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Navajo rug museum is sharing the eye of the storm
Toadlena Trading Post opened weavings show in June
TOADLENA — The Toadlena Trading Post and Weaving Museum wants visitors to step into the storm of its newest exhibition that focuses on the elaborate rug design known as the Navajo Storm Pattern.
The complex design is being recognized in Navajo rugs from the Toadlena and Two Grey Hills area, where weavers are renowned for creating rugs made from natural wool colors and yarn produced by hand carding and spinning.
Mark and Linda Winter have owned the trading post and museum, located in this small community in the foothills of Ch'ooshgai Mountain, since 1997.
Mark Winter's connection to the storm pattern runs deep. The first Navajo rug he purchased in 1971 carried the design.
"I didn't know what it was. I just thought it was really cool when I bought it. … I've always had an affinity for them," he said.
The story about that first rug is told in the exhibition catalog, along with the pattern's evolving design and origin — which varies, depending on who is asked — and the start of its marketability by J.B. Moore, a trader who operated the Crystal Trading Post from 1896 to 1911.
The catalog states there are three key elements for the storm pattern.
The first element is a central figure that represents either a hogan, the center of the universe or the Earth's center.
The second and third elements are four lines that extend from the central figure to designs located in each corner of the rug, which symbolize the four sacred mountains.
Symbols for water bugs or spiders, whirling logs and rainbows accent the rug.
While most of the rugs were made in the area during the early to middle 1900s, there is a small group from weavers in the western portion of the Navajo Nation.
For Toadlena and Two Grey Hills residents, the rugs connect families and display a history of weaving that spans generations.
"People love looking at the rugs because of that connection," Linda Winter said. "Even if they don't weave, they'll say, 'My grandmother used to weave.'"
Delores Brown is the trading post manager, and rugs woven in the 1940s by her grandmother, Yazzie Blackhorse, and great-aunt, Clara Sherman, are in the exhibition.
"My mind still boggles at how they can get everything centered, and the curvatures in some of them is amazing," Brown said.
"I wish the rugs could talk because that way you can find the story of each weaver," she added.
The exhibition includes rugs woven between 1920 and 1940 by master weaver Bessie Manygoats. One of the rugs she made is 6 feet by 8 feet and was completed in 1935.
The exhibition catalog describes the pattern as a "rug within a rug central design" and depicts an Anasazi water bug and two intricately designed borders.
"It's so fine and everything is perfect," Mark Winter said, adding if the rug was unraveled, it would total up to 10 miles of hand-spun yarn.
Bringing the exhibition to reality took years, and it will remain in place until June 2020.
"We're isolated, so we try to give people plenty of time to come and return again," he said.
A grand opening for the exhibition was held on June 16. Although it rained that day, the weather did not stop weavers, residents and visitors from participating.
In attendance was Cherokee actor Wes Studi, who served as master of ceremonies and performed with his band.
"It was a little more free form than usual, but it worked out very well. All in all, people were very responsive to the show and had a nice time," Linda Winter said.
The event also benefited Blessingway, a nonprofit organization started by the couple to support Navajo weavers, way of life and education.
Mark Winter said they continue to support up to 175 weavers from the area by purchasing rugs, providing wool, conducting weaving workshops and promoting the weaving tradition.
"It wasn't an accident we ended up here. We choose it. It's our purpose," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.