THE Navajo Blanket
- by Jamie Compton
- in My Thoughts on Native Art
- posted January 5, 2020
I discovered an object so beautiful, so intriguing, that it changed my life. It’s an early Navajo blanket dating to the first half of the 19th century. I saw the blue first. It’s an Yves Klein sort of blue, so pure and saturated I can’t easily turn away from it. The design, an arrangement of intersecting forces, triggers in me a cascade of out-of-reach memories like some vestigial remnant of past life.
It’s hauntingly dark, comprised almost entirely of rich brown and deep indigo blue wool yarns, alternating in zigzag banded patterns like sunlight refracting on water. These bands are bisected at a 90-degree angle by two, serpentine waves of cream white wool. Like the crack of dawn arriving through the mountains, these ribbons of brightness are all the bolder for the ponderous amount of darkness surrounding them.
Like a first love, the blanket brought me into a wonderful wondering space of what it means to be. Never has an object pulled so strongly at my psyche. Its draw is magnetic. I believe it contains some important story to why anything exists at all. Being dark and brooding as well as audaciously optimistic, it propelled me onto the searching path I am still on.
I have learned enough in my life to know that answers to big questions don’t come by thinking. If they come at all, they come through my gut, like a visceral vision that remains in situ, present but unable to link with my thinking self. Still, I feel some sort of answer here, and this blanket gives me the same sort of visceral reaction. It holds a pivotal place, a place that integrates my current state of being with the world around me. It’s a calling back home of sorts, a home most broadly defined as my earth.
The blanket’s enigmatic quality can, in part, be understood by the contrast between the maker and the owner. Made by a Navajo woman of the early 19th century and owned by a Euro-American man of the modern era, the schism is obvious. This woman, whose life was intimately connected to the earth and its rhythms, is in great contrast to me, this man that lives practically hovering over his earth and increasingly further away from it with all the conveniences he’s given.
I can only guess at the notions behind her design. I know that she lived in a world of true solar darkness a third of her life and that the coming of the dawn, or the setting of the sun, were powerful places of reference for living a life. I know that water was a precious commodity, as was the soil around her, and that the two, mixed together, fed her and her tribe in way that was not just food but sustenance beyond caloric intake. The water and the earth in the blanket mix as if they depend on each other, their ethereal dance producing the serpentine brightness of life.
I’m an immigrant, from a long way back, but still a foreigner compared to a Navajo, and I struggle to find my way. Sure, I have wealth beyond my needs, but I am no better for it, particularly in spirit. I’m in retrograde loosing more ground with every advancement of technology held in my hand. My highly consuming habits have me detached in an illusion of self-importance or self-loathing, both paths out of sync with my landscape.
What I do know is that this blanket is helping me find my feet. Its story is a like a creation myth for me, one that’s culminating with changes of how I see and live in the world. Like the slow weaving of the wefts into this blanket, change is accumulative with many small steps gathering into a bigger whole. It’s well within my grasp to change my relationship to my earth, even with how seductive old habits can be. How can I become more compatible with this world instead of contradictory?
Discovering my ancient accumulative self feels like the best direction to go. How do I do this with such an overdeveloped ego, as if my neo cortex has smothered my limbic system? I want to let go of my conveniences and experience the relationship of my mineraled body to the minerals of the earth. It is here that I will enter my visceral domain and meet my blanket face to face. Should I arrive there, I image that the blanket will not only wrap around me with its warmth, but hold me in a space of seeing beyond; into the realm that created me.
October 25, 2019