Sarah Paul Begay had just learned that her impressive weaving in the form of a massive Navajo rug had been named Best of Show in the 2006 Santa Fe Indian Market competition. She stood with hands cupped to her face, instinctively hiding the tears that filled her eyes.
Composing herself, she spoke of how much work the weaving had been and what had inspired her to complete it. It represented three years of labor, with 195 colors and two-and-one-half miles of warp in its 12’8” by 9’ 9” breadth and 12 panels.
“I wove it to honor my Grandmother,” said Begay. “I used to run off to my Grandmother’s house, with my Mother certain I was trying to get away from chores at home.” Instead, Begay was learning life’s lessons and becoming imbued with the tradition of Navajo weaving.
Holding back the tears and struggling with the best way to express her feelings, Begay gave the people gathered at the Tesuque Room at Santa Fe’s Inn at Loretto a description of the symbols and meanings portrayed in the weaving.
She described the dyes she used: stink buds, Folger’s coffee, Yuban, black walnut, cochineal (purple) and a light blue from ground-up battery casing tempered with baking soda. “At one point,” she said to the collective chuckle of the group, “I added vinegar to the mix and learned they don’t go together. That mix went up.”
She talked about the legend of coyote and the holy man. She pointed out the four sacred buffaloes, the four Navajo protective bears facing east and a central panel showing the horse and cart returning home from the trading post, with the family dog running behind.
She pointed out the panels of yei bei chei dancers, at night on one side and during the day on the other side. The top six panels were identified for their traditional Navajo weaving patterns, with the upper central panel replicating the very first pattern she ever wove under the tutelage her Grandmother.
“As I was pulling the final thread, yarn, I had tears in my eyes. I said, ‘Thank you, Grandmother. I’m sorry for all the name-calling.' ”
Today, she has a Best of Show Award to show for her dedication to work and her dedication to her Grandmother’s teachings.