"Showing Making": Reactivating Indigenous Knowledge in Navajo Dye Charts
Hadley Jensen (American Museum of Natural History/Bard Graduate Center)
Paper short abstract:
This paper will be the first to address the production and circulation of Navajo dye charts, particularly as a mode of visualization and subsequent preservation of indigenous knowledge about ecology, ethnobotany, and natural dyes.
Paper long abstract:
Dye charts have served as a vital tool in the visual documentation and representation of 'deep local' knowledge about Navajo textile production. Originally created in the 1950s by Mabel Burnside Myers (1922-1987), a Navajo weaver from Pine Springs, Arizona, dye charts were later disseminated for the tourist market but now provide an important material record of indigenous classification systems and ways of knowing. This paper will be the first to address the production and circulation of dye charts, particularly as a mode of visualization and subsequent preservation of indigenous knowledge about ecology, ethnobotany, and natural dyes. It will also examine the afterlives of these objects in anthropology and natural history museums, their relevance to Native communities today, and their dual position as objects of intercultural innovation and as products of Native agency. An ethnoaesthetic contextualization of dye charts will also privilege a reconstruction of the Native histories surrounding their production and dissemination, and their expression of Navajo weaving traditions today. Ultimately, this paper will provide a critical history of Navajo dye charts as they inform our understanding of postcolonial representation, the value of ethnobotanical collections within anthropology and natural history museums, the marketing of the American Southwest and its crafts, and histories of intercultural exchange, with an emphasis on the recovery of indigenous agency in their production. An analysis of these dynamics is essential for understanding, reconstructing, and contextualizing an important node in the ethnographic representation of Navajo culture.
Reactivating Ethnobotanical Collections in the Anthropology Museum