Mary Walker, the owner of Weaving in Beauty, in downtown Gallup, became interested in Navajo blankets and rugs decades ago while working for FedMart, a line of discount stores with locations across the Navajo Nation. During a visit to its Window Rock, Arizona, store, she began watching friends weave.
“People were really nice about the whole thing: ‘That poor little white girl, we ought to teach her how to weave,’” she remembers. That introduction turned into a lifelong passion for the classic art form, which eventually led to her teaming with friend and Diné weaver Jennie Slick to teach weaving classes throughout the country.
In 2017, Walker’s classes found a brick-and-mortar home in Gallup, on the western edge of New Mexico, halfway between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. She repairs and washes rugs and sells a handful of unique rugs, wool and other weaving materials, and books on the art. Some of the shop’s students are Diné (the Navajo tribe’s name for its members), but many students aren’t. A group of university professors, for example, has made classes at the shop part of an annual retreat before returning to teaching each fall. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker took her classes online via Zoom, bringing Diné weavers into students’ homes.
Many are surprised at how tough the task is. “When I was learning, one of my teachers told me, ‘It’s difficult. There is no easy way,’” Walker says. “She was right. You really have to work at it.” That perhaps gives students and visitors a greater appreciation for the rooms piled high with rugs in trading posts across Gallup, which sits near the southeastern edge of the vast Navajo Nation.
Weaving in Beauty is among Gallup’s many downtown shops and organizations helping to make the district more interactive, lively, and walkable. In addition to a bounty of historic trading posts that feature fine Navajo and Zuni weavings, jewelry, pottery, and saddles, the new and not-so-newcomers include Flux Tufa Works, where silversmith Jude Candelaria offers demonstrations, Art123 Gallery and learning space, LOOM Indigenous Art Gallery,which mounts entirely indigenous art installations next to the historic El Morro theatre. You will also find Makeshift Gallery, an artist-run cooperative where visitors can meet the creatives and Thunderbird Gallery, which showcases high end photography, custom leather works, and more.
A revitalization project will bring even more zing to Coal Avenue, one of Gallup’s main thoroughfares, running parallel to Historic Route 66. The Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District is leading the charge for Coal Avenue Commons construction and fundraising. When complete, the two-block area will have a streetscape befitting northwestern New Mexico: a concha belt, when seen from above. The project will create wider sidewalks and a common area that easily transforms into event space, particularly during the city’s popular monthly ArtsCrawl, a closed-to-traffic street party when studios typically launch new shows and stay open late for browsing. The first block of the project is slated for completion in May 2021.
“We’re a rural, historic downtown. We get missed off Interstate-40 quite easily by visitors,” says Kara Smith, director of Gallup Mainstreet. “I hope this project brings a renewed sense of pride to downtown and a reinvigoration of the space—as well as creating a welcoming space to visitors and locals alike.”
Downtown Gallup doesn’t just house art galleries, it feels like an outdoor art gallery thanks to public murals along its avenues and alleyways—including three recent additions. In the winter of 2020, local painter Jerry Brown completed Resilience, which portrays three varieties of birds representing joy, truth, and good luck. In 2019–20, Marina Eskeets, who grew up in Gallup and is now based in Los Angeles, painted Everyone Moving Forward, which depicts two Diné girls herding sheep. In summer of 2020, acclaimed artist Chris Acevedo, resident of Gallup, utilized the architecture of the former Gallup Printing building to create four scenes depicting each season within a landscape of Gallup’s natural features. Growth symbolizes Gallup’s strength to get through rough times together as a community and to celebrate the diversity of the town.
“There’s a pride in the way of life here and a pride of place,” says Smith, who notes that Gallup is the only metropolitan area within a 100-mile radius. “There’s such diversity to this place, both to the people and in its evolution.”