Diné/Navajo dye chart (2019). Roselyn Washburn. Courtesy of John McCulloch, Teec Nos Pos Trading Post. Photograph: Bruce White

Coloring and Dyeing are an intrinsic part of the history of Navajo weaving traditions, and Navajo Dye charts have cataloged local plants and colors for generations of the Diné people. Each dye chart includes natural dyestuffs organized in the form of a grid, a loom at the center of the scene with a partially woven textile, and yarn dyed with each plant material to inform the viewer of the its coloring potential. Many of these Diné dye charts have been made over the course of many years, with plants collected throughout the seasons and then organized into a beautiful, one-of-a-kind artwork and a record of the land.

These works were first used as guides for weaving students in preparing and understanding a color palette for a weaver’s rug or blanket, but then became a highly sought after and prized souvenir for tourists passing through the Southwest.

The online exhibition of Shaped by the Loom highlights the cultural significance of these charts, “This exhibition is the first to examine dye charts as a way of understanding craft processes and as a mode of visualization and subsequent preservation of localized knowledge systems about color. Considering their dual position as objects of Native innovation and as products of intercultural consumption, dye charts inform our understanding of postcolonial representation, Indigenous ecologies and ethnobotany, the marketing of the American Southwest and its crafts, and histories of intercultural exchange.”

The incredible Navajo Dye Chart pictured above was made by Navajo artist Roselyn Washburn. You can learn more about Washburn’s artwork, and check out various natural dye recipes through the interactive chart in the virtual and in-person exhibition Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest.

Jessie Mordine Young, BGC MA ‘21