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Artist of the Month - June 2003

Naya Raines: Connecting through Weaving
by Sydney Francis

About 10 years ago, Naya Raines woke with a start, sat upright, and said out loud: “I think I need to weave.” She had not consciously desired to weave or seriously considered weaving before this sudden outburst. Shortly thereafter, she took a Navajo weaving workshop on the reservation which she lived. And although over the years she has appropriated new methods, techniques and styles, she has continued to weave with passion and a love for the art until this day.

Weaving is virtually as old and as enduring as human civilization itself. There is evidence that the Egyptians, 5000 years ago, made special tapestries for the pharaohs in select colors and patterns signifying their royal and spiritual heritage. Ancient Greek pottery, from 540 BCE, portrays women weaving cloth on large looms in the name of Athena, goddess of weaving as well as war. The Navajo, or the Diné people, learned weaving from Pueblo refugees in the late seventeenth century, but quickly developed their own style and refinements to the craft of weaving, allowing their weavings to express their stories, histories and their culture.

Like the Navajo, from which she learned to weave, Raines appreciates weaving as a holistic process, combining mind, body, emotions and spirit into the craft. The art of weaving express her self, her story and her environment. For example, Raines began working on “ Ciaramallow’s Dream” while she lived at the ocean. The colors and the forms started out as ocean waves: the blues and purples smeared together like the many colors of the ocean and the interplay of light. Wave forms appeared on the tapestry in the form of white, bubbling crests. In mid-tapestry, Raines moved to the Southwest, where she continued the tapestry. A transformation happened, however, and her waves began to morph into dancing figures like Kachina and the tapestry took on a whole new appearance, reflecting Raines’ internal and external transition to a new environment. The art and process of weaving gives Raines a lot of pleasure. The actual weaving is simple to learn and therefore the process is calm, rhythmic and meditative. Raines added that in the process of weaving and creating she feels most connected to God or to a Higher Order. And therefore, weaving gives her satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment, as well as a creative outlet.

Being a figurative and representational painter, myself, one of my main questions to Raines was how she came up with her free form, asymmetrical designs. She originally learned to draw out her designs first by making a cartoon, a preliminary, finished sketch, which gets pinned to the loom for guidance. But as she progressed in weaving found herself diverging from the pattern. She enjoys the organic detours and mysterious results of this intuitive and unplanned process. And thus she began weaving free-form designs without the aid of a preliminary pattern. However, Raines picks the color scheme before she begins. Yet she does not limit herself from adding additional colors and fibers as her tapestry progresses. Such is the case for her tapestry weaving entitled “Dreaming”. In “Dreaming”, Raines begins the weaving using hot reds, oranges, and yellows. But as she progresses in the tapestry she intuits that the piece calls for violets and greens and adds these new colors for balance and harmony. The end result is a vibrant mindscape of shapes and figures and colors that play to the active imagination.

There appears to be a narrative quality to Raines’ tapestries. Rather than being about the design or pattern, the irregular shapes move in a dynamic that silently expresses a story or an emotion. The shapes, although not necessarily identifiable, speak an archetypal language, which articulates some form of psychical meaning. And perhaps that is what abstract art aims to achieve, expressing some fundamental and essential meaning without literal form or subject. In addition, Raines’ tapestry weavings are a literal and figurative manifestation of her relationship to Spirit. And thus, through her process of connecting to a Divine Source through weaving, her tapestries cannot help but represent the mode of their creation. In other words, the underlying meaning or narrative of the tapestry weavings express the story deep spiritual connecting.

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