Exhibit ideas evolve in many ways. A curator or scholar may have research to present, a collection of objects may shout for attention, or a museum donor or patron may make a suggestion. The idea for this exhibit was just sprouting when I was asked to curate it. The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History has a marvelous history of celebrating Navajo textiles, and many of its treasured pieces have been exhibited many times-but the public had never seen the incredible depth of the collection.
Perplexed over the approach I should take, I thought about my Navajo friends and my weaving background, and discovered that a friend from my past is now an art professor at the University of Colorado. Melanie Yazzie brings a unique perspective to the exhibit. She grew up on the Navajo reservation near Ganado and watched her grandmother weave. As a contemporary printmaker, she brings all of these influences to bear in her own work, and she shared her art and herself during our work together. We spent countless hours looking at wonderful textiles and contemplating the weavers and their lives. During this process, themes emerged, and we eventually divided the textiles into groups, which will be exhibited in three rotations.
In this exhibit you can experience the art and creativity of Navajo weavers. We do not always know who made them, but each textile was woven with amazing designs and colors that reflect the life and culture of each weaver. The late Joe Ben Wheat, long-time curator of anthropology at the Museum, built a collection that all can explore in their own unique way. I bring to this exhibit my passion for textiles, my enthusiasm for creative collaboration, and my joy for teaching to offer a closer look at this collection that holds a history in thread for all of us to enjoy.
Curator Judy Newland teaches exhibit design and development in the Museum Anthropology program at Arizona State University.