Navajo quilter Susan Hudson featured in PBS show "Craft in America"
IGNACIO, Colorado — Susan Hudson is not afraid to use her quilts to convey her point of view about Navajo history or social issues facing Native American communities.
Ask Hudson about a quilt that depicts Navajo life at Bosque Redondo and she will talk about the mistreatment of her ancestors during their internment there in the 1860s.
Ask her about a quilt that centers on missing and murdered Indigenous women and she will talk about inadequacies in law to address the issue and the rise in Native communities demanding change.
These messages and the artistry Hudson uses to convey them is why she is among four quilters featured in the PBS program, "Craft in America: Quilts."
"I want them to understand: We're here. We survived," she said in an interview at the studio she maintains in Ignacio, Colorado.
Hudson, who is from Sheep Springs, New Mexico, learned to sew at 9 years old. It is a skill she learned from her mother, who was forced to sew while attending boarding schools operated by the federal government.
Hudson is the first Navajo quilter to break into juried Native American arts shows by winning first-place prizes in textiles and best-of-show titles.
"Every time I win a ribbon, I'm representing Sheep Springs. I'm representing Navajo Nation. I'm representing our grandmas," said Hudson, who is Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan), born for Deeshchíí'nii (Apache People Clan).
Her maternal grandfather clan is Tábąąhá (Water's Edge), and her parental grandfather clan is Naakai dine'é (Mexican Clan).
Through the years, Hudson's style has evolved from star quilts to incorporating her interest in ledger drawings. Ledger art works are representational designs produced by Plains tribes using pencil, ink or watercolor on pages of ledger, or accounting books.
These pictorial quilts can take up to 18 months to complete, including sewing by machine and sewing details and binding by hand.
Hudson explained the process includes developing the designs. Most are based on dreams she has of her ancestors, who tell her their experiences and stories.
Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, said in the episode that there are 6-10 million quilters in the United States and it is a $3.7 billion industry.
"People who love to do it, love it with a passion," Ducey said in the program.
Hudson became involved with "Craft in America" after Carol Sauvion, the show's executive producer and director, saw her quilt, "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Since 1492," at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe in 2018.
A film crew spent three days with Hudson in May. They captured her quilting in Ignacio and in Sheep Springs, where she gathered with relatives and a quilters group from Cove, Arizona.
The segment featuring Hudson opens with a shot of her quilt entitled, "29 Warriors," which has horses made of various colors of fabric surrounding a star pattern.
The star's center consists of the colors white, turquoise, yellow and black, which Hudson explained are the colors for Diné College, and the quilt is in honor of the 29 original Navajo Code Talkers.
She acknowledges that some people are puzzled by her sewing star quilts – a pattern adapted and stylized by the Lakota people.
When asked what she would like viewers to understand about her art, she said she wants them to realize that she is Navajo but that does not pigeonhole her to art associated with the tribe.
"That's what I want them to know, that I'm taking pride in being Navajo. That I was chosen to be this. That I was chosen to do this. That door was open for me, and I ran through it," she said.
"Craft in America: Quilts" will broadcast on New Mexico PBS Channel 5.1 at 9 p.m. on Dec. 27.
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.
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