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Historic barn at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

In fall 2017, I traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to conclude the final phase of research and writing on my doctoral dissertation, Shaped by the Camera: Navajo Weavers and the Photography of Making in the American Southwest (1880-1945). One of the key aims of this study is to examine the use of weaving as a common visual trope, and a frequent subject of photography, that circulated in various kinds of cultural venues—from regional tourism promotion and artistic modernism to anthropological surveys and salvage ethnography. A focus on such photographic mediation will deepen our understanding of how Navajo weavers and their crafts came to be such prominent icons of the Southwest.

With funding from Bard Graduate Center and The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, I was able to spend six weeks in the Southwest completing archival and collections-based research at several museums in Santa Fe, including the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Laboratory of Anthropology, and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. A primary focus of this research included reviewing unpublished manuscripts as well as photographic records, trader’s/dealer’s catalogs, field notes, and personal correspondence. My project features comparative case studies of two important and overlooked ethnographers, George H. Pepper (1866-1923) and Gladys A. Reichard (1893-1955), and I was fortunate to be able to review several of Pepper’s original publications at the Laboratory of Anthropology, which provided a unique opportunity to see printed versions of his photographs, many of which document various stages in the production of Navajo dyes. I also traveled to Flagstaff to conduct research at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which currently holds the Reichard collection, and was a key site for her research on Navajo art and material culture. Although many of her original photographs documenting the methods and process of Navajo weaving have been lost, I was able to examine all of her field notebooks from her ethnographic work with weavers in the 1930s, as well as critical biographical material and unpublished research. In addition, I was able to connect with a third-generation Navajo natural dye practitioner and loom/tool maker in Arizona, who continues his family’s legacy of making dye charts by harvesting local plants in the region (the subject of a forthcoming research project/paper).

Although the topic is primarily historical, I will also be conducting ethnographic interviews with Navajo weavers in order to incorporate a contemporary Native perspective into my dissertation. This has already enhanced my study of the photographs by creating a participatory dialogue about these historic images, prompting me to consider how they might be relevant to weavers and source communities today. In doing so, I hope to go beyond critique of representation or attention to the textiles alone to recover the agency of women as both weavers and photographic subjects.

— Hadley W. Jensen, MA 2013, PhD candidate