The Gifts of Spider Woman

A History of Navajo Culture, Mythology and Art

A glimpse into a Navajo life will show a parallel trail between their art, memories of a traditional lifestyle, Native American symbolism, and the unique beauty of their homeland. Navajos have fond memories of sitting beside and watching their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers clean, card, and spin wool to weave into magnificent textiles. They watched their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers turn sheets of silver and chunks of turquoise into objects of beauty. They remember the timelessness of the before-dawn quite when they rose to pray to the holy people, and they remember watching the yeii bichai dance on a star filled night. This people’s memories and experiences draw them literally and figuratively to their homeland for inspiration, and their arts and crafts are, in turn, expressions of this heritage. America has its deepest cultural roots in the arts of its Natives. Let us open a window and introduce to you this unique American experience.

About The Presenter


John Rich Jr. Gift of the Spider Woman Presenter

Watching his grandpa stand on Native baskets to show their quality, hiding behind a stack of Navajo rugs to be left alone while reading a book, or sitting on a flat Hopi roof top to watch the Katsinas dance are the childhood experiences of John Rich Jr. He has worked to build personal day-to-day relationships with native artists that have developed into a great love for their history, culture, and art.

As a buyer for over forty years at the Gift Shop at Jacob Lake Inn, a family business since 1923, his knowledge comes from a lifetime of dealing with Native American artists as friends, not just suppliers or goods for sale. John’s understanding has translated into a desire to teach others about native culture and art. He teaches his staff, “We are not sales people, we are teachers; the merchandise will sell itself.” He has taught in many situations from small informal groups to guest speaker at the university level. His knowledgeable service, gifted communication and love for the artists will present an enjoyable and informative experience among the native people of the red rock desert.

He teaches his staff, “We are not sales people, we are teachers; the merchandise will sell itself.” He has taught in many situations from small informal groups to guest speaker at the university level. His knowledgeable service, gifted communication and love for the artists will present an enjoyable and informative experience among the native people of the red rock desert.


What The Presentation Will Teach You

Navajo Rugs and Textiles

Navajo Weaving Jacob Lake Inn

Dinetah, the home of Ni’hookaa Diyan Dine “The Lords of The Earth”–the Navajo–is also the home of their famous weavings. Navajo weaving is one of the finest examples of Native American art. Still produced on traditional upright looms, these extraordinary textiles evoke the soul of theSouthwest. The place names associated with the various patterns–Ganado, Teec Nos Pos, Wide Ruins, Two Grey Hills–call up romantic echoes of an America that many people believe has disappeared, but is still living and breathing and waiting to be experienced.

Navajo Sandpaintings

Sand Paintings Jacob Lake Inn

Navajos believe a doorway is opened between the world and a supernatural world when a sandpainting is done exactly correctly during a healing ceremony. During the ceremony the patient enters the sandpainting, thus putting their life back in balance. The ceremony is referred to by the Navajo as an iikaah, “a place where the gods come and go.” The painting is designed to reestablish balance, thus restoring lost health. When the ceremony is completed the sandpainting is destroyed thus completing the healing.

Commonly Used Words and Phrases in the Presentation

 Jacob Lake Native American Art

Cultural and Religious Phrases


A supernatural being with more power than humans. The word Yeii is usually translated as”God.” The masked dancers who portray the yeii in ceremonies are called yeii bichaii.


“Hozho” is a Navajo term often interpreted as meaning “beauty.” Perhaps a better interpretation would be “harmony,” but harmony with the unseen supernatural world, the natural world, with friends and family and within oneself.


An ethnic designation pertaining to several groups of southwestern Native Americans that include the prehistoric Anasazi and the historic and modern peoples of Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna (the western Pueblos) and the Tewa-, Tiwa-, Tanoan-, and Keres-speaking (eastern Pueblo) Indian villages along theRio Grande in New Mexico.

Historical Periods

Classic Period, Classic Style Navajo Weaving

Classic Period (prior to 1865) This “traditional” phrase is known for fine blankets, mantas, and other garments, woven for Navajo use and intertribal trade. Terraced tapestry pattern on dresses and blankets evolved from simple, right-angled basketry designs. The sarape-style blankets of the period are characterized by intense, densely integrated design schemes of terraced geometric elements, using a limited number of colors (natural white and brown, indigo blue, and raveled insect-dyed red).

Late Classic Period (Circa 1865-1885)

This early “transitional” period is marked by increasing influences from the outside. Many sarape-style blankets have patterns related to the terraced design schemes from the earlier Classic Period but are characterized by increased banding in patterned areas (i.e. less densely integrated pattern), and serrate motifs borrowed from Hispanic or Mexican weaving. Many different colors and types of yarns (especially 4-ply Germantown yarns, a number of raveled and raveled/re-spun materials, handspun wool, and so on) were combined.

Transitional Period (1880-1900)

A time when the production of Navajo blankets made for native consumption and for trade to other peoples who would wear them was changing to the production of rugs, other home furnishings, and souvenirs for sale to the outsiders. Weaving of this period is characterized by the use of many new materials (a continuation of the Late Classic trend), Germantown yarns, bright colors, bordered patterns, and heavier spinning and weaving in order to conform to the requirements of a carpet rather than a wearing blanket.

Bosque Redondo

An alternative name for Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where the Navajo were held by the U.S. Government from 1863 to 1868, in an effort to control and “civilize” them. Rounded by Kit Carson and his men, the Navajos were taken on “The Long Walk” from their lands to the camp at Bosque Redondo, hundreds of miles away from their homes. Many people died, livestock were slaughtered, and lands were lost. Life changed dramatically for the Navajo people at this time. The people were exposed to many new trade items and to very different lifestyles. Although some returned to northern Arizona after 1868, life was never the same. Bosque Redondo remains a symbol of this major turning point in Navajo life and culture.

Weaving Definitions


The yarns that are woven over and under the warp yarns: the warp and weft yarns are usually placed at right angles to each other.


the parallel yarns that are strung on a loom and form the foundation onto which the weft yarns are woven.


A flat, broad stick used in Navajo and Pueblo weaving to open and maintain the weaving shed and, sometimes, to compact weft yarns into the weave. Usually several inches wide and a foot and a half long.


The process of cleaning and straightening wool in preparation for spinning by brushing the fibers with a pair of carders (flat brushes with wire teeth set closely in rows and held by handles attached at one end) or with a mechanized carding machine.


The process of drawing out and twisting a group of relatively short fibers into a continuous strand to form a yarn or thread. The two possible directions of spin are noted the letters S and Z because the angle of spin in a yarn can be represented bu the slanting direction of the central portion of each letter. The following notation  is used.

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