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Grace Henderson Nez

May 10, 1913 - July 14, 2006

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Navajo weaver Grace Henderson Nez created rugs and blankets with complex, balanced designs, always featuring the correct wool quality, yarn weight and weaving texture. “That's what gave me life,” she said of weaving. Here, she shows one of her hand-woven rugs, Photograph by GFR, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Weaving by Grace Henderson Nez, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez at an exhibition of weavers at the Museum of Northern Arizona. July 1994, photograph by ALH, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez talking about weaving, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Weaving by Grace Henderson Nez, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez, photograph by Robert Alan Clayton, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez at an exhibition of weavers at the Museum of Northern Arizona July 1994, Photograph by ALH, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Weaving by Grace Henderson Nez, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Grace Henderson Nez, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar
The hands of Grace Henderson Nez, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar
Grace Henderson Nez and her granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez was born on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. She was a weaver for most of her life — a life spent living in a hogan at the base of Ganado Mesa. “I started working with weaving as a young girl,” she told an interviewer in 2005. “And as a young girl, I did not do the warping myself. My mother and my grandmother did the warping for me, and they were the ones that taught me how to weave.”

By the time Nez was 8 years old, her mother and maternal grandmother had died, and her paternal grandparents took over raising her. Her paternal grandmother was also a good weaver and continued the girl’s education in the art.

Nez’s people raised sheep for food and wool. They sheared the sheep and carded and spun the wool. Dyes were made from natural materials such as plants, clay and ash. Wool was washed with yucca roots.

Grace Nez developed into a master weaver, creating rugs and blankets with complex, balanced designs, always featuring the correct wool quality, yarn weight and weaving texture. She liked to use designs from nineteenth-century chiefs' wearing blankets. They sold well and provided a connection to her people. Nez continued to use a heavy wooden loom her late husband made. She passed her skills along to her daughter, Mary Henderson Begay, and granddaughter, Gloria Jean Begay. Nez also learned to weave Hopi wedding baskets from her elder sister, who married into a Hopi family.

“Yes, I like weaving,” Nez told the interviewer. “That’s what gave me life.... It provided food for me and even the sheep’s wool, you know, we sell the wool, and that provides a living for us.

“How can we keep our weaving traditions going?” she said. “Just keep weaving. You have to be enthused about your weaving.”

Bibliography
Brinkley-Rogers, Paul. “How the West Was Once.” Arizona Republic (partial citation).
Higashi, Shawn. “Weaving Stays in the Family at Museum Exhibit.” The Navajo-Hopi Observer (October 19, 1994).
Two Bears, Davina. “Hanoolchaadi: Historic Textiles Selected by Four Navajo Weavers.” Native Peoples Magazine (spring, 1995).

Watch

Grace Henderson Nez interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer and translated by Gloria Jean Begay, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'How did you learn to weave?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'What are the names of the patterns?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay answers the question 'What does weaving mean to your grandmother?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'Are there different approaches to weaving?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'What did your family do for food?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'What is the symbolism of the designs?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Grace Henderson Nez's granddaughter Gloria Jean Begay translates the answer to the question 'Are there different approaches to weaving?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar