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Honoring those who ‘wove us’

As a 17-year-old, Darby Raymond-Overstreet remembers wanting to get as far away from Arizona as possible.

That’s one of the reasons she chose to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, more than 2,500 miles away from her hometown of Flagstaff. But it wasn’t long before homesickness set in.

” ‘I can’t see the sky; it’s too green’, ” Raymond-Overstreet, now 23, recalls from when she first started at the Ivy League school. “I was longing for home a lot.”

That feeling translated into the Navajo artist discovering ways to use her home and culture for inspiration. She will be bringing her digital portraiture and smaller prints, which she says comment on how the past fits into “contemporary Navajo identity,” to her first Indian Market booth this weekend.

“I’m kind of nervous, but I’m really excited to participate, for sure,” said Raymond-Overstreet. Along with being a first-time vendor, she has also never been to Indian Market. “It’s a great opportunity,” she said.

Raymond-Overstreet graduated from Dartmouth in 2016 with degrees in psychology and studio art, and moved to Santa Fe this past September.

While she grew up creating pencil and charcoal drawings, she did not go to New Hampshire specifically to study art. But she kept taking classes, including in digital art. It’s a medium she was drawn to because, she said, it’s exciting to explore what she’s able to create with it and it’s something she can do anywhere. Raymond-Overstreet eventually found herself taking on a second major.

Her series in which she recreates portraits of Navajo people using Navajo weaving patterns and then suspends the images from large, hand-made wooden looms began to take form during her senior year. She described the work as a way to honor 19th- to mid-20th-Century weavers.

“Just their fortitude and resilience, and keeping that practice alive,” Raymond-Overstreet said about the weavers. “They gave us, contemporary current Navajo generations, a lot. During the time they were weaving, they were weaving as a means of caring for their families. It was literally putting food on the table to take care of their kids.

“So in that way, I kind of see it as they wove us – and our parents and grandparents – into what is Navajo culture today. It’s really putting that idea out literally.”

“Stephanie” by artist Darby Raymond Overstreet is made from an old photo of her mother. (Courtesy of Darby Raymond-Overstreet)

She has used images of family-owned rugs for her pattern samples, but most of them have come from books at the library because of how expensive and heavily traded the weavings of that era are. She downloads the pictures onto her computer and selects motifs to turn into infinite patterns.

“(It is) kind of like painting where you’ll mix your colors, and you’ll dab and you’ll paint with that, I’ll have my arsenal of patterns that I’ve made and I’ll draw with those,” she said.

She’ll then put those patterns over a base image. Right now, she is taking pictures of family and friends from old photo albums.

Navajo artist Darby Raymond-Overstreet poses with her mixed-media art piece titled “Riah,” the name of her friend in the photo. Raymond-Overstreet will have a booth at the Santa Fe Indian Market this weekend. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

While walking through her Santa Fe home last month, she named the people used in the works that she will be bringing to Indian Market. One is her high school best friend, Riah. Others are old photos of her mother, Stephanie, one at age 12 and the other of her holding Raymond-Overstreet as an infant. There are also photos of her uncle and grandfather.

Though she’s using family faces now, Raymond-Overstreet hopes to expand by making portraits for other people, so they can have artwork of their own families in their homes.

For market, she will bring portraits that are both connected and separate from the basswood and pine looms she makes to display them. Portraits that go onto the looms, which are about four feet tall, are printed onto canvas and edged with Churro wool yarn. She then weaves a single piece of yarn through the loom and connects it to the edges of the canvas. “It’s suspended in the air,” she noted while holding onto the loom with the print of Riah.

She also sees her work as a way to “reclaim” traditional patterns following decades of cultural appropriation. She acknowledged that while the skill was lost in her family – Raymond-Overstreet’s great-aunt and her mom’s paternal grandmother were weavers, but the skill didn’t get passed on – she remembers growing up admiring the few rugs her family had at home and feeling a connection to them.

“It’s really about putting that link about where these patterns came from, who they were for, in the sense that these weavers wove to take care of their families,” said Raymond-Overstreet.

Darby Raymond-Overstreet makes digital prints of people and places overlaid with traditional Navajo weaving designs. This piece is called “Shiprock.” (Courtesy of Darby Raymond-Overstreet)

Going forward, she hopes to create more landscape images following the same theme. She pointed to one print that will be at the market in which she covered a picture of Shiprock on the Navajo Nation in Northern New Mexico.

“All of these patterns, when the weavers made those rugs, everything comes out of the land,” said Raymond-Overstreet, referring to natural dyes, what the sheep used for wool would eat, and the philosophies and traditions that inspired the textiles came from this area.

“It’s all based on the reservation where we’re from, Dinétah. I wanted to reflect that as well … . It’s all connected.”