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From left, Belvin Pete, Hadley Jensen, Lynda Teller Pete, Barbara Teller Ornelas. Photo by Rathkopf Photography.
Raphael Begay. Photo by Da Ping Luo.
Darby Raymond-Overstreet. Photo by Da Ping Luo.

Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest opened at Bard Graduate Center on February 17, 2023. The occasion was the catalyst for a series of events that brought artists and scholars together with Bard Graduate Center students, faculty, and staff, to deepen their appreciation for and knowledge of Navajo weaving.

The first of these events, a symposium titled “Ecologies of Making: Knowledge and Process in Navajo Weaving,” took place on the morning of February 17, before the gallery opened to the public, and was followed by an exhibit tour led by project collaborators. According to curator Hadley Jensen, the symposium established a discourse that extended beyond the printed label and provided an opportunity for experts in the field to interact and to explore the ideas, histories, and theories that guided the creation of Shaped by the Loom. In addition to Jensen, speakers included Dr. Peter Whiteley (American Museum of Natural History), Lynda Teller Peter and Barbara Teller Ornelas (Diné textile artists), Wade Campbell (Diné historical archaeologist, Boston University), Larissa Nez (Diné scholar and educator, University of California, Berkeley), and Rapheal Begay (Diné photographer).

After visiting the Shaped by the Loom exhibition, which features several of his photographs, Begay shared the following comments: “Growing up on the reservation, I never thought my childhood home would become a vehicle for creative expression. Let alone for the memories and stories of my family to exist in spaces such as the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. When entering the gallery for the first time, I was greeted by Conor Chee’s soundscape and moved to tears as I turned the corner to see the wall-size projection of my grandmother’s sheep within the corral. This was a sentimental and magical moment as my family lost our flock months prior, yet there they were to welcome me to this new space. This being my first visit to the city, my experience reminded me that shighan (my home) is always beneath my feet and k’é (kinship) is found within our surroundings.”

Many contemporary Diné artists whose work was included in Shaped by the Loom attended the opening and its associated events, including Begay, Nez, sisters Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas, Darby Raymond-Overstreet, and Tyrrell Tapaha. BGC’s Public Humanities + Research department created many opportunities for students and faculty to engage with the artists and exhibition collaborators. The Teller sisters gave a lunch talk and conducted a workshop for gallery educators, as did Nez. Begay and Raymond-Overstreet were guest speakers in a photography class taught by BGC professors Aaron Glass and Drew Thompson. Tapaha recorded audio reflections in response to specific items in the exhibition that visitors can listen to in the gallery and on our companion digital project site.

Several of the participants appreciated the rare opportunity to gather and connect with their colleagues. Darby Raymond-Overstreet said, “The opening for Shaped by the Loom was a joyous occasion that brought together and amplified the voices of Diné artists and scholars. I had such a positive experience and to be able to come together in community to celebrate the show, to hear from everyone who contributed, and to admire the stunning showcase of the selected works from the American Museum of Natural History collection, alongside the beautiful contributions of all the contemporary artists and weavers, all made for an exceptional opening.”