On May 11, 2016, at 6:00 P.M., the Denver Art Museum hosted renowned Navajo weaver D.Y. Begay to speak on her artistic passion and history. Begay is known for her individual, colorful, and abstract woven landscapes. Born in Tselani, a rural area located within the Navajo Nation, Begay has been surrounded by weaving her entire life.
“I knew I had a great love for texture, colors and weaving at a very young age,” Begay said when she discussed her childhood.
Begay’s speech took place on the lower level of the northern side of the Denver Art Museum, a rather difficult place to find unless one knew the way. Tucked away in a back lecture hall, around 30 people gathered, waiting for the speaker to begin. Seated towards the front was an older crowd, presumably all members of the Friends of Native Arts: Douglas Society, excitedly interacting with each other and chatting amiably. The back rows were occupied with students and guests, the mood more studious and silent.
As soon as someone took the stage, the crowd hushed and all eyes moved forward. Douglas Society President Rand Smith briefly gave an overview of Begay’s work and introduced the speaker. Soon afterwards, Begay herself took the stage.
Begay began her speech with a Navajo greeting, introducing herself. She quickly gave a bit of background on her hometown, speaking on how remote where she lived was, and how sheep played a huge part in her society. Begay then began to explain how she used sheep in the in order to get the colorful wool she used.
Begay illustrated how she did every part of the undertaking herself, starting of by saying, “caring for the sheep is part of the weaving process.”
The process of making the brightly colored wool included shearing the sheep, preparing the wool, hand carding, spinning, harvesting plants, hand dyeing and then dyeing the wool. When speaking about the process, Begay noted that it is a very familial and social event.
“Very often, it’s a family project and we get to sit down and talk about gossip,” Begay said.
Begay then elaborated on how generational Navajo weaving is. Begay learned from her grandmothers in different clans, as well as her mother. Begay herself uses a traditional Navajo loom, which stands upright and is made out of wood or metal. The rugs are made by weaving upwards on the loom. The recipes for dyes and knowledge of the loom have been passed down generation to generation, each one passing down stories to the next.
Begay proudly stated,“I am a fourth generation weaver and carrying the torch today.”
The inspirations behind Begay’s artwork were vast. The artist talked about how her relatives and family played a huge part in her artwork, as she was taught by her grandmothers. Earthen tones and patterns also inspire her colors and shapes. Begay’s travels in South America also led her to adopt some of the styles of local weavers and artists. And most representatively, landscapes are a main source of Begay’s artwork, as most of her rugs picture them.
“As I travel through the reservation, I am constantly searching for land formations,” Begay said.
Begay then moved on to the second part of her presentation, in which she showcased her artwork and it’s development over time. She started by showing one of her first practice rugs, which had simpler Navajo patterns. Then, Begay explained how a chance conversation with her friend inspired her to expand her color pallets.
Begay then showed her other pieces, including “Mountains Behind the Hogan,” which was one of her first abstract rugs. She also showed rugs such as “Sunset Mesas,” “Tsegi: Spider Rock,” a beautiful landscape rug to commemorate the Navajo deity Spider Woman, “Red Earth,” commissioned by Augustana College, “Night Way,” which was a rare, mostly-black piece, and “Biil Doó Beeldléí,” a piece of Navajo clothing she made for a museum collection.
Begay then gave a Navajo farewell, thanking the Denver Art Museum and ending her speech to a resounding ovation and awe-struck crowd.