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A woman with shoulder length black and gray hair smiles at the camera with her hands clasped in front of her. She is wearing a black traditional Navajo outfit and traditional turquoise and silver jewelry, including bracelets, rings, and necklaces.

Photo by Tia Howard.


Barbara Teller Ornelas

She // Her // Hers

Navajo Tapestry Weaver

Tucson, Arizona

I've noticed many of my Navajo students are going back to the old ways. Acquiring sheep, shearing, and processing wool yarn in the traditional ways. A lot of weavers tend to buy commercial, so it is nice to see the young ones rediscovering their roots.”
Barbara Teller Ornelas is a fifth-generation Master Navajo/Diné Tapestry Weaver. Ornelas is, without exaggeration, a keystone of her art form, serving as culture bearer, artist, and teacher. Raised in the famed Two Grey Hills Trading Post on the Navajo Nation, her father was a trader and her mother a Master Weaver. This upbringing has afforded her a distinct expertise as both artist and businesswoman. Her work sits in countless collections, including the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Denver Art Museum, the British Museum, and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. In 1987, Ornelas and her sister Rosann Lee, became the first weavers in the history of the competition to win Best of Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market. She has won first place at many juried competitions, including the Heard and Gallup Ceremonial. As her success has grown, she has used her voice to advocate for all Navajo Weavers. She engages audiences all over the world, holding workshops and lectures, curating exhibits, and participating in cultural exchanges via the US State Department in both Peru and Kazakhstan. She has authored two books on Navajo weaving, and as a teacher she guides students of various ages, always offering scholarships to Navajo students. She draws from a legacy passed down through generations to shape the weavers of tomorrow. A survivor of US government residential schools — institutions which aimed to eradicate her culture — she has dedicated her life to preserving and innovating Navajo weaving. After a career spanning six decades, Ornelas continues to reach new artistic heights and make an impact on her Diné community.

Donor -This award was generously supported by The Fred and Eve Simon Charitable Foundation.

This artist page was last updated on: 07.10.2024

A blanket with a red background and three large diamonds in the center. The diamonds contain borders of teal, cream, and maroon lines radiating out from a red cross at the center of each shape. Smaller rows of smaller black and white diamonds border the top and bottom of the blanket.

A miniature revival piece of a child's blanket using a pattern from the early to mid–1800s. Aniline dye, respun wool, 16 warps to the inch, 120 weft to the inch, dimensions 10 × 12 inches.

An intricately-patterned weaving in warm browns, whites, and grays with two central diamond shapes in the middle. Geometric patterns that resemble birds in flight point outward at each corner of the rectangle. Abstract patterns fill the space, drawing the eye around the artwork.

Large Two Grey Hills, 1991. Hand-carded, hand-spun Navajo sheep’s wool, 16 warps to the inch, 120 weft to the inch, dimensions 4 × 6 feet.

An intricate weaving composed in earthy browns and grays, organized around two central crosses surrounded by undulating patterns and geometric designs.

Large Two Grey Hills. Hand-carded, hand-spun Navajo sheep’s wool, 16 warps to the inch, 120 weft to the inch, dimensions 2 × 4 feet.