Part II: An interview with Navajo Master Weaver Pamela Brown
This article is a continuation of my miniseries to introduce you to the living people who influence my work. Here, I present a young woman who inspires me both as an artist in her own right and with her stories of traditional Navajo life.
Meet Navajo Master Weaver Pamela Brown
Pamela Brown lives in New Mexico near the Toadlena Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation. For the past 100 years, the Toadlena region has been home for to the finest Navajo weavers; the aesthetic of this area is to use natural-color wools, ultra-fine spinning, and complex geometric designs.
Pamela is considered by Navajo weaving expert Mark Winter to be a “Master Weaver”—her pictorial depictions of Navajo life are considered among the best of the best. Even more impressive is that Pamela is only in her 30s. She has a lifetime of amazing weavings yet to create.
I met Pam when I participated in a fundraiser for young Toadlena weavers. She shared with me stories of her youth—Pam told me one of her earliest memories was the sound of the loom “clacking” as she was placed next to it as a baby. This notion of the unity of family life and weaving was just the creative spark I needed to create Patterns of Tradition, a painting that shows the seamless integration of artistry, family, and environment in the traditional Navajo lifeways.
For me as an artist, Pamela helps bridge the gap in my mind between the traditional life and modern day. In addition to creating her renowned weavings, Pamela is a married mother of two young boys and is enrolled in a health education program with a goal to enter nursing school. In her spare time, she is an avid runner.
Pamela Brown patiently tries to teach James Ayers to card wool the Navajo way
Question: The art world has an intense interest in Native American cultures. How do you feel about that?
Answer: I think interest is extremely good—I hope it continues to grow. I like to see people interested in Native American cultures.
What was your path as an artist?
I’ve been weaving since I was seven years old. I started by doing stripes and then geometrics. I just took it on myself to change the patterns and get creative.
Although you use traditional materials and methods. Your weavings are very contemporary in design. Does the public “get” your work?
Not at first—people expect to see geometric patterns and traditional symbolism; it takes explanation for people to understand the concept behind the images.
What I weave are lots of autobiographical stories and scenes that include the people around me. Most of my work shows me and my sister on the reservation and as I have met people and heard their stories, I created those too.
How do you how balance the traditional ways and modern life?
My family is extremely traditional so maintaining the old ways is not so hard for me. The biggest issue is the language barrier. I have the hardest time with speaking Navajo and it is hard for me to understand it. My boys don’t really speak it either, which is a sad thing for me. I wish we could speak more.
How do you feel of seeing historic Navajo life portrayed in my work—especially since I based one of my paintings on your memories?
I loved that painting [ Patterns of Tradition] even before I knew that my story inspired it. I was excited about the whole scene with the weaver and liked seeing the traditional clothes, the hogan, and the cradleboard. It was a gratifying image for me.
How do you feel about me painting the Navajo culture when I am not Native American myself?
I don’t mind it. Actually, I think it is welcoming and inspiring to see someone trying so hard to portray as many different cultures as possible.
I’d like to thank Pamela for giving me the opportunity to share her thoughts. You can see Pamela Brown’s renowned weavings on the Toadlena Trading Post website.
Part I of this miniseries on the people who inspire me features Apache model LeAnn Murphy. Please click here to read more: About Apache model LeAnn Murphy.