Weaving Words

Lesson Plan: Weaving Words

Bird and Cornstalk Rug
Ason Yellowhair, United States
1983

Overview

Students will look at the Bird and Cornstalk Rug in pairs and discuss Yellowhair’s inspiration from both natural and made-made forms. They will then engage in a creative writing exercise that develops their awareness of symbolism in their daily lives.

Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Standards

21st Century Learning Skills Addressed:

  • Critical Thinking and Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Collaboration
  • Self-Direction
  • Invention

2009 Colorado Academic Standards Primary Area Addressed:
Language Arts

  • Oral Expression and Listening
  • Reading for All Purposes
  • Writing and Composition
  • Research and Reasoning

Additional 2009 Colorado Academic Standards Addressed:
Visual Arts

  • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
  • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Relate and Connect to Transfer

Length of Lesson

One 50-minute lesson

Rationale

Ason Yellowhair’s rug is infused with symbolic meaning that can open students’ imaginations. Additionally, by observing the world around them, students can expand the scope of possibilities for their art, writing, and creativity.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • describe the symbolic meaning of the birds in Ason Yellowhair’s rug;
  • create two images from the natural world that symbolize something meaningful to them;
  • write a piece that weaves together images from Ason Yellowhair’s rug and the symbols they have created; and
  • choose vocabulary and writing devices that communicate their ideas clearly and powerfully for other readers and listeners.

Materials

  • Colored pencils and journals or scratch paper for each student
  • One copy of the Writing Activity and Writing Critique questions for each student
  • Student journals/lined paper and pencils, or computers with printers, for students to write their letters
  • About the Art sheet on Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • One color copy of the rug for every four students, or the ability to project the image in color on a wall or screen (ideal)

Lesson

  1. Project the image of Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug, or hand-out color copies to students. Have students brainstorm with a partner about the images on the rug to answer the following questions. Let them know they don’t need to worry about being right or wrong:
    • Where do they think the artist found her inspiration for the color of the leaves and stalks? (Yellowhair’s inspiration came from a Wrigley’s spearmint gum wrapper.)
    • What symbolic meaning might the birds have for the artist? (According to Yellowhair, her birds “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”)
    • Do the geometric shapes around the edges have any special meaning? (The shapes are part of Yellowhair’s family tradition, as is the large size.)
  1. Have some of the volunteers share their answers with the class.
  2. Creativity warm-up: Have students write down three logos or symbols they encounter in everyday life, and have them write at least two other things these symbols could mean.
  3. Ask students to draw upon experiences in their neighborhoods or on trips they may have taken to create two symbols based on natural elements. The symbols could be culturally influenced or have purely personal meaning. They should draw their symbols with colored pencils in journals on separate pieces of paper.
  4. Have students complete the writing activity and share their pieces with a partner or small groups of no more than four students. If you would like to give students more time to write, you may have them complete the writing at home or in class the next day. Writing Activity:
    • Write a descriptive paragraph or poem weaving together images from Ason Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug and the two symbols you created. The goal is to enable the reader to see and know the symbols as well as their meaning.
    • For example, the bluebirds in Ason Yellowhair’s rug are considered the bird of dawn. You could use images of a sunrise along with images of the bluebird in your writing.
    • If you would like, you can use the weaving image and literally “weave” words pictorially onto the page. Remember to draw upon your senses to create more powerful, vivid images (i.e. hear, see, smell, taste, and touch).
    • What were two powerful words or phrases in the writing?
    • Did any phrasing help you hear, see, smell, or taste what the writer was describing?
    • Did the symbolic imagery of the rug and the writer’s own symbols emerge through the writing?
    • What is one way the writing could have been more descriptive?
  1. Have students get into small groups to share and critique each other’s pieces.
    • What were two powerful words or phrases in the writing?
    • Did any phrasing help you hear, see, smell, or taste what the writer was describing?
    • Did the symbolic imagery of the rug and the writer’s own symbols emerge through the writing?
    • What is one way the writing could have been more descriptive?

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About the Art

Bird and Cornstalk Rug by Ason Yellowhair, United States, 1983

Who Made It?

Ason Yellowhair is an accomplished weaver who lives on the Navajo Nation, an area that covers over 27,000 square miles of land, extending into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. In 2002, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. Yellowhair began weaving banded geometric designs and moved to pictorial rugs in the 1950s, eventually settling on her present style in the 1970s. She describes weaving as very hard work: “You perspire a lot. A man might work hard chopping wood, his shirt hanging out or maybe no shirt at all. It’s the same with weaving—very hard work.” Yellowhair has shared her skill with her family, teaching most of her daughters to weave when they were children, and continuing a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

What Inspired It?

This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. They are now sold to tourists, collectors, and museums. Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug is part of the DAM’s Gloria Ross Collection—a collection of Navajo rugs from the late 1900s.

The history of Navajo weaving is one of change and constant innovation. Navajos learned loom weaving sometime in the 1600s from neighboring Pueblo peoples. The art form was further enhanced by the introduction of sheep by the Spanish. Trade, tourism, and the art market have been an inspiration and influence for artists, and have made a major impact on Navajo weaving.

For more resources related to this artwork, check out the "Find Out More" section for this object on Creativity Resource online.

Things to Look For

Bird and Cornstalk Rug by Ason Yellowhair, United States, 1983

Rug Design

This rug follows the unique Yellowhair family style, which is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction.

Plant Stalks

Unidentified plant stalks are arranged in horizontal bands across the width of the rug. They are adorned with red, white, orange, and beige flowers. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers.

Birds

Although birds are significant in traditional Navajo religion, Yellowhair says her birds carry no specific sacred meaning, but “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”

Border

The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.

Grey Background

Notice the uneven coloration of the grey background. The wool used to make this rug would have come from multiple batches.


Bird and Cornstalk Rug
Ason Yellowhair, United States
1983

The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum, 1984.4
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

This image is intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum.
This piece may not currently be on display at the museum.