On a warm Saturday in late February, Elsie Bia was outdoors in Sonoita, hard at work at her loom. A basket of woolen yarns was at her feet, dyed in the rich earth colors of Dinétah, the Navajo homeland: maroon, green, tan, white and black. Bia, 64, was deftly threading the colored strands through the taut warp yarns.“Since I was 14, I’ve been weaving,” she says. “My mom taught me. I’m from a long line of weavers.”She had already spent a month on the piece, weaving abstract patterns around the bottom of the tapestry and starting on the deep red background. The next two months would be devoted to the centerpiece: a tall, thin human figure rendered in an angular geometry. It was to be a woven image of a Yei Be Chei, one of the human dancers who portray the Yei—Holy People or gods—in traditional Navajo ceremonies.“I’ve done different kinds of these,” Bia says, adding that the first weavings she ever made, under the tutelage of her mother, Annie Bia, were Yei Be Cheis.Bia works on commission for Steve Getzwiller, a trader who owns the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery, weaving works that he later sells. Normally she weaves at her home in Chinle, the Navajo town at the entrance to Canyon de Chelly, but this day, with the help of her daughter Ramona and grandsons Kevin and Dylan, she’s hauled her loom to Sonoita, and set it up on the Getzwiller’s porch.Her demo of her ancestors’ art helped kick off Woven Holy People, the gallery’s remarkable exhibition of traditional Yei Be Chei weavings. The show has some 65 weavings total that depict Holy People and other figurative images. A few of them are fresh from the looms of Bia and other contemporary Navajo artists, but the bulk are prized historic works from the first half of the 20th century.
Nestled in the southern reaches of the Catalina Foothills is a collection of art on display unlike any other; a vast array of some of the most fascinating miniature models of homes, furniture, vehicles and even a few fantasy worlds. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is the creation of the imagination and passion of founders Patricia and Walter Arnell, though their love of miniatures and dollhouses has since expanded into a collection of historical models, as well as recreations of the past by contemporary artists.The museum hosts three separate sections: a history gallery, an “exploring the world” gallery and an enchanted realm of fantasy themed miniatures. The models come to the institution from local artists, as well as national and international contributors.“It’s a really magical environment,” said Lisa Hastreiter-Lamb, associate director & director of education at the museum. “Because there is something for everyone, from small children to seniors and adults. You can learn about history, you can learn about culture, but you’re imagination can also play and go off on many different directions.”Museum-goers will have a chance to literally look through windows into past lives, and take a glimpse at daily occurrences of those living in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. More than just a treat to see, Hastreiter-Lamb said one of the most unique aspects of the museum is the ability for guests to project themselves into the miniatures and imagine what it would be like to live in each display. In addition to “living” in the miniatures, people also relate many of their own life experiences to what they see at the museum, which adds to an ever-growing collection of living history which the museum represents.