bring
Diné basket making has declined in recent decades, but survives because of the importance of wedding and ceremonial baskets.
whether they are to be used in ceremonies, weddings, or sold to collectors.
silversmithing, working with the metal as early as 1860. It was
he who taught the trade to other Indian tribes living in the
Southwest, including the Zuni and Hopi. With the knowledge of
silversmithing, the Diné began working with melted down coins and other silver wares to make their own jewelry. As the knowledge was passed on to Sani’s sons and others, artists were able to refine their techniques, adding gems or casting with sandstone.
Diné jewelry created by sand casting is truly a one-of-a-kind piece — the mold is destroyed by the molten silver. Sand casting is considered one of the most difficult silversmithing techniques to master, but the Diné artists keep this rich tradition alive.
impression of the bracelet is carved in volcanic stone
(tufa-stone) and the molten metal is poured into the
impression. This was one of the very first techniques that the Diné created in the late 1800’s.
culture for many years, it is believed that they
borrowed the design from Mexican horse bridles. In the earliest days, Diné concho belts were made from hammered Mexican or U.S. silver coins. The flattened coins were then stamped by hand and strung on leather to form the concho belt.
new features. Buckles and butterfly-shaped spacers were
added to the belts, and artists adorned their pieces with
Generally, there are two main types of concho belts: leather
and link. Leather concho belts feature conchos strung along leather, whereas link concho belts connects the conchos with silver chain links.
It is believed that the symbol originated from the Moors and was then adopted by the Spanish as an ornamental design on horse bridles and men’s belt buckles. When the Spanish came to the American Southwest, the Diné borrowed this symbol for their own jewelry.
pomegranate-shaped decorations found on the buttons of Spanish
The Diné actually sourced their turquoise from the Santo
Domingo tribe, and by 1885, turquoise was in high demand
for Navajo jewelry. When tourists started to frequent the area in the 1920s, Diné jewelry became a popular souvenir. Especially popular were turquoise and squash blossom jewelry. With these styles in demand, many Diné artists started making jewelry in their home to keep up with demand. The popularity of turquoise has endured, and it is one of the most sought-after types of Diné jewelry.
dug from rock slides or slightly below the surface,
Diné silversmiths began incorporating turquoise into their works. As almost all turquoise is a very soft, flaky composition, only the hardest pieces of turquoise could be utilized in their works. Early Diné gemstones are readily recognizable in that the gemstones are rarely cut into regular shapes, but are much more irregular both on the stone surface and in the shape mounted within the sterling silver bezel.
and capabilities, they began shaping and modifying the
gemstones, often combining different colors and shapes to
produce pleasing tableaus of gemstones on their silver bases. Necklaces, cuffs, and rings were the easiest platforms for the silversmiths to utilize, and rapid innovation in designs became evident. Early squash blossom necklaces, for example, often had one or a small number of turquoise stones on the naja pendant, but these necklaces rapidly became covered in dozens of beautifully cut stones.
and similar materials, as their trading network had shown
them many different options. The most recognizable gemstones
included Lapis Lazuli, Jet, Onyx, Agate, Quartz, and many other hard colorful stones. The most recognizable non-stone materials included Spiny Oyster, Coral, Mother of Pearl, and similar organic materials.
inlay placement, where the stones are either fixed in a
channel or groove, or where the stones are fixed with
pressure to either side by other stones, rose in popularity.
Mixing stones and colors in elegant patterns continued to flourish.
precision in their stone cuts, leading to a style called
micro-inlay. With this style, the stone fragments are
extremely fine and the precision of the cuts requires
patience, a steady cutting hand, and high magnification.
alignment of different stones and different colors,
and others have moved into the creation of pictorial
tableaus depicting animals, people, and even landscape
the past two or three centuries, to the point today where
Diné jewelry is among the finest seen around the world in
both elegance and quality.
Master jewelers of the Diné are rightly seen as equal to master jewelers from Europe, the Americas, and Asia with their wearable art.
from Spain in the 16th century, and they were immediately
assimilated into the Diné way of life. The churro sheep were well
suited to harsh climates and produced ample quantities of fine wool. The wool is sheared from the sheep, carefully carded and spun into wool fibers, and sometimes dyed with vegetal dyes. Churro sheep are distinctive in that they often have four horns instead of two, giving them a fierce visage.
Period, Diné rug designs have exploded into a number of regional styles and individual expressions
of the Diné weaver’s imagination. Serrated diamonds, lightning zigzags and bold crosses adorn Diné chief blankets. Traders encouraged the locals to weave blankets and rugs into distinct styles.
Diné developed a significant reputation for high quality blankets and rugs.
rugs during ceremonies. In Diné mythology, the Yei
spirits mediated between the Great Spirit and humans
(the name Yei derives from Yeibicheii, meaning the Holy People.
There is a difference between Yei figures and Yebechai figures. Yebechais have somewhat more human proportions, usually face sideways, and often have legs bent in a dancing motion. Though female dancers have square heads, male dancers are identified with their round heads.
obtained in the Navajo Nation. Therefore, early carvers developed figural representations for both religious purposes and teaching purposes.
Cottonwood trees, prevalent in the Navajo Nation, are an easily carved and painted wood source.
the skills and equipment of making molten glass into
sculptures has only entered the Native American skillset within
the past half-century. Kilns required to heat the molten glass
to two thousand or more degrees are not common, but as this
art form is spreading throughout the Native American population, there are a number of Diné artists exploring and utilizing this medium.
the gold, silver, and feathers found in this
representational dance mask, are becoming
increasingly prevalent as artists explore and
utilize mixed media on their glass platforms.
vessels, Diné artists are using
pottery and mixed media elements
to create additional 3D representations
of their culture.
themselves to a
bronze molded figures became a skillset of the Diné artists.
Rapidly, they began sculpting and casting bronze figures of
wildlife and even representational people in their culture.
As a result, the bronzes of the past few hundred years are
rare and only becoming more prevalent in the past century.
of Diversity of Diné Art and have provided you some insights
of the exceptional talents of Native American artists.
A clever individual, Kokopelli has become an icon of celebration recognizable by both Native American and other peoples. This simple iron figure stands as décor in my Gallery space, bringing a light spirit and gleeful tone to the world.
on The Dancing Rabbit Gallery website, www.thedancingrabbitgallery.com,
through the end of August, 2022.
If you wish to acquire any of the sculpture featured here, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
All of the images are copyrighted by the owners of The Dancing Rabbit Gallery unless otherwise attributed.
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