Mel Silva   

As a young boy I was interested in the Native American people, their arts and crafts, and remember a motoring trip with my parents across the Navajo Nation which included Monument Valley. I was so impressed with their culture and sacred homeland.

In the early 1980’s I discovered traditional Navajo weaving from Working With The Wool by Noël Bennett and Tiana Bighorse. This first rug making experience was sobering since it was evident that weaving even a small Navajo rug was a very lengthy process calling for a great deal of skill, time, and perseverance. In the early 1990’s, working with many teachers in my profession, I discovered Caroline Spurgeon, an Anglo weaver. She agreed to expand my previous learning and take on a novice weaver friend as well, Marilyn Greaves. We both greatly enjoyed the time spent with Caroline who gave of her knowledge so that two weavers could grow in their skill weaving the Navajo Way. From that experience I have worked with Sarah Natani at her home in Shiprock, NM. I also had the extreme pleasure of spending three summers in Carbondale, Colorado, working with Angie Maloney, master weaver from Tuba City, AZ, and her sister Mae Peshlakai, weaver of Navajo textiles and silversmith. Through Angie’s efforts I was immersed in weaving in the authentic Navajo way, and became one of her honorary clan, Ta’neeszahnii, the Tangle People. Subsequently, along with my co-teacher Marilyn Greaves, have taught traditional Navajo weaving in classes during the 1990’s to the present day in the Sacramento and Central Sierra foothill areas. Classes are offered at the Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced levels. We are listed as an indigenous weaving instruction source on Mary Walker’s Weaving in Beauty web site, offering classes in the Sacramento area of CA.

In addition, I weave many traditional rug styles, twills, tufted, pictorial, including an authentic Navajo horse cinch. I have been making Navajo vertical style looms, full size and mini. I also have fashioned weaving tools, forks, battens, etc. from exotic and traditional woods since the early1980s. I am a member of the Ashtl’o Weaving Guild, the Sacramento Spinners and Weavers Guild, The Hangtown Fiber Guild, and the Great Basin Basket Makers Guild, located in Reno, NV.



I, like many other members of the guild, have been weaving in the Navajo way for many years and have participated in weaving demonstrations where on-lookers ask questions that occur to them. Usually I hear, how long does it take you to weave a rug? How do you get the colors to start and stop? Or, my favorite, how much would the rug you are weaving be worth if it were done right?!

Being a male weaver I often get one other question - do Navajo men weave too? I contend the answer is yes and they have been doing so for many years.

A good friend recently brought to my attention an article from Wild Fibers magazine, Fall 2006, which was entitled The Chant of the Male Spider, Meet the Men Who Weave in the Navajo Nation. I urge all of you to buy a copy and read about this weaving duality. One of the Navajo weavers featured, Ron Garnanez, writes “The old ways have been forgotten, even by most Navajo.” He goes on to say that there was pressure from the white man’s teaching that took the men from their looms. So afraid of ridicule, the men continued to weave in secret and went underground for 150 years. Often they would sell their rugs under the name of their wives or daughters. The one example of a defiant display of his artistry, a revered and powerful medicine man, was Hosteen Klah (1867-1937). This male weaver began weaving in the 1880’s. Klah produced huge tapestries, which were also permanent records of sandpaintings, which he feared would be forgotten and lost to future medicine men and the Navajo culture. Some of his weavings appear to be nearly 9 X 12 feet! He was an exceptional weaver. Perhaps his commitment to tradition has aided in the contemporary re-emergence of Navajo men who weave. I, along with Marilyn Greaves, had the pleasant experience of meeting Ron Garnanez and his children at Sarah Natani’s home while attending a fall workshop many years ago.

Other male weavers featured in the article are Roy Kady, Gilbert Begay, and Nathan Harry. Born over four decades, much of their stories and experiences are similar. Roy Cady is from a family whose Navajo name means The Men Who Weave. His male ancestors have always been weavers. Roy’s grandfather, whose name was shortened to Willy Weaver, was also a medicine man who performed Beauty Way ceremonies, which have to do with sheep and weaving. Roy’s family is particularly well-known for their horse cinch and saddle blankets. Roy recalls his grandfather’s weaving songs. “To listen to Willy Weaver made your whole world beautiful. He sang so the rug could go well on its journey and get its message across...” Roy works with several organizations supporting the traditional arts and Navajo lifeway. He has developed support groups for fiber artists, a youth sheep camp and is involved with various artistic collaboratives. He participates in the Lore of the Lands Project, which records Navajo elders to preserve their wisdom for future generations. Roy personifies the positive impact of a male Navajo weaver.

To quote another authority on the subject, Westley Thomas, Ph.D. in Anthropology and Navajo weaver: "From the Navajo perspective male weavers have always been part of traditional Navajo history and culture. Male weavers are part of the Navajo creation stories in the underworld, but are not mentioned in English versions. In those stories we hear of men weaving in the past, some carrying the name or simply being called 'The Weaver'." Through erroneous translations of Navajo stories into English, it was believed that only women were the weavers in Navajo culture. In actuality, there has been a fine line between gender occupations within the culture for a long time and it continues to be so. Navajo cultural beliefs allow flexibility and give men permission to weave. This legitimization has further empowered Navajo male weavers to be seen in public, much more than in the past. Before, due to gender role stigmatization, their textiles were handed over to one of their maternal kin to sell. Now, they weave and sell their products in public, along side their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and so forth, or with other men.

As a male weaver, I believe I weave for the same primary reason as the Navajo man. We both have the urge and desire to express our creativity through weaving and the textile arts. So what’s the answer to our question - “Do Men Weave?” It is a decisive YES! Superbly!

Mel Silva,
honorary member of Clan: Tangle People