Native American artists hope to pass their tradition on to future generations

Dec 24, 2023, 10:29 PM | Updated: Dec 26, 2023, 6:15 am

CAMERON, Ariz. – Near the southern end of the Grand Canyon is a trading post where you can find the work of Native American artisans, and if you’re lucky, you might catch the artist working there, too.

Vivian Descheny is one of those artisans, and amidst the tourists and traders you can hear a sound that’s been heard for generations – rug weaving.

Vivian Descheny has been a rug weaver for 34 years, a tradition she hopes to pass along to her children and grandchildren. (Erin Cox, KSL TV)

“My grandkids really love the thump of this pattern,” Descheny said as she worked on a rug that would take her a week or so to complete.

Descheny grew up listening to the sound of rug weaving, something her grandmother passed on to her when she was 14 years old.

“She told me you don’t need a university degree, all you need is your hands, your weaving, your thoughts and your prayer,” Descheny said.

Born in Salt Lake City, Descheny later moved to Arizona and is the only remaining Navajo rug weaver at the Cameron Trading Post.

“They’re all deceased, and they didn’t really teach their children or grandchildren,” Descheny said.  

Using 40 separate colors, Descheny weaves five patterns into one rug. Her pattern, known as the Burntwater weave, is one of a kind.

“All my rugs, they have a part of me,” Descheny said.

Jimmy Jensen makes handmade jewelry, anywhere from silver hummingbirds, dragonflies, and friendship hands, to deer. Erin Cox, KSL TV) Vivian Descheny working on a small rug involving five separate patterns and 40 colors. (Erin Cox, KSL TV)

Known as the “Spiderwoman,” Descheny worries that the rug weaving tradition will not continue on with the next generations.

“These days, children are not really interested in learning the culture of weaving,” she said.

Others share same opinion

A sentiment shared by Jimmy Jensen, a Navajo silversmith at the trading post.

When he was 8 years old, Jensen discovered he could make jewelry.

“Anything that I can draw on a piece of paper without picking it up, I can make,” Jensen said. ”It’s just my hand and my trusty pliers.”

Jensen makes silver deer charms that tell the story of a 4,000-year-old talisman found in a cave near the Grand Canyon, it was originally created to help bring good luck and help his ancestors find food.

The tradition of making a silver deer was passed down by his grandfather and is one he hopes to continue.

Jimmy Jensen makes handmade jewelry, anywhere from silver hummingbirds, dragonflies, and friendship hands, to deer. (Erin Cox, KSL TV)

“That’s why I share with my kids,” Jensen said. “My kids all make the same type of jewelry.”

It’s not just about creating a livelihood from their craft or even displaying their art, but for Jensen and Descheny, it’s about preserving these traditions.

“This is what we do,” Descheny said. “You got to pass it down. Our little family has to continue.”

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Native American artists hope to pass their tradition on to future generations