Bold geometric patterns are a hallmark of the regional Two Grey Hills style of Navajo weaving. Each piece is finely woven and symmetrical, but the style is also wild, blending blocky triangles and jagged borders with creamy gray and white backgrounds.
The Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University is featuring these traditional artworks in its “Two Grey Hills: Navajo Weavings” exhibit from now through Dec. 23.
Selected weavings are part of the Edwin L. and Ruth E. Kennedy Southwest Native American Collection, and they range in age from 11 years to more than 100. The whole of this collection was previously on display at the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia, which said it “includes nearly 700 textiles and more than 2,400 jewelry items of predominantly Navajo, Hopi and Zuni origin.”
Sally Delgado, curator of education for the Kennedy Museum, worked with Lisa Quinn, the Kennedy’s educational programs coordinator, and a team of five OU students to arrange this textile exhibit.
Delgado said the students – Abby Carlson, Greg Hatch, Jeremiah Myers, Jaci Mullally and Samantha Rommel – form the education crew, one of several student crews working with the museum on various projects. These students selected the pieces, conducted background research, and wrote the artwork labels.
The team was given guidance by the education department, but Delgado said the exhibit is really their work.
They also put together educational content, which Delgado said already has been utilized by local schools.
“So far we’ve had ninth-grade students from Hocking (county),” she said. “They specifically requested to view this exhibit and to talk about it.”
The students’ field trip to the Kennedy was a supplemental excursion to give them a hands-on way to connect with Native-American history. Delgado said their curriculum focused on the Indian Removal Act; being able to see the weavings and talk about the historical background with Kennedy staff helped them see work from a time period comparable to what they were studying.
Delgado said regional Navajo weaving styles such as Two Grey Hills often sprang up around trading posts that were established in the late 1800s, after the Navajo tribe signed a peace treaty with the U.S. Two Grey Hills originated at two trading posts: Two Grey Hills and Toadlena, both of which are in the northwestern corner of New Mexico.
The majority of works in this exhibit are from the 1970s and 1980s, Delgado said, but some works were created as recently as 2004; they are nearly indistinguishable from older pieces.
“It shows how the culture has maintained this particular practice over a great number of years,” Delgado said.
She added that it’s an interesting experience for the Kennedy Museum to have this particular collection, which has been put on display several times before.
“We really try to display it as much as we can,” she said. “And we try to find ways to have curricular connections with it.”
The collection was the subject of a 2006 book edited by Jennifer McLerran and published by the Kennedy Museum called “Weaving Is Life: Navajo Weavings from the Edwin L. and Ruth E. Kennedy Southwest Native American Collection.” This book includes photos, essays, and information for students who wish to learn the weaving style.