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Gathering Color in Arizona…

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For the next year, I will be working with Rebecca Burgess, ecological artist and writer, on her book Gathering Color. The book will teach people how to create natural dyes, from native plants in their region, for their fiber arts projects. In order for the book to have national appeal, we are traveling to as many different geographic regions as we can, to work with locals who use native plants for their own fiber creations.

Our first adventure was to the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona. It was my first time in the Navajo Nation, so I did a little more documenting than was necessary for the book, but I couldn’t help myself. Not only were the urban and natural landscapes so visually interesting, but also it was Inter-Tribal Ceremonial weekend and National Navajo Code Talkers Day, so there was a lot going on.

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Our adventure was divided between two days. One day for hunting and gathering, and one day for dyeing.

Our day of plant hunting began bright and early on Friday morning and it involved lots of driving, climbing under barbed wire fences, digging for wild carrots, walking on endless plateaus of sage, and discovering Navajo Tea in an incredible Navajo Veterans’ cemetery at sunset.

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To link the traditional Navajo plants with the traditional Navajo wool, we also went on a search for the rare Navajo-Churro Sheep. We found a herd at the Hubbell Trading Post, where we learned how the US government almost killed off the breed completely, on two different occasions, and consequently devastated the Navajo people, who depended on the sheep for survival. It is absolutely amazing that both the Navajo and the Churro still exist today.

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Day two…our dyeing day, was spent at Rose’s house, where we were welcomed by a chorus of cute dogs and a few of her fourteen grandchildren, who she is raising with the help of her husband, Henry.

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When Rebecca and I arrived, we found Rose already getting the pots ready over the fire pit. Once the water started to boil, it was on. Everyone had to work quickly in the heat and smoke. I learned that dyeing wool with natural dyes is about finding the perfect balance between plant matter, wool, time, heat, and water, in order to get the perfect color.

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If you are curious to know more about the people, the process, and the plants, visit Rebecca’s blog: http://ecologicalartist.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/desert-harvest/. Rebecca took lots of good notes about Rose’s story, and about the plants that Rose’s family has been using for so many generations.

It is really really nice to work with writers who focus on the details, while I get to focus on the visuals. I wish all my projects came with talented writers. Thank you Rebecca and Kitty for this amazing opportunity.

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About the author paige green

Paige Green is a documentary and portrait photographer, whose storytelling approach to photography frequently addresses issues involving agriculture, land use, and food. Her work is featured in nine books and has been published in Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, New York Times Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Country Living, House Beautiful, and Culture. Paige lives in Petaluma, CA with a house full of boys.

All posts by paige green →

4 Comments

  1. gads, paige, your talent brings you so many opportunities– i’m absolutely green with envy (speaking of dyeing!), and, it’s official, i want this life!

    Reply

  2. nice pix. good to document tradition, but i’m always cautious about wild harvests…you know , someone might only take 10% of a plant population, then the next person sees the results and thinks, hey, great colour, i’ll have some too
    and
    before you know where you are a species approaches wipeout because folks go harvesting, bit by bit
    that said
    those are lovely photos…

    Reply

  3. […] of this is for the book that Rebecca Burgess is writing about creating dyes with native plants from different regions in the United States. It has been a fantastic project to […]

    Reply

  4. […] attended a natural dye workshop in Missouri with Rebecca Burgess, for her book on natural dyes. While the landscape and the plants were definitely […]

    Reply

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