A couple years ago Navajo silversmith Kee Yazzie Jr. brought in an extremely unusual belt buckle he had made. The piece featured an asymmetric spiral with a drop of gold in the center. There is similar imagery on rock art panels scattered around Bluff, and I have been informed by many in the archaeological community that this is the symbol for eternity; the continuous cycle of life.
Kee had used meaningful symbolism in a clean and simple format, a combination I greatly admire in art. Native sculptor Allan Houser once said he tried to get everything into his work that was necessary and nothing more. Although that may seem an easy rule to live by, experience has taught me it is not. All too often I see work that is unnecessarily complex or completely overdone. In my opinion simple is best, and Kee had nailed it with this particular piece.
Navajo basketry is built on a similarly cyclical principle. A ceremonial basket, for example, is viewed by tribal members as a map through which Navajo people chart their lives. The center represents emergence, the place where the Dine’ emigrated from a prior world. As they emerged, all was white. The inner coils of the basket are this color to represent birth and entry into the light.
As the design spirals outward, an increasing amount of black stitching is incorporated into the pattern. This color represents darkness, struggle, adversity and pain; the difficult side of life. The black eventually gives way to red bands, which embody marriage, the mixing of one’s blood with a spouse; family. The red is pure, and in this section there is no darkness.
Progressing outward from the familial bands, the darkness begins to recede. This area is interspersed with increasing white and represents enlightenment, which expands until it reaches the border. This is the spirit world, a place devoid of darkness.
The line from the center of the basket to the rim reminds us that no matter how much darkness we encounter in our lives, there is always a pathway to the light.
It has always been interesting to me that ceremonial baskets embody progression in a spiraling path. In what seems to be an inherent contradiction, the spirit line indicates there may be a more direct course. It is that type of mystery that drew me to Kee’s buckle.
Although I do not buy much jewelry for myself, this piece had all the magic I like in Native art, so I took it home. The problem, however, is that I am eternally misplacing things, and the buckle was no exception. I immediately lost it. Having set it on the chest at the foot of the bed, I neglected it for a few weeks. When I went back to put it on a belt, it was gone.
Questioning the entire family brought no results. I had emptied drawers, searched under the bed and even threatened to waterboard the kids. It was no use, the buckle, like the Bush administration, was gone.
Living at Twin Rocks Trading Post has taught me that things often appear when you least expect them. Many times I have ordered a rug, basket or piece of jewelry for a customer only to have months, or even years, go by with no hint of the artist who promised to make it. Then, shortly after I have informed the buyer all hope is lost, the artist comes in with the item.
So it was with my buckle. Although I had searched the house a thousand times and finally given up all hope of reclaiming it, this morning I lifted one of my shirts only to have the buckle drop to the floor. Jana assures me it was my kinder, gentler approach that caused the jewelry gods to finally return the buckle. I, however, think it was my recent letter to the CIA requesting instruction on how to interrogate children under the age of sixteen.
With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.