Noël Bennett
Artist and Author

From 1968 to 1976 Noël Bennett lived on the Navajo reservation, learned elements of the Navajo language, and was gifted with weaving stories and techniques by twenty-one different Navajo weavers. One of these weavers was Tiana Bighorse. Another was Helen Nesbah Tsinnie.

Given the ages of some of the Navajo women who shared their thoughts with Helen and Noël back in the 1960s (Helen is now in her eighties and some of the women who were "old" in the 1960s were quoting their grandmothers), these oral traditions represent collective Navajo weaving thought from before the turn of the century to the 1980s. Perhaps a hundred years. Or more.

As Noël and Tiana wove and talked together, they became concerned with the gradual disappearance of the weaving skill among the younger Navajo girls and, in time, decided to record the weaving method for use by future generations. Sometimes the two worked together toward this end, sometimes they worked alone. In the end, Working with the Wool set down basic weaving techniques; Designing With the Wool followed with advanced techniques; Weavers Pathway set straight Navajo weavers' thoughts regarding one weaving detail-and contrasted these thoughts with the stories traders invented through the years to sell rugs at their posts; Navajo Weaving Way brings together these former books with updates, more detailed illustrations and photographs.   Halo of the Sun --a volume of short stories--sought to reveal and transcend the sometimes sticky, sometimes humorous complexity when Navajos and Anglos (Eastern and Western sensibilities) come together.  Bighorse the Warrior, a book that was Tiana Bighorse's idea and for which she was named Navajo-of-the-Year, put forth for perhaps the first time in such fullness (from the Navajo perspective) The Long Walk stories. Noël spoke at Tiana's memorial service in 2003.

Throughout all that time, Noël and Helen Nesbah Tsinnie were also weaving and talking. Their concern was that as the methodology and commitment to weaving would die out, so too would be lost the even more underlying content of weaving: the stories/legends/songs which were passed from Grandmother to Mother to Daughter at the loom; the collective voice of Navajo women which in this matriarchal culture gives substance to what it is to be Navajo--and what it is to be woman. On some occasions Helen and Noël went together to the hooghans of the old weavers to learn their traditional beliefs. Helen translated and Noël wrote down--on disparate scraps of paper--the essence of these conversations, preserving them in time. So that one day, these now documented traditional weaving beliefs could become a resource for the future.

Noel Bennett is interviewed on Living Juicy, a personal interview show with Rhea Goodman that shares her worldview with other creative, often nationally and internationally-known people in the arts and beyond, whose perspectives are inspiring and mind-opening.

Rhea Goodman interviewed Noel on KSFR (101.1 FM) “Living Juicy." on Monday, January 5, 2009.

Noel's story is fascinating. This is certainly a compelling show. Listen if you can.

In 1968, Noel Bennett went to the Navajo reservation intending to stay two years. Born into a cross-cultural family, advanced degrees from Stanford University, she was unprepared for being with the Navaho! She stayed eight years.

She stayed because she was shearing sheep and carding wool and spinning and dying and weaving on the Navajo loom, she was learning. She was learning what it was to be a woman in a matriarchal (and therefore gender-balanced) culture.  She was learning what it is that must be passed from grandmother to mother to daughter.

The power of story. The sacredness of song. The reverence of silence. And legend.

In the years after, Noel Bennett preserved these gifts for future generations.  With her Navajo mentor, Tiana Bighorse, she wrote nine books (including Working With the Wool, Halo of the Sun, Navajo Weaving Way, and Bighorse the Warrior) and gave hundreds of lectures and weaving workshops to universities and museums throughout the United States.

Today, her written/spoken word is transformed into paint: in large canvases she invokes scintillating surface and color to manifest the sensual and spiritual world-view of hozhoji. "The Infinite Moment: Union of Sensuality and Spirituality", can also be seen at Bosshard Gallery in the new Railyard District of Santa Fe.

See a list of these book titles available on the Internet.

by Noël Bennett and Tiana Bighorse.

Northland Publishing.
Copyright © 1971, 1983 by Noël Bennett

ISBN 0-87358-084-2
Library of Congress Catalog Card
Number 73-174994

Advanced Techniques In Navajo Weaving

by Noël Bennett

Northland Press / Flagstaff
Copyright © 1979 by Noël Kirkish Bennett

ISBN 0-87358-171-7


A clarification of the "Spirit Trail" in Navajo weaving
by Noël Bennett

Northland Press / Flagstaff
Copyright © 1974 by Noël Bennett

ISBN 0-87358-108-3
Library of Congress Card Number 73-78002

The Path from Fleece to Rug

by Noël Bennett and Tiana Bighorse

Interweave Press,Inc.
Text © 1977, Shared Horizons, Inc.
Photographs © John Running

ISBN 1-883020-30-6

Stories Told and Retold
by Noël Bennett

Northland Press / Flagstaff
Text © 1987 by Shared Horizons
Photographs © 1987 by John Running

ISBN 0-87358-437-6 softcover
Library of Congress Card Number 86-46366


by Tiana Bighorse, Edited by Noël Bennett
with a foreword by Barry Lopez.

The University of Arizona Press,
Copyright © 1990, The Arizona Board of Regents.

ISBN 0-8165-1189-6   ISBN 0-8165-1189-5 (pbk.)

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