Spider Woman's Children: Navajo Weavers Today

Spider Woman's Children: Navajo Weavers Today

by Barbara Teller Ornelas, Lynda Teller Pete


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, April 14


Navajo rugs set the gold standard for handwoven textiles in the U.S. But what about the people who create these treasures? Spider Woman’s Children is the inside story, told by two women who are both deeply embedded in their own culture and considered among the very most skillful and artistic of Navajo weavers today. Barbara Teller Ornelas and Lynda Teller Pete are fifth-generation weavers who grew up at the fabled Two Grey Hills trading post. Their family and clan connections give them rare insight, as this volume takes readers into traditional hogans, remote trading posts, reservation housing neighborhoods, and urban apartments to meet weavers who follow the paths of their ancestors, who innovate with new designs and techniques, and who uphold time-honored standards of excellence. Throughout the text are beautifully depicted examples of the finest, most mindful weaving this rich tradition has to offer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999051757
Publisher: Thrums Books
Publication date: 09/07/2018
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 697,238
Product dimensions: 10.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Barbara Teller Ornelas and Lynda Teller Pete are fifth generation, and widely acclaimed, Navajo weavers and sisters. Together they teach Navajo weaving workshops at museums, galleries, and guilds. Barbara is internationally renowned for her fine tapestry weaving. She has been artist in Residence at the Heard Museum and the British Museum in London and has served as an ambassador for Navajo weaving, culture, and tradition in arts exchange programs in Peru, England, Uzbekistan, and beyond. Lynda won her first prize in weaving at age 12, and continued weaving while she received her degree in Criminal Justice from Arizona State University. She has been a weaver full-time since 2010.

Read an Excerpt




In my youth, my brothers, Ernest and Earl Teller, and I were sent to help our paternal grandparents, Paul Kent Teller and Nellie Peshlaki Teller at their homestead in White Rock, New Mexico, during the summers. Their main home had been in the Chuska Mountains, but the Navajo Census came during the time they were at their winter camp, and so that became their main residence.

There, they had a huge flock of sheep, cattle, and horses; and in an otherwise barren and desolate area, they had lush, irrigated spots of greenery and fruit trees. They had a man-made pond for irrigation. My grandmother tended an annual garden and a grove of grapes. My grandfather, originally from Canyon de Chelly, planted and tended fruit trees; he favored the old Canyon peach trees and was known to be a grafter of fruit trees. During these summers, my grandmother taught me about plants and the environment; we dug for gypsum clay to whiten white wool.

In the evenings my brothers and I would get bored, and we would talk about how everyone back at home was probably watching television. Our grandparents would turn on the radio for us, but only for a short while to conserve the batteries. Most often they would set up story time and entertain us — well, entertainment for us, but they were really lesson plans. In the winter when we visited, they did string games with us and told us our creation story. The biggest lesson we learned through their seasonal stories was that everything has a life force; we give respect to the values that each life force, man or animal, has equally.

We learned about K'é. K'é is about family, how we treat each other, how we show love, kindness, and generosity to our kin. It is about learning your clans, how to greet and appropriately introduce yourself to other people. At its core, K'é is knowing where you come from, learning language, culture, prayer, songs, and your origin stories. It was there at our grandparents' hogan that my brothers and I learned our Diné stories, especially about how Spider Woman gave us the gift of weaving.


In Navajo tradition, the span of time from the first creation to the present day is composed of five worlds. We live in the current fifth world, "Glittering World." In the emergence from the second world to the third, our Holy People, Diyin Dine'é, instructed Spider Woman to weave her pattern of the universe. Then she was to teach the Diné, the Navajo, to weave Hózhó (beauty) to bring harmony and beauty into their lives. She had no knowledge of how to do it. But Spider Woman was observant; she watched everything in her environment, and her curiosity focused on a spider weaving a web. This became her plan for how she would weave the universe. When she felt comfortable with her experimental weaving, she returned home and presented it to her husband, Spider Man. With just this basic concept of weaving, the Holy People instructed Spider Woman so that her skills would be further enhanced by prayer, songs, and ceremonial duties.

Spider Woman was told to go to our four sacred mountains to gather specific items to further advance her weaving: Blanca Peak, the sacred mountain of the east, Sisnaajiní, "the dawn," or "white shell mountain"; Mount Taylor, the sacred mountain of the south, Tsoodzil, "turquoise mountain," or "blue bead"; San Francisco Peak, the sacred mountain of the west, Dook'o'ooslííd, "the summit which never melts," or "abalone shell mountain"; and Hesperus Mountain, the sacred mountain of the north, Dibé Nitsaa, "big sheep." From the first mountain, she got wood for Spider Man to make the loom. From the second mountain, she harvested plants for vegetal colors for her wool. From the third mountain, she got patterns from the thunder gods, from whom she asked permission to use the patterns in her weaving. They granted her permission and told her to learn and teach the patterns so that other weavers could use them. From the last mountain, she got prayers and songs that are associated with all stages of weaving.

Spider Woman began weaving and increased her talents and knowledge about weaving. The Holy People visited her, and with the wood that was gathered, they instructed Spider Man on how to make a weaving loom and how to create the Navajo weaving tools. The top and bottom wood beams were made of sky and earth cords, the tension rods that hold the warps were made of sun rays, the inside heddle and shed rods (we refer to these rods as female and male) were made of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The wood batten was a sun halo to separate the female and male rain warps. The wood weaving comb was made of white shell. There were four spindles: the first spindle of zigzag lightning with a whorl of jet; the second spindle of flash lightning with a whorl of turquoise; the third spindle of sheet lightning with a whorl of abalone; and the fourth spindle a rain streamer with a whorl of white shell.

Later, with our final emergence into "Glittering World," the twin sons of Changing Woman, Asdzaa Nádleehé, went on their journey to find their father, the Sun, Jóhonaa'éí. They were near the Spider Rock formation in present day Canyon de Chelly when they noticed a hole in the ground. The twins, Monster-Slayer, Naayéé' Neizghání, and Child-Born-of-Water, Tóbájíshchín, climbed down and found Spider Woman weaving. By now, Spider woman was fully immersed in weaving, in prayer, in song; she was ready to pass on her gift of weaving. The twins climbed out and with the help of Haashch'éélti'í, Talking God, they took the knowledge of weaving out into the world. We were gifted the art of weaving to keep our families from starving, to be kept in good comfort, and to keep our families together.

Spider Woman is our grandmother, our teacher, our guide, our motivator. We regard our maternal and paternal grandparents as Spider Woman. Our mothers, our aunts, and our sisters, and the weaving men are Spider Woman. Spider Woman instilled fearlessness in some weavers — to take on challenges, to not only weave rugs to provide for their families but to pass on their weaving knowledge. This is our task.


In beauty I walk.


WEAVING IS OUR family legacy. My sister Barbara and I are fifth-generation Navajo weavers from the Newcomb and Two Grey Hills areas of the Navajo Nation. Two Grey Hills is an area in northwest New Mexico, home of the Two Grey Hills Trading Post, more than a century old and one of the few remaining historic posts on the Navajo reservation. Our father, Sam K. Teller, was a trader at this store for more than thirty-five years. His broad wealth of trading post experience, starting at age eleven, and his knowledge of weaving helped sustain and increase the fine reputation that weavers of this region, including our family, gained as these rugs and tapestries became highly collectible and treasured.

We grew up weaving what is known as Two Grey Hills tapestries, taught by our mother, Ruth Teller, and our older sister, Rosann Teller Lee. We continue this weaving tradition with Barbara's two children, Sierra and Michael Ornelas, and her granddaughter, Roxanne Lee, all of whom you'll hear more about later in this book.

Our family, the Teller family, is but one Navajo weaving family out of thousands in the Navajo Nation, and each family does things a little differently. There are multiple regional and historical period styles; these can be mixed with contemporary pop culture, abstract styles, and more. We see these fusions showing up in the various generations in our own family. Barbara and I have become the torchbearers in our family since our grandmothers, our mother, and our best teacher, our sister Rosann, have passed. It is up to us to influence, inspire, and educate our family with our weaving traditions. Like us, many Navajo weaving families have their own traditions and knowledge passed down from elders.

For seven generations, our grandmothers, mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews have produced rugs and tapestries of the highest quality. Our extended Newcomb-area family is known for weaving rugs in the traditional Two Grey Hills pattern. Identified primarily by a double-diamond layout and intricate geometric designs using natural-colored, handcarded and handspun wool, these rugs are easily recognizable. These finely woven rugs are known for their high weft counts. To qualify as a true Two Grey Hills tapestry today, the weft count has to be above 80 in a one-inch-square measurement, an intricate calculation that takes into account the number of pattern blocks and different weights of handspun yarn as well as the fineness of the weave. In addition to this fine weave, our family uses a trademark rich brown wool for the inside color field.

In our family, we regard weaving as our life's work; weaving represents our connection to the universe. It is our stories, our prayers, and our songs, told, chanted, sung, and preserved in the weaving motions. All Navajo weavers have stories to tell about their weaving, and every weaving has stories to tell about the weaver.



Ruth Shorty Begay Teller was our mother, born to Susie Tom and James Shorty Begay of Newcomb, New Mexico. Her older sister was Marie Shorty Begay Joe, and Margaret Shorty Begay Yazzie was her younger sister. She had four half-siblings: three brothers and her sister, Mary Louise Tom Gould. Our mother passed on in November 2014, at age eighty-seven. She lived her entire life in the Newcomb area. [she also lived at Two Grey Hills, see next page] She was a fourth-generation master weaver of the Two Grey Hills style.

She learned how to do basic weaving from her older sister Marie in the mid-1930s, but she would go with her mother, Susie, to other area weavers' houses, where she loved seeing all the dyed wool. She couldn't wait to learn how to dye and weave with these bright colors — reds, yellows, greens, and shades of blue. But when it came time to weave her first rug, she was told that the only colors she could use were the natural black, white, gray, and blended tans, and our family's special natural reddish brown. These color restrictions came as directives from the traders at Newcomb and Two Grey Hills Trading Posts.

By late 1945, our mother was married to Sam Teller and living with our paternal grandparents in White Rock, New Mexico, near Burnham. Her mother-in-law, Nellie Peshlaki Teller, originally from the Two Grey Hills/Toadlena, New Mexico, area, wove saddle blankets and knew many twill patterns and two-face weaving. She also wove a lot of pictorial designs, getting her inspiration from gum wrappers, baking powder cans, and store logos. Our mother learned a lot more about weaving from her mother-in-law: how to warp effectively, how to plan her designs, and how to troubleshoot myriad challenging weaving issues. Our mother already knew all the tricks of the trade of the finishing process — weaving the last tight, critical inches of a piece — from her years of watching her mother perform this special skill for other weavers. Her father-in-law, Paul Teller, was from Canyon del Muerto inside Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, and he taught her the songs and prayers associated with weaving.

When my father returned from serving in the Army after World War II, my parents settled in Two Grey Hills, where he got a job at the Two Grey Hills Trading Post. They raised five children: Rosann, Ernest, Barbara, Earl, and me (Lynda) and lived seasonally at the trading post. This is where our mother learned the marketing of rugs, kept up with current trends of weaving styles, met other weavers, and exchanged weaving stories. When tourists came to the post, our mother demonstrated weaving. She wove a lot of Two Grey Hills tapestries, but she is not noted in weaving books nor was she interviewed by textile scholars because her work was not in art shows or galleries, or even at other area trading posts.

When the tourists came to see her, they often bought her rugs right off the loom. As children, we would get packages from all over the world with newspaper clippings or other publications from Germany, Japan, England, and other faraway places with photos of our mother and the rug she had sold. We couldn't read the articles because they were in foreign languages.

Little did we know that our mother was also learning English during her demonstrations, and we could no longer keep things from her as teenagers, which I guess is not a bad thing. She developed a keen interest in recording the legacies of area weavers by taking photographs of their work. She always had a camera slung around her neck and she took a lot of photos of her own work and her family's work. I asked her about her mother Susie Tom's weavings when we looked through her books of photos and saw several rugs that had feathers woven in. My mother said that they would go to a medicine man for healing ceremonies where her mother saw the medicine man make a feather dance without aid of his hands, strings, or any hidden devices. Her mother said that medicine was very powerful and she wove the feathers in her rugs to honor the medicine man and his healing. I went through boxes of old photos with her and she told me who the weaver was, whether they were her weavings, or her mother's, or her sisters'.

I kept seeing some designs over and over in her weaving and I asked her why she used her mother's or her grandmother's designs. "I miss them," she said. "I miss their voices, I miss hearing the beating of their combs. I use their designs to feel their presence."

Our mother gave up weaving around 1998 and picked up hand quilting and other less taxing fabric arts to remain productive. In 2010, after she had had a lengthy hospital stay, Barbara and I gave her a little Japanese plastic loom to cheer her up. We gave her commercially processed and dyed wool from our weaving classes and she did cheer up, adjusted the plastic loom to Navajo style, and started weaving small rugs with blasts of color and bold designs, hardly stopping to eat, sleep, or rest. Our mother was finally weaving with brightly colored wool! She made so many little rugs that I created a Facebook page for her and sold her rugs, which delighted her.

She was so proud of our weaving achievements, Barbara, Sierra, Michael, Roxanne, and me. She would ask about each weaver after our art shows, she collected the magazines and books that we were featured in, and she asked for photos.



Margaret Shorty Begay Yazzie is our maternal aunt, the younger sister of our mother, Ruth Shorty Begay Teller. She is eighty-eight years old. Their third sister was Marie Shorty Begay Joe; she was the oldest of the three sisters. Their parents were Susie and James Shorty Begay of Newcomb, New Mexico. Her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother were all weavers. When Margaret, Ruth, and Marie were young, their mother, Susie, was known in the area to finish weavers' rugs. When she was hired, she would take the girls with her and they helped her with the finishing process. This involved weaving in the last few inches when the warp is very tight, maintaining tension and pattern, as well as troubleshooting any edge or tension problems. Margaret lost her father at a young age. Her mother, Susie, in order to provide for the family, remarried, a second arranged marriage. With the new marriage, there was a second set of siblings and Margaret, Marie, and Ruth were placed with either their grandmother, Diné litso Bitsi, who lived near the old Newcomb Trading Post which was located by the roadside of Highway 491, or with their maternal aunts, Lelia Yazzie or Josephine Gould, to help out with farm chores and with herding sheep.


Excerpted from "Spider Woman's Children"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Teller Ornelas and Lynda Teller Pete.
Excerpted by permission of Thrums Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Na'ashjéii Asdzáá,
Ruth Shorty Begay Teller,
Margaret Yazzie,
Mary Louise Gould,
Regina Charley,
Shirley Brown,
Ashley Tsosie,
Irene Hardy Clark,
Rena Begay,
Martha Gorman Schultz,
Lillie Thomas Taylor,
Diane Taylor Beall,
Gilbert Nez Begay,
Nathan Harry,
Nellie Harry,
Jason Harvey,
Florence Manygoats,
Rosalita Teller,
Ailla Teller,
Louise Tsosie,
Katherine Paymella,
Florence Nez Riggs,
Louise Y. Nez,
Velma Kee Craig,
Ashlee and Tristan Craig,
Rosann Teller Lee,
Barbara Teller Ornelas,
Lynda Teller Pete,
Belvin E. Pete,
Terry B. Lee,
Sierra Nizhonii Teller Ornelas,
Michael Paul Teller Ornelas,
Roxanne Rose Lee,

Customer Reviews