Artist Spotlight: Tiffany Yazzie

I met Tiffany many, many years ago when we both worked at the planetarium in Albuquerque. She was a UNM student employee and she helped me wrangle school groups coming to visit. I adore this woman. We hadn’t seen or heard from each other in many years, but finally reconnected and I am so thrilled!

Tiffany Yazzie a Navajo Weaver and Artist. Using natural fibers or mixed media, she narrates her artistic process with visual storytelling of inspiration or cultural significance behind each piece. One focus of her work is to tell a story and show the process of creating is art itself. Navajo Weaving is also her personal outlet of creative expression, an endeavor to preserve family tradition and a connection to those who have taught her. She was born and raised on the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona.

Have you always been creative? 

Yes and even encouraged to do so. As a girl, my mother always shared interesting stories of ingenuity from her readings or upbringing. She was like my personal version of MacGyver, surprising me with her inventive uses of common items around our home. That is what I love about the process of creating art:  it challenges you to be resourceful with materials around you – to make something original – in surprising new ways.

What are your favorite mediums to work in?

I love working with fiber, mixed media and graphite to create process and narrative art.

Weaving with natural fibers is a wonder because the results can be both unexpected and beautiful. It’s also a “touchy” medium that turns my fingers and hands into weaving tools. The sense of touch is key in weaving and also dear to me. The springy and spongy feeling of sheep hair summons a tactile memory of watching my grandmother weave, feeding the lambs milk, or playing under the wet clouds of wool hanging from gram’s tree branches. When I am lucky to get raw wool from home, I enjoy the long traditional practice of creating yarn from scratch. The process of washing, carding and spinning the soft shimmering curls of hair from sheep and goats is my A.S.M.R.  

I switch to mixed media when I need a break from a large or intricate weaving project. The sudden medium change is a fun challenge, like a puzzle or riddle. Just figuring out what materials to use and how to form your materials into something interesting, is a refreshing change. 

Graphite is my “forever” favorite medium. I remember when I sharpened my first pencil and instantly, I fell in love with how the pointy lead tip grinded into a silvery path of line and grains. I was hooked. So I always keep a graphite pencil and sketchbook nearby.  

Are you self taught?

Drawing was natural for me. Even mixed media felt natural because of my mother’s innate cleverness and resourcefulness with her surroundings. Then taking pictures of the process and turning it into a visual story with multimedia elements, like sound and motion graphics, was a self learning experience. However, as a Navajo Weaver, my mother and grandmothers were my first teachers. 

My mother showed me the details to setting up a loom and warp for weaving. Then she left the designs up to me. Both my grandmothers taught me much about sheep and goats. My grandmother, Susie Yazzie, took charge of my education on processing sheep and goat hair into yarn. Sometimes, it took a whole summer to process yarn from scratch. She would shear the sheep in May, clean the wool in June, and card and spin the wool in July or even into the winter months. It was like watching “Grandma TV” 24-7.  I probably spent a thousand hours watching my grandmother make yarn and weave for tourists in Monument Valley, Arizona. 

Where do you find inspiration?

Weaving can be a slow art, so just the possibility to tell the story behind the creative process is motivating. Or when I can combine all of my favorite mediums into one piece is inspiring. Lately, I find inspiration when I tell my children stories of our family, clans and people. They love hearing about coyote and his mishaps with other animals and holy beings. I often ask myself, “how would I weave this into a story?”  

How hard was it to get started and were there hurdles you had to overcome?

Starting was easy, but leaping over the hurdles of time management, studio space and sharing art was harder.  All three involved changing core habits at home, which took much practice and patience for my family and I. First, I said “goodbye to cable and hello to music apps.” This bold move maximized my free time and liberated my senses to crafting my next idea. Second, we found a space for me to work and store my supplies at home. Overtime, I had to get resourceful with my shrinking space as my artwork grew. Third, most of my work takes time, like literally, I am working for weeks to months to complete one piece. So I focus more on sharing photos and stories of my progress, rather than the end result.

Has anything changed for you as an artist as the pandemic began?

Yes. I use social media more to share my current work because all in-person events were cancelled. I often message, email or speak with people on-line to stay engaged. As a stay-at-home mom and artist, I have fewer hours to work since my children are now online students. This time crunch, however, shifted my focus to sketching our daily lives and reflections of family on the Navajo Nation. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Create a series of work, share your art and network. You will not know how well you do if you do not let people see it. Once I did, I quickly found supportive groups of artists, art councils and non-profit organizations in my local community. I became a member of a group called Women In Art, who met regularly to talk about art and share their artwork. Together, we became a great support system and a source of motivation for each other. 

What has been your biggest achievement?

The day my children said, “Momma, I want to weave.”

Where can someone see your work?

On Instagram, I have an artist page at #tiffanyyazziestudio. Or look me up on Facebook at Tiffany Yazzie to view videos of my work. For more information on upcoming events or press, you can go to www.tiffanyyazziestudio.com

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