"A Brief History of the Swastika Symbol and Its Use in Navajo Weaving" with author Dennis Agner

Dennis J. Aigner will be at the Millicent Rogers Museum on Sunday, March 5th for a Book Talk/Lecture to discuss his book "The Swastika Motif and Its Use in Navajo and Oriental Weaving" and give a lecture about the Whirling Log Motif and its use in Navajo (Diné) Weaving. 

To view the recorded presentation, please visit here

Dennis J. Aigner is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Management at the University of California, Irvine. His academic career has spanned 45 years, and included faculty and administrative positions at the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Southern California, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. He has written extensively in the fields of statistics and econometrics. Among other honors and awards, Professor Aigner was recently cited for lifetime achievement by Marquis Who’s Who for his work on business and the environment.
Aigner’s fascination with the swastika motif began over 35 years ago when he visited galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that featured old Navajo rugs and blankets with the symbol on them. His first book, The Swastika Symbol in Navajo Textiles, was published in 2000 and went through five editions. His new book, The Swastika Motif: Its Use in Navajo and Oriental Weaving, was first published in 2018 and is now in its second edition. Aigner has also done research and written on Mexican folk art, in particular, the masks used in ritual dances, some of which date to the time of the conquistadores. He has also extensively researched Mexican tinplate retablos, which were popular in Mexico from 1850-1910.

Navajo (Diné) Weaving with Whirling Logs Motifs
circa 1920
hand-spun wool yarns, aniline & natural dyes
Gift of Dennis Aigner
In the Millicent Rogers Museum Collection

In Navajo, or Diné, cultural understandings, the whirling logs motif recalls the sacred number four in many ways: the four seasons, the four directions, and the four sacred mountains. Native artists of the Southwest used the whirling logs design in many art forms, including weavings, silverwork, and basketry, between the years 1890 and 1940. After the symbol was co-opted by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1920, the Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and Tohono O’odham tribes prohibited their communities’ use of the whirling logs motif by way of a 1940 intertribal proclamation. In the past few decades, Navajo people have begun to feature the motif in their weavings once again.

For the Navajo people, their orientation centers on K’é, or a way of being that centers acts of giving, love, and kindness among families and is demonstrated through the art of weaving being passed down through women’s families. Navajo weaving takes place on an upright loom using warps and wefts of wool yarns. Many Navajo families carry on legacies of sheepherding and weaving in a variety of ways. The centrality of sheep to Diné ways of being and modes of survival cannot be overstated. 

The tribe’s holy ancestor, Spider Woman (Na’ashéjii Asdzáá), gave the art of weaving to the people during their transition from their second to third worlds. She taught the people how to weave in beauty, or hózhó, and harmony and gathered an array of gifts from the sacred mountains, including wood, plant dyes, patterns, songs, and prayers. Spider Woman’s husband, Spider Man, constructed the first loom of wooden beams and a set of weaving tools, which included a comb for tapping yarns into place.