Rising more than 1,500 feet above the high desert plains of the Navajo Nation, the imposing and solitary rock formation known as Shiprock seems destined to carry with it an aura of majesty and haunting mysticism. Sacred to the Navajo, the island mountain (or inselberg), plays a key role in religious and cultural tradition. In a digital print depicting the monument, New Mexico-based artist Darby Raymond-Overstreet rendered the rocky outcropping in vivid detail. In the pale blue sky surrounding it, the patterns of a Navajo rug can be seen. Less noticeable, at first glance, are the weaving patterns in the rock itself.
“It’s really subtle,” Raymond-Overstreet said. “A lot of people look at it and they don’t notice that the image is completely made of patterns.”
Raymond-Overstreet, who is participating in the annual We Are the Seeds indigenous art market and culture festival for the first time this year, is a digital artist and printmaker who creates landscapes, portraits, and abstractions derived from images of historic Navajo weavings. A member of the Navajo Nation, she’s originally from Arizona and moved to Chimayó in 2017 after receiving bachelor’s degrees in art and psychology from Dartmouth.
“The patterns that I’m working with are from rugs woven between the 1880s and 1950s,” said Raymond-Overstreet, who begins each print by scanning an image into a computer. “They’re mostly rugs that are part of various collections. A lot of the scans are from printed material from those collections. Some of them are from my own family’s collection.”
After scanning the image, she samples different motifs from the rug and uses them to create patterns in Photoshop. If she’s doing a portrait, she uses a drawing tablet to digitally capture a person’s likeness, which is rendered in grayscale. She then overlays the weaving patterns, which give the portrait color and a sense of texture. Like the crevices, fissures, and shadows in her digital print of Shiprock, the facial features are all filled in by the zigzags, diamond motifs, and other geometric designs used in Navajo weaving.
Raymond-Overstreet uses Navajo rug designs in her art as a way to honor a living tradition with deep roots, one that is intrinsic to Navajo culture.
“A lot of the portraits that I do are of people that I know,” she said. “Through doing their portraits, I’m honoring the weavers, because most Navajo families have had weavers at some point, especially during the period from the 1880s through the 1950s. That’s the Southwest trade-industry era. They were weaving to put food on the table for their families and participating in the American economy through trade.”
Raymond-Overstreet’s own family hasn’t included a weaver in at least two generations. But in her work, weaving serves as a metaphor for the confluence of people, land, and culture. “All of our medicine, our dyes, even the sheep, comes from the land,” she said. “We all nourish ourselves on the land. That’s kind of another take on weaving itself.” ◀