Skip to main content

Frances Heiss ’15 Weaves Interrelated Subjects Together

Southwest Studies Capstone Project Deeply Textured

Frances Heiss '15 is weaving a lot - literally - into her senior capstone project. The Southwest Studies major is combining her research into Navajo textiles with the 2014-15 Andrew Norman Lecture and the screening of the documentary film "Weaving Worlds" at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 28 at the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center. Before showing the movie, Heiss will introduce Marsha Weisiger, the Julie and Rocky Dixon Chair of U.S. Western History at University of Oregon and a scholar of environmental history and the American West.

Beginning with an environmental history of sheep, specifically Navajo Churro sheep and the decline and destocking of the sheep-which Weisiger will discuss following the documentary- the opening conversation will set the stage and provide a historical understanding of the role sheep play within Navajo culture, as well as how vital they are to an ongoing weaving tradition among the Navajo.

Following the film Weisiger will lead and Heiss will co-faciliate a panel discussion on "Weaving Worlds." The film highlights the untold stories of the personalities and characters involved in the making and selling of Navajo rugs and presents a compelling and intimate portrait of economic and cultural survival through the art of weaving in the face of increased globalization.

Heiss uses a an inter-disciplinary approach to her capstone project, including environmental history, a discussion of frontier commerce, museum studies, immersion in culture through weaving samples and traveling to a weaving community in New Mexico. "The combination of these approaches provides a better understanding of Navajo weaving rather than simply focusing on a single aspect," Heiss said.

Arriving at her capstone topic was a slow process, she said. "I had never woven anything prior to Jeanne Steiner's Fiber Arts class, which I took the first block of my senior year. I was in the process of reshaping my thesis-wishing to include some sort of multimedia in addition to a paper-when I learned how to weave." Heiss immediately decided to focus her thesis around weaving - specifically Navajo weaving. "From here, the multiple different components I have in my thesis, including environmental history, a discussion of frontier commerce, museum studies and immersion in culture through weaving samples and traveling to a weaving community in New Mexico, all came into place," she said.

Steiner put her in contact with Michael Howell at the nearby Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, who helped Heiss with the handling and examination of Navajo textiles. Professor Eric Perramond also was instrumental in providing support and information, especially concerning environmental history and discussion of frontier commerce, Heiss said.

She applied for and received two grants, the Keller Family Venture Grant and the Joel T. Benezet grant in Southwest Studies, which enabled her to complete her research. "With these grants, I was able to travel to La Tierra Wools in Los Ojos, New Mexico, a more than 100-year-old weaving community center that has its own flock of Navajo Churro Sheep. While at La Tierra Wools, I purchased naturally dyed wool, which I completed my weaving replications with. In addition, while there I experienced an active weaving community center and showroom, where I was able to interact with other weavers and experience a weaving community," Heiss said.

Back at Colorado College, she wove her own replications of Navajo textiles in the Fiber Arts Studio in Worner Center and handled the actual Navajo textiles that are owned by Colorado College and housed at the Fine Arts Center. "My final Capstone Project is a compilation of all these aspects, including a research paper and five textiles," she said.

Report an issue - Last updated: 12/16/2020