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6 Urban Natives in the Arts

As more and more Natives move to cities, artists urge merging identities and reject the ‘urban’ label

(page 4 of 7)

Denver—Lynda Teller Pete

In the days when Lynda Teller Pete’s (Diné) grandmother and then her mother were in the prime of their weaving in Newcomb, New Mexico, traditional songs were sung in Navajo to pass the hundreds of hours it took to create their world-renowned rugs and tapestries.

As a fifth-generation weaver, Pete, who has lived in the Denver area since 1986, still uses the traditional techniques of her forebears, but with an urban twist.

“I like listening to Social Distortion, Dave Matthews and Pink. There are some Navajo and powwow songs on my iPod. You get different vibes from different songs,” says Pete, who is 54.

“Warping is my favorite stage [of weaving]. It’s the beginning of something. You sit there and go through songs in your head,” she continues. “I also say my prayers, because warping is a time where I think about where the tapestry will end up and whose house it will be in.”

 

 

Pete’s mother, Ruth Teller, began teaching her what’s known as the Two Grey Hills style of weaving when Pete was six years old. The style is unique in that weavers use only the natural color of the sheep’s wool, shades of tan, brown, black and white.

Pete has been winning awards and ribbons for her weaving since she was 12 years old. And although college was paid for through the sales of her rugs and her mother’s rugs, Pete started weaving full-time back in 2010, after nearly 20 years in various social-work and government roles. In addition, she makes a living speaking, teaching and giving workshops across the country on Navajo weaving.

“I started teaching so they would give accurate information, as opposed to learning Navajo weaving from books that weren’t even written by Navajos to begin with,” Pete says. “That’s one of the things I’m doing now, is writing an instructional book, just a basic how-to book. It’ll be finished when it’s finished, just like one of our tapestries.”

Living in an urban area like Denver allows Pete to gain inspiration and continue learning from unexpected places, like crafts shows or the natural-fiber group run by non-Natives. She also likes experimenting outside the Two Grey Hills style by collecting various plants to make natural dyes for her wool.

Still, her long-term goal is to move back to Newcomb to ensure the family’s weaving skills are passed on to the next generation.

“It’s a way of life, more than just what people would consider craft work,” Pete says. “When I work, I think about the harmony the tapestry will bring to someone’s home, and while I collaborate with buyers on design aspects, I also put a lot of me into it …. My sister says I weave all my hopes and dreams into my rugs, and as I continue to learn and grow as a weaver, I’m beginning to realize what that means.”

More information about Lynda Teller Pete and her workshop schedule can be found at www.navajorugweavers.com.

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Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota) is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. She is a freelance journalist who lives in the Colorado Springs area. She can be reached at www.jtatewalker.com.