When Navajo Holy People Made Horse

The Navajo Creation Story of Horse

Here we’d like to share with you a wonderful story, for stories jumped to life at the same time as paintings. This is the Navajo story of First Horse.

“When the Holy People first made the horse, it was a complete thing, but it would not come to life.  They tried to get it to rise up on its strong legs, but it would not rise. Caterpillar was asked to help. ‘How can I help?’ he asked.

“’You know,’ one of the Holy People said, ‘where the sacred flints are kept.’”

“’Yes, this is true. But I am pretty slow getting around.’”

“Then the Holy People prayed over Caterpillar and he became Butterfly. Swiftly he flew to the Mountain Where Flint Is Kept. After gathering four flints, he returned to the Holy People and put the flints into the hooves of the horse.

The great horse stirred, quivered, and came to life. Then it surged, leaped fully into life, struck the air with its hooves, and galloped off into the clouds.

“’Look,” a Holy Person said. ‘The horse makes the marks of Butterfly when it dances on its hooves!’ And it has been that way ever since.”

Navajo people believe that there are Five Horses of the Sun Father. And, they believe that they are a way of telling time, Navajo-style. White shell and pearl horses represent dawn, turquoise is noon, red shell is sunset, and jet or coal is night.

(Twin Rocks Trading Post would like to acknowledge the book: An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers.)

Stop in at Twin Rocks Café. (You might be able to pick up a copy of the Father’s book.) After you’ve enjoyed your Navajo Taco, stroll out the door and down the path to the Twin Rocks Trading Post. We’d be happy to share paintings by L. Holiday with you – they’re a favorite at our southwest gallery.

Enjoy this day of horses and all things mystical and beautiful!

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Mary Holiday Black, Legendary Basket Weaver, visits Twin Rocks

VIDEO: Legendary Mary Holiday Black shares meaning of water vessel with Twin Rocks Trading Post

Mary Holiday Black, Legendary Master Basket Weaver visits Twin Rocks Trading Post, Bluff, UT

Mary Holiday Black, Legendary Master Basket Weaver

Above, watch the video of Mary Holiday Black, legendary Navajo Basket Weaver, speaking with our queen of Twin Rocks, Priscilla.  She’s talking with Priscilla about the ceremonial meaning of the vessel and the weaving of it .  Big stuff and the conversation of two delightful women.

Okay, the video is longer than the media gurus say it should be, but you are watching an artist here, a Navajo icon, a glory and a wonder.

“One of the reasons we want to keep basket-making going among our people,” Mary says, “is because baskets are important when a person gets healed, to bring rain, for weddings, the Fire Dance, the Seven-Day Ceremony.”

Mary Black is largely responsible for the preservation and renaissance of the art of Navajo basketry. She  truly is a legend in her own time.

Mary received the Utah Governor’s 1995 Folk Art Award and, in September of 1996, she received a $10,000 National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.  It was presented to her in Washington D.C. by First Lady Hillary Clinton.

The matriarch of a large and talented family of basket weavers, Mary Holiday Black has preserved the tradition of Navajo basketry.  And, she has revolutionized it with her daring creativity. Recognized by experts as the nation’s preeminent Navajo basket weaver, Mary’s pieces are highly valued collector’s items.

Her story is worth telling.  In 1960 there were only about a dozen active basket makers on the Navajo reservation.  Most women had turned to the more profitable art of rug weaving.  One of those basket weavers was Mary Black. Taught to weave by an elderly relative when she was 11, Mary has spent over half of a century creating baskets for sacred ceremonial purposes as well as the art world.

She shares her knowledge with anyone willing to learn. Nine of Mary’s eleven children have followed in her footsteps, becoming world-class weavers in their own right. Each ceremonial basket has a story. ‘There are many basket stories,” Mary says. “If we stop making the baskets, we lose the stories.”

And, each ceremonial basket has a song that accompanies it. Mary knows the songs and other tribal lore because her parents, Teddy and Betty Holiday, were medicine people. Strict tribal taboos dictating how and when ceremonial baskets can be woven contribute to their scarcity. Mary has successfully challenged some of the taboos, arguing in favor of preserving cultural history through basketry. (Here we cheer for Mary!)

Mary was one of the first people to consider weaving baskets with imaginative designs targeted toward the Indian art collector’s market. Many of her baskets depict traditional beliefs, stories or legends.  Some are inspired by Navajo sandpaintings.

Working daily, a basket may take up to four months to complete. (Unimaginable and inspiring in our hurry-hurry world.) Mary’s hands often ache from the strain of weaving because she keeps constant pressure on a basket’s sides so they will curve upward when it’s finished. ‘These days my hands get tired, and I have to light a fire and pray for energy,” she has said. ‘They are not as quick as when I was a child!”

Mary Holiday Black is indeed a treasure, and we are honored to count her as a friend.  We at Twin Rocks are honored to offer her baskets and help keep the fusion of Navajo tradition and cutting edge art alive.

The Southwest Recipe for Navajo Frybread. Enjoy!

A recipe for Indian Frybread

Treat your Friends with this Recipe for Navajo Frybread.

When you tour the Southwest, you must include the four corners area. And, that visit should include Navajo Frybread. (We may be prejudiced, but we believe the frybread at the Twin Rocks Café, Bluff, UT,  is some of the best you’ll find.)

Whether you are a foodie from New York City or Los Angeles, or a Midwesterner taking a leisurely Southwest tour in your RV, you will fall in love with Navajo Frybread.  That’s a promise.

What do you do when you get back home and can’t find Indian Frybread at your corner deli?   Here we present you with a recipe for frybread.  Hooray!

  • Ingredients: 3 cups all-purpose flour 2 tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. salt 1 cup warm water 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
  • Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Pour in the warm water and mix.
  • Knead the dough until it is soft (but not sticky), and add a little more flour or water as needed. Put the dough in a bowl, cover it, and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into 12 balls, and roll each one until it is about 5 inches across.  (This is totally up to you – you may want to go for a piece of frybread that is twice that size.  Make yourself happy!)  Whatever size you make the circles, the dough should be about ¼ of an inch thick.  Now, poke a small hole in the center.
  • Heat your oil in a deep and, preferably, heavy pan.  A large cast iron skillet works well.  The temperature of the oil should be about 375 degrees.  Drop the bread, just one at a time, into the hot oil and turn when the frybread is gold.   Serve with butter or, our personal favorite, a good, local honey.  Or use the frybread as a base to make a Navajo taco.

Warning:  Indian Frybread is addictive.  Enjoy, and treat your friends to the food you discovered while traveling through the Southwest!