Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mary's Turtle and Textile Basket

It was a pleasant surprise to see Mary Holiday Black walk through the Kokopelli doors at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Mary's basket production has slowed over the past several years, so we do not see her as often and it had been several months since her last visit. She was carrying a large object wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag. From past experience we surmised the package contained one of her treasured weavings. We are aware of her struggle with aging, vision problems and arthritis, and wondered what the quality of weave might or might not be.

Mary Black with her Turtle and Textile Basket
Mary Black with her Turtle & Textile Basket.

Mary has graced us with so many wonderful baskets through the years that we feel emotionally attached and financially obligated to support her, no matter what. On rare occasion we have purchased a less than perfect creation and stowed it away just to help her help us maintain the art, thereby prolonging her enduring creativity. Amazingly, our customers have knowingly purchased those same weavings to support Mary and us.

Steve and I were unconsciously drawn toward Mary as she drew the basket from its less than glamorous wraps. We looked at each other in pleasant surprise as Mary uncovered an extremely well-made Turtle and Textile design basket. The representation was clear, and the pattern was precise, balanced and symmetrical. It was beautiful!

Being the born skeptics we truly are, and since the weaving was the best we had seen from Mary in a very long time, Steve and I internally began to question its origin. We looked at each other warily, wondering if this might not be a true Mary Holiday Black creation. Every once in a while, a select few of Mary's extended family will weave a nice basket and deliver it to Mary to sell as her own. This is done to give back to Mary for all the assistance she has provided them over the years. What the Anglo society might perceive as forgery is actually a showing of mutual support in this sometimes slightly divergent society.

Because Mary is closely associated with and experienced in both worlds, she is acutely aware of the discrepancy in cultural perception. She does not feel comfortable about what collectors might perceive as misrepresentation, but must also be sensitive to her extended family. In the culture of the Navajo, family is first and foremost. If you are able to help, financially of otherwise, you do so. When placed in this predicament, Mary will come across as embarrassed and troubled during negotiations. We have learned that this is Mary's way of cluing us into the situation. We have only to ask Mary outright if she is indeed the weaver, she will not mislead us, the forthright questioning gives her the opportunity to be candid. Her inner emotional turmoil will evaporate and we get the straight scoop.

When asked if she had woven this particular basket Mary smiled gaily, as if anticipating our skepticism, looked us squarely in the eyes and said "Aooh", (yes I did!)" Mary told us that it took her six months to weave the basket. She used only the highest quality splits and color coordinated dye lots, waiting until someone could or would take her to a sumac source along the Colorado river to gather materials. Mary told us she never got in a hurry, weaving only when she felt strong and confident.

At one point in her career Mary would weave eight to twelve hours a day. She is older now, and more frail, with less strength because of the pain in her hands and joints. Mary is not as visually acute as she once was either, and does not have as much help preparing materials. This is due to the natural dispersion of her immediate family. Weaving this particular basket, a maximum of four hours a day was all she could muster.

After we purchased her basket, Mary told Steve and me she had hitched a ride in with outlaws to sell us her latest treasure and was pressed for time. She explained to us that if we were going to record her thoughts on video we had better get busy. Mary is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge of the weaving arts; her grasp of Navajo culture is vast and her love of myth and legend allows us a rare and insightful view into the world of the Dine'. We hurriedly called Tina and her video camera down from the upstairs Internet inter sanctum, and borrowed Toni from her duties as cashier at the cafe to be our interpreter. The ensuing ten minutes of tape relating the creation of and meaning behind Mary's basket was invaluable, and educational to us all.

Mary Holiday Black is a genuinely pleasant person who leaves behind a wake of goodwill wherever she goes. Mary's obvious sources of joy and happiness are her family and weaving baskets. She, in turn, is our bliss. When it comes to dealing with artists and basket weavers, Mary is our all-time favorite. There are times when Mary's two worlds collide, but striving for cultural awareness helps us all alleviate fender benders. Our casualty insurance is familiarity and understanding.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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