CHAPTER XII. The Origin and Symbolism of Navaho Blanket Designs


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FROM what has been presented in earlier chapters it will be evident to the casual reader that the Navahos are a very symbol-loving people. As we have seen, they have a symbolism of color, a symbolism of sex, symbolism in the adornment of the representations of their gods, and symbols for almost every natural object connected with weather and meteorological phenomena. Hence it may not be altogether too great an assumption that in their blanketry the older weavers followed this tribal law or custom, and, while inserting certain symbols in their blankets, attached thereto certain personal meanings or interpretations.

Father Berard, however, does not think so. He says:

There is no system as to the use of the different figures; that is, they are not arranged into any kind of hieroglyphic order by which a woman could weave her life's history, or any other history or story, into the blanket, as has been asserted by some writers. The Navaho blanket, therefore, is a human document only in so far as it shows the untiring patience and diligence, the exquisite taste and deftness, of a semi-barbaric people, and the high art and quality of their work, wrought with such simple tools and materials.

As applied to the modern blanket, I have no doubt but that this dictum is correct. The Navahos design in accordance with the known wishes of the trader, and often make alterations and combinations of design to please him. It necessarily follows, therefore, that designs thus tampered or played with cannot have any especial significance or interpretation to the weaver, except that so much work, so well done, in so many days, will mean the receipt of so much cash, or groceries, or other commodities. In other words, it is a purely commercial proposition.

Yet as this subject is of far deeper significance than most students comprehend, I feel that I owe the readers of this volume a very clear statement as to my position upon it. For what I have written upon the symbolism of designs in the baskets of the Indian tribes of the Southwest has not only been much misquoted, distorted, and falsified, but I have been made responsible for much misinformation, and the ostensible authority for deliberate and wilful misrepresentation. For instance, because I have asserted, and demonstrated, that some baskets are ‘‘„human documents,„’’ in that the weaver has put into the design her hopes, ambitions,


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religion, etc., irresponsible and dishonest traders have conjured up wild and fantastic, though interesting and romantic, stories about the designs of the baskets they had for sale, and have given them to their patrons, quoting me as their authority that all baskets contain such stories.

Here is exactly what I did say in my book, Indian Basketry, the first edition of which was published in 1900:

The only reliable method of determining the meaning of a basketry design is to obtain a clear explanation from its maker. And this must be done cautiously. With her habitual reserve and fear of being laughed at by the whites, the Indian woman is exceedingly susceptible to suggestion. If you ask her whether her design does not mean this or that, you may with certainty rely upon what the answer will be before it is given. She will respond with a grunt or word of affirmation, and, at the same time, laugh within herself at the folly of the questioner. For, of course, she is ‘‘„smart„’’ enough to know that if you make the suggestion that the design means so and so, she will be safe if she accept your suggestion.

If the basket is an old one and the maker is dead, one must be content to receive such explanation as the older members of the tribe can give as to the interpretation of its design. Yet it must not be overlooked that the observations of experienced ethnologists insist that these explanations cannot be relied upon. On this subject Farrand says: ‘‘„It should be noted that most of the designs show variants and also that what were originally representations of very dissimilar objects have converged in their evolution until the same figure does duty for both—conditions which result in uncertainty and difference of opinion among native connoisseurs, and consequently, in the conclusions of the ethnologist. Nevertheless, the great majority of the patterns are well recognized under specific names. There are, of course, geometric designs which, so far as all obtainable information goes, are used simply for the decorative value of their lines and angles; but such patterns are usually of great age, and it is quite possible that their representative meaning is lost in antiquity or has only baffled the diligence of the inquirer. The well-known conservatism of the Indian insures the relative permanence of a design, even when its meaning is not recognized.„’’

Hence it will be seen that I carefully guarded my statement by showing that no person living can determine what the meaning of the design of any given basket is—provided it has a meaning—save the weaver herself. And I am fully satisfied that the same caution must be observed in determining the meaning of any design upon a Navaho blanket. Personally I am not yet prepared to accept Father Berard's belief that it has no meaning, or, rather, that in the earlier days of the art the weaver attached no significance to her design. I am perfectly aware that in this commercialized era the Navaho's art has suffered, and, as I have stated in other chapters, designs are handed out to the weavers with instructions to reproduce them, as near as may be, in the blankets that are to be woven. Here, then, is evidence sufficient that in many modern blankets there is no pretense of significance to be attached to the symbol or design used.


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Yet, even granting all this, it cannot fail to be highly interesting, and instructive also, to trace out, as far as may be, the origin and history of many of the designs common to the Navaho weaver.

Whence did she gain her designs?

Some have claimed that they were stolen bodily from the Pueblo Indians—who were supposed to have taught the Navahos how to weave—Mothers that they took them from the Mexican serapes, and still others that they have originated them from a careful observation of Nature.

I am inclined to the belief that none of these claims is altogether justified, though there may be some truth in each of them when applied to individual cases; but to suppose that all the Navaho designs came from the Pueblos, or from the Mexicans, or from Nature alone are suppositions not borne out by the facts.

An understanding of the origin of Navaho designs cannot be had without a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the Navaho himself, racially, socially, religiously considered. His whole life and mental attitude must be understood before the secret of his use of design will be revealed. Hence the pains taken to present in these pages as full pictures as possible of the Navaho on his reservation, in his native environment, in his home, and in his mental and religious attitude toward things.

To one unacquainted with the religious thought of the Navaho weaver it might seem absurd to affirm that there is a close connection between her religious observances and many of the designs introduced into her blankets. Yet I think it can clearly be shown that there is an intimate connection between the two. Indeed, I doubt whether the subject will ever be clearly understood until we have gained a much larger knowledge than we now possess of the sacred sand-paintings used by the shamans in their religious ceremonials. Far more complex than the sand-paintings of the Hopis, the Zunis, or any other of the Pueblo tribes, those of the Navaho are marvelous in their symbolism, remarkable in their invention, and fascinating in their weird picturesqueness. No adequate work has ever been published upon this subject, because no ethnologist has yet been found to devote himself enough to the Navahos to gain the requisite knowledge. Enough was done, however, by James Stevenson and Washington Matthews, both formerly connected with the Bureau of American Ethnology, to give one a clue to the mental processes of the inventive Navaho, and my own studies of Navaho ceremonials in which the sand-paintings are used have shown clearly how much they have influenced the Navaho weaver in her work. Mrs. John Wetherill, of Kayenta, Arizona, whose husband is a Navaho Indian trader, with a keen appreciation of the value of a series of studies of these sand-paintings, is now engaged in making a collection of them from the few remaining


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old medicine-men chanters of the tribe, and it is to be hoped that her valuable illustrations and descriptive manuscript will be given ere long to the scientific world.

Of these sand-paintings, or dry-paintings, as he prefers to call them, Dr. Matthews thus writes:

The excellence to which the Navahos have carried the art of dry-painting is as remarkable as that to which they have brought the art of weaving. Unlike the neighboring Pueblos, they make no graven images of their divinities. They do not decorate robes and skins with moist colors as do the Indians of the plains. They make little pottery and this little is neither artistically nor symbolically decorated. Their petroglyphs are rare and crude; the best rock inscriptions, which abound in the Southwest, are believed to be the work of Cliff Dwellers and Pueblo Indians, or their ancestors. Seeing no evidence of symbolic art among them, one might readily suppose they had none. Such was the opinion of white men (some of whom had lived fifteen years or more among the Navahos), with whom the author conversed when first he went to the Navaho country, and such was the opinion of all ethnographers before his time. The symbolic art of the Navahos is to be studied in the medicine-lodge. The Pueblo Indians—those of Zuni and Moki—and some of the wilder tribes—Apaches and Cheyennes—understand the art of dry-painting; but none seem to have such numerous and elaborate designs as the Navahos.

The pigments are five in number; they are: white, made of white sandstone; yellow, of yellow sandstone; red, of red sandstone; black, of charcoal, mixed with a small proportion of powdered red sandstone to give it weight and stability; ‘‘„blue,„’’ made of black and white mixed. These are ground into fine powder, between two stones, as the Indians grind corn. The so-called blue is, of course, gray; but it is the only inexpensive representative of the blue tint they can obtain and, combined with other colors, on the sandy floor, it looks like a real blue. These colored powders, prepared before the picture is begun, are kept on improvised trays of pine-bark. To apply them, the artist picks up a little between his first and second finger and his opposed thumb, and allows it to flow out slowly as he moves his hand. When he takes up his pinch of powder he blows on his fingers to remove aberrant particles and keep them from falling on the picture, out of place. When he makes a mistake he does not brush away the color; he obliterates it by pouring sand on it and then draws the corrected design on the new surface.

The dry-paintings of the largest size, which are drawn on the floor of the medicine-lodge, are often ten to twelve feet in diameter. They are sometimes so large that the fire in the center of the lodge must be moved to one side to accommodate them. They are made as near to the west side of the lodge as practicable. The lodge is poorly lighted, and on a short winter day the artists must often begin their work before sunrise if they would finish before nightfall, which it is essential they should do.

To prepare the ground work for a picture in the lodge, several young men go forth and bring in a quantity of dry sand in blankets; this is thrown on the floor and spread out over a surface of sufficient size, to the depth of about three inches; it is leveled and made smooth by means of the broad oaken battens used in weaving.

The drawings are begun as much toward the center as the design will permit, due regard being paid to the precedence of the points of the compass; the figure in the east being first, that in the south second, that in the west third, and that in the north fourth. The figures in the periphery come after these. The reason for thus working


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from within, outward is practical; it is that the operators may not have to step over and thus risk the safety of their finished work.

The pictures are drawn according to an exact system, except in certain well defined cases, where the limner is allowed to indulge his fancy. This is the case with the embroidered pouches the gods carry at the waist. Within reasonable limits the artist may give his god as handsome a pouch as he wishes. On the other hand, some parts are measured by palms and spans and not a line of the sacred design may be varied in them. Straight and parallel lines are drawn with the aid of a tightened cord. The naked bodies of the mythical figures are first drawn and then the clothing is put on.

The shamans declare that these pictures are transmitted unaltered from year to year and from generation to generation. It may be doubted if such is strictly the case. No permanent design is anywhere preserved by them and there is no final authority in the tribe. The pictures are carried from winter to winter in the fallible memories of men. They may not be drawn in the summer. The custom of destroying these pictures at the close of the ceremonies and preserving no permanent copies of them arose, no doubt, largely from a desire to preserve the secrets of the lodge from the uninitiated; but it had also perhaps a more practical reason for its existence. The Navahos had no way of drawing permanent designs in color. When it became known to the shamans (and no attempt was ever made to hide the fact from them) that the author kept water-color drawings of the sacred pictures in his possession, these men, at the proper season, when about to perform a ceremony, often brought their assistants to look at the drawings, and then and there would lecture the young men and call their attention to special features in the pictures, thus, no doubt, saving themselves much trouble afterwards in the medicine-lodge. These water-colors were never shown to the uninitiated among the Indians and never to any Indian during the forbidden season.

Owing to the large place the dry-paintings have in the sacred or ceremonial life of the Navaho, I have included among the pictures a plate of the dry-painting representing the Place and Vision of the Whirling Logs (Fig. 40). The myth or legend connected with this would take up many pages even to outline, hence I must refer those who are interested to the great work of Dr. Matthews, The Night Chant, published by the American Museum of Natural History, from which both the illustration and text are taken.

The chief character in the story is Bitahatini, or the Visionary, who, whenever he went out by himself, heard, or thought he heard, the songs of spirits sung to him. His three brothers had no faith in him and said: ‘‘„When you return from your solitary walks and tell us you have seen strange things and heard strange songs you are mistaken; you only imagine you hear these songs and you see nothing unusual.„’’

In one of Bitahatini's journeys he had marvelous and wonderful experiences with the gods which are now regarded as of the utmost importance and are introduced into the nine-days' and nights' ceremonies of ‘‘„The Night Chant.„’’ In these experiences he was taught certain things by the yei, or gods, of the Navaho, and in the legend there is

Fig. 40. Dry-Painting Representing the Place and Vision of the Whirling Logs. (Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.) [Page 76]


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a hint of an idea that it may, at one time, have been woven into a blanket of cotton, for the old medicine man who related the story said:

The yei did not draw this picture upon the sand as we do now; they had it on a sheet of some substance called nesha. We do not know now what this substance was; it may have been cotton. They unfolded this sheet whenever they wanted to look at the picture. The yei who unfolded it to show to the prophet (or Visionary) said: ‘‘„We will not give you this picture; men are not as good as we; they might quarrel over the picture and tear it, and that would bring misfortune; the black cloud would not come again, the rain would not fall, the corn would not grow; but you may paint it on the ground with colors of the earth.„’’

The picture, therefore, is painted by the medicine man with the greatest care and represents the vision of the prophet at the lake To'nihilin.

The bowl of water in the center, sprinkled with charcoal, symbolizes the lake. The black cross represents the spruce logs crossing one another. The colors edging the cross show the white foam on the waters, the yellow water-pollen, the blue and red rainbow tints.

Four stalks of corn are depicted as growing on the shores of the lake; each has three roots and two ears. The white stalk of corn, according to its color, belongs to the east; the blue, to the south; the yellow to the west, and the black to the north; but the conditions of the picture require that these stalks should be directed to intermediate points. Each stalk is bordered with a contrasting color.

Eight yei or divine characters—four male and four female—are shown seated on the floating logs. The legs of the four gods in the periphery of the picture are depicted; this is to indicate that they are standing; but the legs of the eight gods on the cross are not depicted; this is done to indicate that they are sitting; the feet seem hanging below the logs. The four outer yei, on the cross, dressed in black, are males. The sex is indicated: (1) by the round head representing the cap-like or helmet-like mask which a personator of a male divinity wears; (2) by showing attached to the mask the two eagle-plumes and the tuft of owl-feathers worn by each male dancer in the dance of the last night; (3) by the symbol of a spruce twig in the left hand and of a gourd rattle painted white in the right—such implements are carried by the male dancers. The four inner yei, dressed in white are females. The sex is indicated: (1) by the rectangular mask or domino; (2) by the yellow arms and chests—females were created of yellow corn and males of white corn, according to the myths—and (3) by a symbol of a spruce wand in each hand, for such wands does the female dancer carry in the dance the last night.

The figures in the north and south represent Ganaskidi or humpbacks as they appear in the rites. These are Mountain Sheep or Bighorn Gods, which figure so prominently in the myth of the Visionary. The blue male mask, the headdress with its zigzag line for white lightning, the radiating scarlet feathers to represent sunbeams, the blue imitation horns of the mountain sheep, the black sack of plenty on the back, and the gis or staff on which the laden god leans, are all symbolized or depicted in the picture.

The white figure in the east is that of Hastseyalti, the Talking God. He is thus represented: He wears the white mask which the personator of this character


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always wears in the ceremonies, with its eagle-plumes tipped with breath-feathers, its tuft of yellow owl-feathers, its ornament of fox-skin under the right ear, and its peculiar mouth-symbol and ear-symbols, but without the corn-symbol on the nose. He carries a pouch made of the gray skin of Abert's squirrel (Sciurus Aberti), which is depicted with care. The general gray of the squirrel is shown by the gray or so-called blue color of the body. The fact that the hairs of the animal are tipped with white is indicated by making a white margin and by sprinkling white powder lightly over the blue—the latter device is very imperfectly shown in the illustration. The black tips on ears, nose, and feet, as well as the chestnut spot on the back, are indicated—the latter by a short red marginal line interrupting the white.

The black figure in the west is that of Hastsehogan. He is shown in this manner: He wears a beautifully ornamented black dress and a blue mask, decorated with eagle-plumes and owl-feathers. The ornament under his right ear consists of strips of otter-skin with porcupine quills. He carries in his hand a black wand colored with charcoal of four different plants, ornamented with a single whorl of turkey-feathers, with two eagle-feathers tied on the cotton string, with a white ring at the base of the whorl, and with the skins of two bluebirds.

The two Ganaskidi and Hastsehogan are supposed to be punching the logs and causing them to whirl with their staves, while Hastseyalti scatters pollen from his pouch.

Surrounding the picture on three sides, appears the anthropomorphic rainbow, or rainbow goddess, wearing the rectangular female mask and carrying at the waist an embroidered pouch, tied on with four strings. The hands of all the other divinities are shown occupied, but the hands of the rainbow are shown empty; this is that they may be ready to receive the cup of medicine which is placed on them after the picture is finished.

The rainbow and the eight divinities on the cross are represented with breath-feathers tied on the tops of the heads by means of white cotton strings, and the horns of the Ganaskidi are similarly decked. All the gods are shown with garnished moccasins, tied with white strings. All of those showing their legs have rainbow garters. Five have ornamented fringes on their kilts or loincloths. The bodies of all are fringed with red to represent sunlight; the Navaho artist does not confine the halo to the head of his holy subject. All have ear-pendants of turquois and coral. The eight central figures are represented with strips of fox-skin—blue and yellow—hanging from elbows and wrists and garnished at their ends. Such adornments, it is said, were once used in the dance, but are now obsolete; they, in turn, represented beams of light. The yellow horizontal line at the bottom of each pictured mask represents a band at the bottom of the actual mask worn by the actor, and this band in turn symbolizes the yellow evening light.

All have the neck depicted in the same manner. The blue is generally conceded by the shamans to symbolize the collar of spruce twigs; but opinion is divided with regard to the meaning of the transverse red lines. The original significance of these is perhaps forgotten. Some say they represent the rings of the trachea; but those shamans whose opinion the writer most values say they represent an obsolete neck ornament called tsitse'yo, or cherry-beads, which was made neither of cherries or corals.

It is well now to consider a few Nature symbols that are extensively used by the Navahos today in their religious ceremonials. As corn is one


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of the most important foods of the Navaho, it plays a great part in all their ceremonies. Its symbol is used continually, both on dry-paintings and sacred masks. On many of these it is represented as an irregular upright stem with waving leaves on either side and the corn branching out higher up the stalk, with the pollen-laden flower above. (See Fig. 41.)

FIG. 41

The sign or symbol for the eye is found on the sacred masks used in the dances and other ceremonials. The mouth is similarly represented on these masks.

On the sand-paintings sunbeams are made of radiating scarlet feathers, but when drawn are represented by straight lines parallel, and, if possible, in some scarlet or red color.

On the masks they are shown by ten quills of the red-shafted woodpecker, radiating from the edge of the crown, which is painted black to represent the storm-cloud. They then symbolize sunbeams streaming out of the edge of a dark cloud.

Another design is that called the queue symbol, which represents the scalps of their enemies. It is painted on the body of the representative of their god Tobadzistsini, or Child of the Water. The Navahos and many other tribes of the Southwest wear the hair done up in a queue, which is not allowed to dangle, as does that of the Chinese, but is tied up close to the occiput; hence the symbol of a queue is also that of a scalp. Sometimes the symbols are closed, and at other times open, as shown in the diagram.

The open symbol has a different significance from the closed symbol. (See Figs. 42, 43, 44.)

FIGS. 42, 43, 44

A design that is often found on the blanket is the ‘‘„bow„’’ (Fig. 45). These are placed upon the body of the personator of the god Nayenezgani, are always made with five different lines drawn from the above downward and in an established order from which no deviation is allowed, as that would destroy the effect desired. When a bow is to be represented as unstrung, the upper end of the cord is unattached, as shown in Fig. 46.

FIGS. 45, 46

Zigzag lines generally represent lightning, and in the Navaho myths the gods are said to carry on their persons strings of real lightning, which they use as ropes.

Whenever zigzag lines are painted in white on a black background they symbolize lightning on the face of a cloud.

In the foregoing is a wealth of proof that the Navaho is essentially a religious being; that he symbolizes almost everything; that he regards


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these symbols as more than mere decorative designs; in fact, that they speak to him in no uncertain terms of sacred and mysterious things that he must regard and remember.

Is it then an irrational assumption that in the earlier day, before the commercial spirit of our money-mad civilization had entirely driven out their ancient reverence from many of the Navahos, the simple-hearted, reverent, and religious weavers put into their blankets the thoughts that moved them, the ambitions and aspirations that inspired them, the hopes that sustained them, and the religious ideas that guided them in their somewhat rude and rough pathway through life? That, in fact, their blankets were human documents, though pathetically inadequate, when compared with the white race's literature.

While from the foregoing enough has been presented to show that the Navaho has taken many of his symbols or designs from Nature, it must not be forgotten that his nearest neighbors, the Pueblo Indians, especially the Hopis, decorated their pottery with a wealth of design that will be the surprise and admiration of the modern designer when he observes it for the first time.

The importance of this close proximity to the Pueblos and of the marvelous art development these sedentary people had attained in the decoration of their pottery, cannot be over estimated. Like produces like; we are the product of our heredity and environment; we develop along the lines of least resistance—these are axiomatic propositions that help us understand the development of the Navaho weavers as creators of artistic and striking designs.

Neither should it be overlooked that the Pueblo weavers were using colors and incorporating similar designs into their textiles that they were placing upon their pottery long prior to the coming of the Spaniards into New Mexico (1540). Indeed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York there is a fine specimen of weaving in colors, taken from a prehistoric Cliff Dwelling, in which the design is closely similar to some of the pottery designs herein presented.

It is to an elaborate and beautifully illustrated monograph by Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, published by the Bureau of American Ethnology, that we owe our knowledge of these designs, and to Dr. Fewkes, and Dr. F. W. Hodge, Chief of the Bureau, we are indebted for the privilege of reproducing them here.

After showing the human figure, the whorls in which the hair of the Hopi maiden is dressed, mythic personages, the human hand, quadrupeds, reptiles, tadpoles, butterflies, moths, dragon flies, birds, feathers, vegetables, etc., Dr. Fewkes finally comes to a consideration of geometrical figures.


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In regard to the interpretation of these figures he frankly says:

Two extreme views are current in regard to the significance of these designs. To one school everything is symbolic of something or some religious conception; to the other the majority are meaningless save as decorations. I find the middle path the more conservative, and while regarding many of the designs as highly conventionalized symbols, believe that there are also many where the decorator had no thought of symbolism.

It must be clearly remembered that in giving his explanations of these symbols, Dr. Fewkes is working with prehistoric material, purely guessing at the significance, for he has no possible means of knowing the mind of the decorator. Hence, his words must be taken at the value he himself places upon them as far as definite knowledge of the symbolism involved is concerned. But the symbols or designs are themselves of superlative value, as demonstrating the artistic and inventive genius of the ancient aboriginal potters, and revealing how prolific and creative they were.

Might not the Navaho weavers have been the same? If they were not, then the fact should not be overlooked that they had this wealth of design in the old pottery constantly before them to copy, or from which they might receive suggestions.

After explaining the presence and meaning of crosses, swastikas, terraced figures, the crook, the germinative symbol, and broken lines, Dr. Fewkes proceeds:

The simplest form of decoration on the exterior of a food bowl is a band encircling it. This line may be complete or it may be broken at one point. The next more complicated geometric decoration is a double or multiple band. The breaking up of this multiple band into parallel bars is shown in Fig.47. These bars generally have a quadruple arrangement, and are horizontal, vertical, or, as in the illustration, inclined at an angle. They are often found on the lips of the bowls and in a similar position on jars, dippers, and vases. The parallel lines shown in Fig. 48 are seven in number, and do not encircle the bowl. They are joined by a broad

FIG. 47—Oblique parallel line decoration

FIG. 48—Parallel lines fused at one point

connecting band near one extremity. The number of parallel bands in this decoration is highly suggestive.


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Four parallel bands encircle the bowl shown in Fig. 49, but they are so modified in their course as to form a number of trapezoidal figures placed with alternating sides parallel. This interesting pattern is found only on one vessel.

FIG. 49—Parallel lines with zigzag arrangement

The use of simple parallel bars, arranged at equal intervals on the outside of food bowls, is not confined to these vessels, for they occur on the margin of vases, cups and dippers. They likewise occur on ladle handles, where they are arranged in alternate tranverse and longitudinal clusters.

The combination of two vertical hands connected by a horizontal band, forming the letter H, is an ornamental design frequently occurring on the finest Hopi ware. Fig. 50 shows such an H form, which is ordinarily repeated four times about the bowl.

The interval between the parallel bands around the vessel may be very much reduced in size, and some of the bands may be of different width or otherwise modified. Such a deviation is seen in Fig. 51, which has three bands, one of which is broad with straight edges, the other with serrate margin and hook-like appendages.

FIG. 50—Parallel lines connected with middle bar

In Fig. 52 eight hands are shown, the marginal broad with edges entire, and the medium pair serrated, the long teeth fitting each other in such a way as to impart a zigzag effect to the space which separates them. The remaining four lines,

FIG. 51—Parallel lines of different width: serrate margin

two on each side, appear as black bands on a white ground. It will be noticed that an attempt was made to relieve the monotony of the middle hand of Fig. 52 by the

FIG. 52—Parallel lines of different width: median serrate

introduction of a white line in zigzag form. A similar result was accomplished in the design in Fig. 53 by rectangles and dots.


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The modification of the multiple bands in Fig. 53 has produced a very different decorative form. This design is composed of five bands, the marginal on each side

FIG. 53—Parallel lines of different width: marginal serrate

serrate, and the middle band relatively very broad, with diagonals, each containing four round dots regularly arranged. In Fig. 54 there are many parallel, non-continuous bands of different breadth, arranged in groups separated by triangles with

FIG. 54—Parallel lines and triangles

sides parallel, and the whole united by bounding lines. This is the most complicated form of design where straight lines are used.

We have thus far considered modifications brought about by fusion and other changes in simple parallel lines. They may be confined to one side of the food bowl,

FIG. 55—Line with alternate triangles

may repeat each other at intervals, or surround the whole vessel. Ordinarily, however, they are confined to one side of the bowls from Sikyatki.

Returning to the single encircling band, it is found, in Fig. 55, broken up into alternating equilateral triangles, each pair united at their right angles. This

FIG. 56—Single line with alternate spurs

modification is carried still further in Fig. 56, where the triangles on each side of the single line are prolonged into oblique spurs, the pairs separated a short distance


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from each other. In Fig. 57 there is shown still another arrangement of these triangular decorations, the pairs forming hourglass-shape figures connected by an

FIG. 57—Single line with hourglass figures

encircling line passing through their points of junction. In Fig. 58 the double triangles, one on each side of the encircling band, are so placed that their line of separation is lost, and a single triangle replaces the pair. These are connected by the line surrounding the bowl and there is a dot at the smallest angle. In Fig.

FIG. 58—Single lines with triangles

59 there is a similar design, except that alternating with each triangle, which bears more decoration than that shown in Fig. 58, there are hourglass figures composed of ovals and triangles. The dots at the apex of that design are replaced by short parallel lines of varying width. The triangles and ovals last considered are arranged

FIG. 59—Single line with alternate triangles and ovals

symmetrically in relation to a simple band. By a reduction in the intervening spaces these triangles may be brought together and the line disappears. I have found no specimen of design illustrating the simplest form of the resultant motive, but that shown in Fig. 60 is a new combination comparable with it.

FIG. 60—Triangles and quadrilaterals

The simple triangular decorative design reaches a high degree of complication in Fig. 60, where a connecting line is absent, and two triangles having their smallest angles facing each other are separated by a lozenge-shape figure made up of many parallel lines placed obliquely to the axis of the design. The central part is composed of seven parallel lines, the marginal of which, on two opposite sides, is minutely dentate. The median band is very broad and is relieved by two wavy lines. The axis of the design on each side is continued into two triangular spurs, rising from a rectangle in the middle of each triangle. This complicated design is the highest development reached by the use of simple triangles. In Fig. 61, however,


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we have a simpler form of decoration, in which no element other than the rectangle is employed. In the chaste decoration seen in Fig. 62 the use of the

FIG. 61—Triangle with spurs

rectangle is shown combined with the triangle on a simple encircling band. This design is reducible to that shown in Fig. 60, but it is simpler, yet not less effective.

FIG. 62—Rectangle with single line

In Fig. 63 there is an aberrant form of design in which the triangle is used in combination with parallel and oblique bands. This form, while one of the simplest

FIG. 63—Double triangle; multiple lines

in its elements, is effective and characteristic. The triangle predominates in Fig. 64, but the details are worked out in rectangular patterns, producing the terraced designs so common in all Pueblo decorations. Rectangular figures are more

FIG. 64—Double triangle; terraced edges

commonly used than the triangular in the decoration of the exterior of bowls, and their many combinations are often very perplexing to analyze.


[page 86]

In Fig. 65, starting with the simple encircling band, it is found divided into alternating rectangles. The line is continuous, and hence one side of each rectangle

FIG. 65—Single line; closed fret

is not complete. Both this design and its modification in Fig. 66 consist of an unbroken line of equal breadth throughout. In the latter figure, however, the openings in the sides are larger or the approach to a straight line closer. The forms

FIG. 66—Single line; open fret

are strictly rectangular, with no additional elements. Fig. 67 introduces an important modification of the rectangular motive, consisting of a succession of lines broken at intervals, but when joined always arranged at right angles.

FIG. 67—Single line; broken fret

Possibly the least complex form of rectangular ornamentation, next to a simple bar or square, is the combination shown in Fig. 68, a type in which many changes are made in interior as well as in exterior decoration of Pueblo ware. One of these

FIG. 68—Single line; parts displaced

is shown in Fig. 69, where the figure about the vessel is continuous. An analysis of the elements in Fig. 70 shows squares united at their angles, like the last, but that in addition to parallel bands connecting adjacent figures there are two marginal

FIG. 69—Open fret ; attachment displaced

bands uniting the series. Each of the inner parallel lines is bound to a marginal on the opposite side by a band at right angles to it. The marginal lines are unbroken through the length of the figure. Like the last, this motive also may be regarded as developed from a single line.


[page 87]

Figs. 71 and 72 are even simpler than the design shown in Fig. 69, with appended square key patterns, all preserving rectangular forms and destitute of all

FIG. 70—Simple rectangular design

others. They are of S-form, and differ more especially in the character of their appendages.

FIG. 71—Rectangular reversed S-form

FIG. 72—Rectangular S-form with crooks

While the same rectangular idea predominates in Fig. 73, it is worked out with the introduction of triangles and quadrilateral designs. This fairly compound pattern, however, is still classified among rectangular forms. A combination of rectangular and triangular geometric designs, in which, however, the former

FIG. 73—Rectangular S-form with triangles

predominate, is shown in Fig. 74, which can readily be reduced to certain of those forms already mentioned. The triangles appear to be subordinated to the rectangles,


[page 88]

and even they are fringed on their longer sides with terraced forms. It may be said that there but two elements involved, the rectangle and the triangle.

IG. 74—Rectangular S-form with terraced triangles

The decoration in Fig. 75 consists of rectangular and triangular figures, the latter so closely approximated as to leave zigzag lines in white. These lines are simply highly modified breaks in bands which join in other designs, and lead by comparison to the so-called "line of life" which many of these figures illustrate.

FIG. 75—S-form with interdigitating spurs

The distinctive feature of Fig. 76 is the square, with rectangular designs appended to diagonally opposite angles and small triangles at intermediate corners. These designs have a distant resemblance to figures later referred to as highly conventionalized birds, although they may be merely simple geometrical patterns which have lost their symbolic meaning.

FIG. 76—Square with rectangles and parallel lines

Fig. 77 shows a complicated design, introducing at least two elements in addition to rectangles and triangles. One of these is a curved crook etched on a black ground. In no other exterior decoration have curved lines been found except in the form of circles, and it is worthy of note how large a proportion of the figures are drawn in straight lines. The circular figures with three parallel lines extending from them are found so constantly in exterior decorations, and are so strikingly like some of the figures elsewhere discussed, that I have ventured a suggestion in regard to their meaning. I believe they represent feathers, because the tail feathers of certain


[page 89]

birds are symbolized in that manner, and their number corresponds with those generally depicted in the highly conventionalized tails of birds.

FIG. 77—Rectangles, triangles, stars, and feathers

In Fig. 78 a number of these parallel lines are represented, and the general character of the design is rectangular. In Fig. 79 is shown a combination of

FIG. 78—Crook, feathers, and parallel lines

rectangular and triangular figures with three tapering points and circles with lines at their tips radiating instead of parallel. Another modification is shown in Fig.

FIG. 79—Crooks and feathers

80 in which the triangle predominates, and Fig. 81 evidently represents one-half of a similar device with modifications.

FIG. 80—Rectangle, triangles, and feathers

One of the most common designs on ancient pottery is the stepped figure, a rectangular ornamentation, modifications of which are shown in Figs. 82, 83, and 84. This is a very common design on the interior of food vessels, where it is commonly interpreted as a rain-cloud symbol.

FIG. 81—Terraced crook, triangle, and feather

Of all patterns on ancient Tusayan ware, that of the terrace figures most closely resemble the geometrical ornamentation of cliff-house pottery, and there seems every reason to suppose that this form of design admits of a like interpretation. The evolution of this pattern from plaited basketry has been ably discussed


[page 90]

by Holmes and Nordenskiöld. The terraced forms from the exterior of the food bowls here considered are highly aberrant; they may be forms of survivals, motives of decoration which have persisted from very early times. Whatever the origin of the stepped figure in Pueblo art was, it is well to remember, as shown by Holmes,

FIG. 82—Double key

that it is ‘‘„impossible to show that any particular design of the highly constituted kind was desired through a certain identifiable series of progressive steps.„’’

For some unknown reason the majority of the simple designs on the exterior of food bowls from Tusayan are rectangular, triangular, or linear in their character.

FIG. 83—Triangular terrace

Many can be reduced to simple or multiple lines. Others were suggested by plaited ware.

In Fig. 82 is found one of the simplest of rectangular designs, a simple band, key pattern in form, at one end, with a re-entrant square depression at the opposite

FIG. 84—Crook, serrate end

extremity. In Fig. 83 is an equally simple terrace pattern with stepped figures at the ends and in the middle. These forms are common decorative elements on the exterior of jars and vases, where they occur in many combinations, all of which are reducible to these types. The simplest form of the key pattern is shown in Fig. 84,


[page 91]

and in Fig. 85 there is a second modification of the same design a little more complicated. This becomes somewhat changed in Fig. 86, not only by the modifications of the two extremities, but also by the addition of a median geometric figure.

FIG. 85—Key pattern; rectangle and triangles

FIG. 86—Rectangle and crook

The design in Fig. 87 is rectangular, showing a key pattern at one end, with two long feathers at the opposite extremity. The five bodies on the same end of the figure are unique and comparable with conventionalized star emblems. The series of designs in the upper left-hand end of this figure are unlike any which have yet been found on the exterior of food bowls, but are similar to designs which have elsewhere been interpreted as feathers. On the hypothesis that these two parts of the figure are tail-feathers, we find in the crook the analogue of the head of a bird. The five dentate bodies on the lower left-hand end of the figure also tell in favor of the avian character of the design, for the following reason: These bodies are often found accompanying figures of conventionalized birds. They are regarded as modified crosses of equal arms, which are all but universally present in combinations with birds and feathers, from the fact that in a line of crosses depicted on a bowl one

FIG. 87—Crook and tail feathers

of the crosses is replaced by a design of similar character. The arms of the cross are represented; their intersection is left in white. The interpretation of Fig. 87 as a highly conventionalized bird design is also in accord with the same interpretation of a number of similar, although less complicated, figures which appear with crosses. Fig. 88 may be compared with Fig. 87.


[page 92]

Numerous modifications of a key pattern, often assuming a double triangular form, but with rectangular elements, are found on the exterior of many food bowls.

FIG. 88—Rectangle, triangle, and serrate spurs

These are variations of a pattern, the simplest form of which is shown in Fig. 89. Resolving this figure into two parts by drawing a median line, we find the arrangement is bilaterally symmetrical, the two sides exactly corresponding. Each side consists of a simple key pattern with the shank inclined to the rim of the bowl and a bird emblem at its junction with the other member.

FIG. 89—W-pattern; terminal crooks

In Fig. 90 there is a greater development of this pattern by an elaboration of the key, which is continued in a line resembling a square spiral. There are also dentations on a section of the edge of the lines.

FIG. 90—W-pattern; terminal rectangles

In Fig. 91 there is a still further development of the same design and a lack of symmetry on the two sides. The square spirals are replaced on the left by three

FIG. 91—W-pattern, terminal terraces, and crooks

stepped figures, and white spaces with parallel lines are introduced in the arms of a W-shape figure.


[page 93]

In Fig. 92 the same design is again somewhat changed by modification of the spirals into three triangles rimmed on one side with a row of dots, which are also found on the outer lines surrounding the lower part of the design.

FIG. 92—W-pattern; terminal spurs

In Fig. 93 the same W-shape design is preserved, but the space in the lower re-entrant angle is occupied by a symmetrical figure resembling two tail feathers and the extremity of the body of a bird. The median figure is replaced in Fig. 94 by

FIG. 93—W-pattern; bird form

a triangular ornament. In this design the two wings are not symmetrical, but no new decorative element is introduced. It will be noticed, however, that there is a want of symmetry on the two sides of a vertical line in the figure last mentioned.

FIG. 94—W-pattern; median triangle

The right-hand upper side is continued into five pointed projections, which fail on the left-hand side. There is likewise a difference in the arrangement of the terraced figures in the two parts. The sides of the median triangles are formed of alternating


[page 94]

black and white blocks, and the quadrate figure which it incloses is etched with a diagonal and cross.

The decoration in Fig. 95 consists of two triangles side by side, each having marginal serrations, and a median square key pattern. One side of these triangles

FIG. 95—Double triangle; two breath feathers

is continued into a line from which hang two breath feathers, while the other end of the same line ends in a round dot with four radiating straight lines. The triangles recall the butterfly symbol, the key pattern representing the head.

FIG. 96—W-triangle; median trapezoid

In Fig. 96 there is a still more aberrant form of the W-shape design. The wings are folded, ending in triangles, and prolonged at their angles into projections to which are appended round dots with three parallel lines. The median portion,

FIG. 97—Double triangle; median rectangle

or that in the re-entrant angle of the W, is a four-sided figure in which the triangle predominates with notched edges. Fig. 97 shows the same design with the median portion replaced by a rectangle, and in which the key pattern has wholly disappeared

FIG. 98—Double compound triangle; median rectangle

from the wings. In Fig. 98 there are still greater modifications, but the symmetry about a median axis remains. The ends of the wings, instead of being


[page 95]

folded are expanded, and the three triangles formerly inclosed are now free and extended. The simple median rectangle is ornamented with a terrace pattern on its lower angles.

FIG. 99—Double triangle; median triangle

Fig. 99 shows a design in which the extended triangles are even more regular and simple, with triangular terraced figures on their inner edges. The median figure is a triangle instead of a rectangle.

FIG. 100—Double compound triangle

Fig. 100 shows the same design with modification in the position of the median figure, and a slight curvature in two of its sides.

FIG. 101—Double rectangle; median rectangle

Somewhat similar designs, readily reduced to the same type as the last three or four which have been mentioned, are shown in Figs. 101 and 102. The resemblances are so close that I need not refer to them in detail. The W form is wholly lost,

FIG. 102—Double rectangle; median triangle

and there is no resemblance to a bird, even in its most highly conventionalized forms. The median design in Fig. 101 consists of a rectangle and two triangles so arranged as to leave a rectangular white space between them. In Fig. 102 the median triangle is crossed by parallel and vertical zigzag lines.


[page 96]

In the design represented in Fig. 103 there are two triangular figures, one on each side of a median line, in relation to which they are symmetrical. Each triangle has a simple key pattern in the middle, and the line from which they appear to

FIG. 103—Double triangle with crooks

hang is blocked off with alternating black and white rectangles. At either extremity of this line there is a circular dot from which extend four parallel lines.

A somewhat simpler form of the same design is found in Fig. 104, showing a straight line above terminating with dots, from which extend parallel lines, and

FIG. 104—W-shaped figure; single line with feathers

two triangular figures below, symmetrically placed in reference to an hypothetical upright line between them.

Fig. 105 bears a similarity to the last mentioned only so far as the lower half of the design is concerned. The upper part is not symmetrical, but no new decorative

FIG. 105—Compound rectangle, triangles, and feathers

element is introduced. Triangles, frets, and terraced figures are inserted between two parallel lines which terminate in round dots with parallel lines.

The design in Fig. 106 is likewise unsymmetrical, but it has two lateral triangles with incurved terrace and dentate patterns. The same general form is

FIG. 106—Double triangle

exhibited in Fig. 107, with the introduction of two pointed appendages facing the hypothetical middle line. From the general form of these pointed designs, each of which is double, they have been interpreted as feathers. They closely resemble the


[page 97]

tail-feathers of bird figures on several bowls in the collection, as will be seen in several of the illustrations.

FIG. 107—Double triangle and feathers

Fig. 108 is composed of two triangular designs fused at the greatest angles. The regularity of these triangles is broken by a square space at the fusion. At each of the acute angles of the two triangles there are circular designs with radiating

FIG. 108—Twin triangles

lines, a common motive on the exterior of food bowls. Although no new elements appear in Fig. 108, with the exception of the bracket marks, one on each side of a circle, the arrangement of the two parts about a line parallel with the rim of the bowl imparts to the design a unique form. The motive in Fig. 109 is reducible to

FIG. 109—Triangle with terraced appendages

triangular and rectangular forms, and while exceptional as to their arrangement, no new decorative feature is introduced.

The specimen represented in Fig. 110 has as its decorative elements, rectangles, triangles, parallel lines, and birds' tails, to which may be added star and crosshatch

FIG. 110—Mosaic pattern

motives. It is, therefore, the most complicated of all the exterior decorations which have thus far been considered. There is no symmetry in the arrangement of figures about a central axis, but rather a repetition of similar designs.


[page 98]

The use of crosshatching is very common on the most ancient Pueblo ware, and is very common in designs on cliff-house pottery. This style of decoration is only sparingly used on Sikyatki ware. The crosshatching is provisionally interpreted as a mosaic pattern, and reminds one of the beautiful forms of turquoise mosaic on shell, bone, or wood, found in ancient pueblos, and best known in modern times in the square ear pendants of Hopi women. Fig. 110 is one of the few designs

FIG. 111—Rectangles, stars, crooks, and parallel lines

having terraced figures with short parallel lines descending from them. These figures vividly recall the rain-cloud symbol with falling rain represented by the parallel lines. Fig. 111 is a perfectly symmetrical design with figures of stars, rectangles, and parallel lines. It may be compared with that shown in Fig. 110 in order to demonstrate how wide the difference in design may become by the absence of symmetrical relationship. It has been shown in some of the previous motives that the crook sometimes represents a bird's head, and parallel lines appended to it the tail-feathers. Possibly the same interpretation may be given to these designs in the

FIG. 112—Continuous crooks

following figures, and the presence of stars adjacent to them lends weight to this hypothesis.

An indefinite repetition of the same pattern of rectangular design is shown in Fig. 112. This highly decorative motive may be varied indefinitely by extension or concentration, and while it is modified in that manner in many of the decorations of vases, it is not so changed on the exterior of food bowls.

There are a number of forms which I am unable to classify with the foregoing, none of which show any new decorative design. All possible changes have been made

FIG. 113—Rectangular terrace pattern

in them without abandoning the elemental ornamental motives already considered. The tendency to step or terrace patterns predominates, as exemplified in simple form in Fig. 113. In Fig. 114 there is a different arrangement of the same terrace pattern, and the design is helped out with parallel bands of different length at the ends of a


[page 99]

rectangular figure. A variation in the depth of color of these lines adds to the effectiveness of the design. This style of ornamentation is successfully used in the designs represented

FIG. 114—Terrace pattern with parallel lines

in Figs. 115 and 116, in the body of which a crescentic figure in the black serves to add variety to a design otherwise monotonous. The two appendages to the

FIG. 115—Terrace pattern

right of Fig. 116 are interpreted as feathers, although their forms depart widely from that usually assumed by these designs. The terraced patterns are replaced by dentate

FIG. 116—Triangular pattern with feathers

margins in this figure, and there is a successful use of most of the rectangular and triangular designs.

FIG. 117—S-pattern

In the specimens represented in Figs. 117 and 118 marginal dentations are used. I have called the design referred to an S-form, which, however, owing to its elongation is somewhat masked. The oblique bar in the middle of the figure represents the body of the letter, the two extremities taking the forms of triangles.


[page 100]

So far as the decorative elements are concerned, the design in Fig. 119 can be compared with some of those preceding, but it differs from them in combination. The

FIG. 118—Triangular and terrace figures

FIG. 119—Crook, terrace, and parallel lines

FIG. 120—Triangles, squares, and terraces

motive in Fig. 120 is not unlike the ornamentation of certain oriental vases, except from the presence of the terraced figures. In Fig. 121 there are two designs separated by

FIG. 121—Bifurcated rectangular design

an inclined break the edge of which is dentate. This figure is introduced to show the method of treatment of alternating triangles of varying depth of color and the breaks

FIG. 122—Infolded triangles

in the marginal bands or ‘‘„lines of life.„’’ One of the simplest combinations of triangular and rectangular figures is shown in Fig. 122, proving how effectually the original design may be obscured by concentration.


[page 101]

In the foregoing descriptions I have endeavored to demonstrate that, notwithstanding the great variety of designs considered, the types used are very limited in number. The geometrical forms are rarely curved lines, and it may be said that spirals, which appear so constantly on pottery from other (and possibly equally ancient or older) pueblos than Sikyatki, are absent in the external decorations of specimens found in the ruins of the latter village.

Every student of ancient and modern pueblo pottery has been impressed by the predominance of terraced figures in its ornamentation, and the meaning of these terraces has elsewhere been spoken of at some length. It would, I believe, be going too far to say that these step designs always represent clouds, as in some instances they

FIG. 123—Human hand

are produced by such an arrangement of rectangular figures that no other forms could result.

The material at hand adds nothing new to the theory of the evolution of the terraced ornament from basketry or textile productions, so ably discussed by Holmes, Nordenskiöld, and others. When the Sikyatki potters decorated their ware the ornamentation of pottery had reached a high development, and figures both simple and complicated were used contemporaneously. While, therefore, we can so arrange them as to make a series, tracing modifications from simple to complex designs, thus forming a supposed line of evolution, it is evident that there is no proof that the simplest figures are the oldest. The great number of terraced figures and their use in the representation

FIG. 124—Animal paw, limb and triangle

of animals seem to me to indicate that they antedate all others, and I see no reason why they should not have been derived from basketry patterns. We must, however, look to pottery with decorations less highly developed for evidence bearing on this point. The Sikyatki artists had advanced beyond simple geometric figures, and had so highly modified these that it is impossible to determine the primitive form.

The human hand also is used as a decorative element in the ornamentation of the interior of several food bowls. It is likewise in one instance chosen to adorn the exterior. It is the only part of the human limbs thus used. Figure 123 shows the hand with marks on the palm probably intended to represent the lines which are used in the measurement of the length of pahos or prayer-sticks.


[page 102]

The limb of an animal with a paw, or possibly a human arm and hand, appears as a decoration on the outside of another food bowl, where it is combined with the ever-constant stepped figure, as shown in Fig. 124.

To summarize the subject, then, is it not apparent that, with such a wealth of suggestive material around her on every hand, the Navaho weaver could scarcely avoid becoming a master in the art of design? With this extraordinary environment of art suggestions and the instinctive individuality of the weaver asserting itself, it was to be expected that a remarkable variety of new designs would be invented or created, and that old designs would take on new forms by mutation, and would be placed together in new, unique, striking, and attractive combinations. Here, therefore, I think we find the fullest and most satisfactory explanation of the remarkable wealth of design found in Navaho blanketry.

Fig. 125. Navaho Weaver at Her Open-Air Loom. (Copyright by George R. King. Used by permission.)

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