Originally published in The Taos News, Tempo Section >>
by Tamra Testerman | July 7, 2021 Updated July 12, 2021
The Laughing Family Business
The day for award-winning weavers Mona and daughter Charlene Laughing begins at sunrise on the Diné (Navajo) Reservation in Crystal, New Mexico, with family and a flock of churro and merino sheep to look after, 31 in all. Each with a name.
Breakfast is a hearty mix of cereal, eggs and bacon or ham and black tea. The chores must be done before settling into the loom and meditation of weaving, sometimes six hours a day with breaks every few hours for more black tea and cookies.
There are onion skins that have been stored for a year to be boiled for the dye. Sage, yellow lichen, wild carrots, rabbitbrush and red wine must boil for days to render just the right hue for the wool. A rusted pan is sometimes used for the purples and greens to accent the dark reds. Mona Laughing is bold with color, but “the colors must not clash. They must be harmonious.”
Mona is the matriarch of the family and learned how to weave from her mother Elsie Mark. Mona raised six children on the Crystal Reservation, supporting her family and sending all her children to college with proceeds from her weaving, along the way passing on the weaving craft to her daughters Charlene and Michele and her two sons.
Mona turned 75 years old this year. She said “it’s a bummer” but she shows no signs of slowing down. Year round she weaves, takes care of her sheep and maintains a rigorous travel schedule to shows in Los Angeles, New York, Santa Fe, Oklahoma and Indiana. She said the trips “are fun, we stay in hotels, eat good food, meet friends and sell rugs.”
Mona’s favorite time of year is autumn. There are no new born sheep to look after, or trade shows to attend and the days and nights become a sweet mix of cooler climes, shorter days and the fall harvest.
Mona’s daughter Charlene weaves a contemporary rendition of the Crystal designs, mirroring a transition in the last few generations to banded designs without borders. She works the soft hand-spun wool from her mother’s flock; her harmonious use of color makes Charlene’s textiles works of art. She also lives in Crystal and is a full-time mother and weaver with a degree in chemistry. Her son, (and grandson of Mona), Dwight Laughing Williams, represents one of the few male weavers in the tradition.
Michele Laughing, Mona’s other daughter, has also expanded from the forms of the regional styles and explores Revival and Storm Patterns in her weavings. Her favorite challenge is the multiple pattern designs.
Michele and her sister Charlene were multiple winners in the Santa Fe Indian Market and like their mother, their weavings are in museums and private collections all over the world. Gabriel Abrums, owner of Chimayo Trading Del Norte, who has represented the Laughing family for over 30 years said, “Charlene and sister Michele have taken every award at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Thus they have joined the pantheon of renowned Navajo weavers.”
The easy rapport between the Laughing Family and Chimayo Trading Del Norte is more than just business. Gabe said “we are family.”
Mona refers to Abrums as, “My brother.”
Gabe said that his family came to represent the Laughing Family when “his dad at his gallery in Chimayó discovered a few of their weavings at an auction. They stood out so he tracked them down.”
At the time Gabe’s dad had a friend who was a Navajo silversmith, so he asked him to find the Laughing family at their home on the reservation, which he did. “What started as a business arrangement to help them market their art turned into a lifelong friendship out of mutual respect and appreciation for each other and the individual roles we all fulfill.”
Gabe said “Aside from the expert weaving techniques they have developed within the traditional Navajo weaving process, that and their incredible eye for design [the Laughing family] weavings stand out from the rest because of the quality of the wool they use. They have bred their sheep and angora goats over generations to have the best quality wool. Having their own flock of sheep allows them to use only the finest parts of the wool for their own weavings. Their techniques of dyeing the wool using natural and vegetable dyes to get deep rich colors surpasses most others you see.”
Chimayo Trading Del Norte “features these fine weavings online and in our store at #1 St Francis Church Plaza Ranchos de Taos,” Gabe said, “where you can feel the softness of the fibers, see the perfection of the weave and the delicate and the bold designs that encompass the history of the Navajo weavers. And continue to weave the Laughing family name into the history of the Southwest. Their woven tapestries captivate your imagination, dazzle the eye and speak to the power and beauty of family tradition in the Navajo way.”
For more information about the Laughing Family Weavers and to purchase their work visit chimayotrading.com.