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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Generations of Weaving Memories

In the creative life of Navajo-Dine artist, educator, and author Melanie A. Yazzie, the process of dreaming is not confined to the realm of sleep; dreaming occupies space and time during quiet, reflective moments we find between each breath every day. Living in a world often out of balance, Melanie strives to create peace and balance in her work, where colors and shapes fill the space with serene harmony.

Melanie grew up on the Navajo Reservation near Many Farms, Arizona. She is from the Salt Water River Clan, Born of the Bitter Water Clan. Her maternal grandfather's clan is Edge Water, and her paternal grandfather's clan is Red Streak into the Water. Both her parents were educators who worked full-time, leaving Melanie in the care of her maternal grandparents. She remembers, "My first experience in art was when I was three years old, attending a local Montessori preschool. I had a smock made from one of my father's old shirts to protect my clothes while I painted. My first painting was a three-year-old’s interpretation of an elephant, which I created with blue and purple washes on a large sheet of paper. I gifted the painting to my mother; she still has it; the experience of that first painting is still with me today."

Melanie's family taught her the value of creativity, productivity, and a strong work ethic as she grew older. Her grandmothers were weavers, and she credits her mother's mother, Thelma Baldwin, with teaching her the importance of practice and dedicating herself to maintaining regular studio / creative time. Her mother's father, Tom Baldwin, was also imaginative, building fences, corrals, and doors for his storage buildings from discarded Coca-Cola and Pepsi signs; resourcefulness was his specialty. Along with creativity and resourcefulness, Melanie took to heart the strong examples from multi-generations in her family who stressed placing education and community first and foremost in building a life of purpose. Her work over the years is an example of incorporating ancestral wisdom and knowledge into her creative process.

In her senior year in high school, Melanie signed up for an art class, which became her introduction to printmaking. The experience became essential to her life’s goal to be and live as an artist. Immediately after graduation, with plans set for her to attend Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, Melanie took off for Mexico; needless to say, her parents were not happy with her decision. However, she admits she needed the time to experience other indigenous cultures, explore and discover her identity, and understand the importance of continuing her education. "I did return to enroll in Arizona State University in 1985 and graduated with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in 1990. The next year, I enrolled in the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, and completed my Master of Fine Arts in 1993." Melanie admits when she began her career path as an artist, she never thought she would eventually become a University Lecturer with access to the equipment she needed to produce her art. Today, Melanie A. Yazzie is a Professor of Art Practices and Head of Printmaking at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Along the way, Melanie was an Instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts and College of Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Visiting Artist and Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Arizona, School of Art in Tucson, Arizona, and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho. A few of her honors and awards are the Mellon Foundation Artist in Residence at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Artist in Residence at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, a Grant Recipient from the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, an Award Winner in the 29th Juried Member’s Show, Printmaking Council of New Jersey, Somerville, New Jersey, and a Selected Artist for the International Juried Portfolio, Innovative Printmaking on Handmade Paper, Hand Papermaking, in Washington DC to name a few. Melanie is also active in the print media community, with citations in dozens of books and magazines featuring Printmaking.

Many permanent collections in National Museums feature Melanie's work such as the Anchorage Museum of History & Art, the Art Museum of Missoula, the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Kennedy Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and the Denver Art Museum. She exhibits nationally and internationally in Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Estonia, Korea, China, and Canada. Melanie A. Yazzie has traveled the world teaching her art and connecting with people through their families and stories. There was a time when Melanie wondered what she was doing as an artist, printmaker, surface design creator, and a sculptor; she thought perhaps she should have been a weaver like her grandmothers. The wisdom of her grandmother offered focus to Melanie by saying, "I didn't grow up going to school and learning English; the way I see it, you are weaving your thoughts and ideas into designs differently. I see you as a traditional weaver." A few years ago, Melanie was asked to help with a project for the Museum of Natural History’s collection of Navajo rugs housed at the University of Colorado Boulder campus, one of the world's largest collections.

While, working on the project, her grandmother's rugs appeared in the collection. One weaving was recognized by Melanie's mother as one of her mother's rugs tagged Mrs. Tom Baldwin. The other weaving was recognized by Melanie's dad as his mother's quilt tagged as anonymous, which was soon corrected. Undoubtedly, as a Professor of Art Practices and Head of Printmaking, at UC Boulder, Melanie knew she was the right place, home again with her grandmother's quilts as well as her art today. Melanie A Yazzie knew then she was a traditional weaver of memories and stories for all people. Since 1994, Melanie A Yazzie's work has been represented by the Glenn Green Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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