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MEANING OF Navajo color choice find meaning ing the blanket


From: Sara (sarawren_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Nov 13 2003 - 21:19:18 PST

Phase I - Chief's Blanket, Classic Period

This is the earliest phase and dates from1850 to 1865. The designs are
usually three red and indigo blue patterned stripes between broad black and
white stripes. Colors do vary.

Phase II - Chief's Blanket, Classic Period

This is a transition from the simple Phase I to the more elaborate Phase
III. Usually the red and blue ( or other color ) stripes are interrupted
along their length by shorter colored bands. Again, three is the most often
encountered number. The dominatn, wide, alternating black and white bands
still exist. From 1860 - 1875.

Phase III - Chief's Blanket Classic Period

This pattern still retains the wide black and white bands but now depicts
stepped triangles in the corners and on the sides and ends as well as a
stepped diamond as a center design. Reds and blues are most often used,
however, a plethora of other colors are often encountered. This includes
purples, oranges and many shades of brown. The third phase pattern was so
popular that it was used well after the demise of the wearing blanket and
simply carried over into the weaving of rug pattersn. For this reason, a
Third Phase Chief's Blanket, i.e. a soft, fairly this, tightly wovan weaving
can be dated approximately 1875 - 1900. If the piece is heavier, more in
keeping with a rug, it probably dates from 1890 to the present. A rug of
this later period, regardless of it's pattern, is rarely considered as an
example of the Classic Period of Navajo Weaving, but is a highly collectible
piece showing the influence and carryover of design and techniques to that
which the economy dictated be made.

Note: Dates are generalizations only - some First Phase patterns were woven
in the late 1890's for example. The type of wool is a better dating tool.

EYE DAZZLER (1880 - 1900)

The influx of Germantown three and four ply yarn entered the Navajo weaving
story in the 1880's. The brilliant colors, and the Navajo weavers thirst for
this color, resulted in an additional style to the sedate "Chief's
Patterns." Germantown yarn gave birth to the "Eye Dazzler." Billiant reds,
greens, yellows, blues, and more found their way into blankets and wall

At this same time aniline dyes were stocked by the trading posts. These
chemical dyes gave the weaver a greater variety of colors and were far
easier to use.

Until 1890, most of the weaving was for wearing blankets. However, once the
product of the Pendleton Woolen Mills was introduced, the need ended. The
Pendleton (still used today) was lighter, warmer, every bit as colorful and
much less expensive. Navajo weaving declined. It probably would have died
except that the non-Indian people started using Navajo blankets as floor
coverings, bed spreads and wall hangings. This resurrection of demand,
coupled with pattern changes and a heavier style of weaving, largely
instituted by the reservation traders, undoubtedly saved the craft.

The transition was not immediate. Germantown weavings were done well into
the 20th Century, but now with a definite eye to balance the pattern This
yarn was more expensive and only used by the better weavers.

EARLY RUG PERIOD ( late 1800's - 1920)

The transition from blankets to rugs actually had its beginning in the
1880's. Although Navajo weaving of that period was principally for wearing
blankets, a new market for rugs and tapestries was growing.

The salvation of the weaving art and its huge growth atthe turn of the
century is largely attributed to two men. Lorenzo Hubble of the Ganado
Trading Post, and 1.8. Moore of the Crystal Trading Post. Both of these men
envisioned a market for Navajoweaving, both had the foresight to encourage
quality and both were instrumental in developing basic designs that would
compliment the Eastern U.S. Fashion dictates of the period.

The most often encountered rug in the late 1800's and early 1900's was the
oriental rug. It was found that the motifs of these rugs, especially the
Cacasus, were well suited to the Navajo weaver's idea of balance and
pattern. Moore and Hubble incorporated these patterns. Artists Burbank and
Little were commissioned by Hubble to paint rug patterns as samples. Hubble
used crosses, {tripes, geometry and balanced patterns of the oriental
against a bright red aniline . He used a designed, black border.

Moore followed Hubble's example and even published a catalog in 1903 and in
1911 for mail order use by the Eastern U.S. He too used classic designs but
preferred natural colors with only an accent of brighter colors, usually
red. Many of Moore's hooks, angles, etc. set his patterns apart from
Hubble's geometry. Both proved very popular.

Both of these men had their disciples who, as the need for trading posts
expanded, carried and modified these basic patterns with them as they
established new posts. Of course the local Navajo modified these patterns
with their own ideas. Certain patterns became associated with specific posts
giving rise to the first general collector field for Navajo weaving the
regionally or geographically identified rug.

Rug popularity received a blow in the late 19th century when the U.S.
government, hoping to increase the meat production in the Navajo tribe,
introduced the French Rambouillet sheep. The new sheep did what he was
supposed to do but the wool was too short and too oily for good quality
weaving. The rugs were coarse and heavy. They appeared dirty due to the oil.
Rugs went down hill. The traders, in order to stimulate production,
purchased rugs by the pound ($.30 to $1.00). The weaver would now produce a
rug as rapidly as possible, leave the wool as oily as possible and even
pound dirt in the rug to increase its weight.

The rug industry was in serious trouble at this time. This is not to say
that excellent rugs were not produced during and prior to this period, they
were. Processed wool from the East, such as Germantown yarn discussed above,
was used by the better weavers and patterns and quality were outstanding.
Prices for these pieces were at a premium, while prices for "pound" weavings
were quite low.

RUG REVIVAL PERIOD ( 1920 - 1940 )

A combination of continued demand for a good quality rug and the
contribution of several farsighted people helped revive the Navajo Weaving

Experimentation with vegetable dyes and vegetable toned chemical dyes was
undertaken by several people in different areas. The success of Leon
McSparron and Mary Wheelright at Chinle gave, not only new softer pastel
hues to the rugs, but also a new design with patterns set in bands on a
borderless rug. Mrs. William Lippincott of Wide Ruins did the same with
similarly outstanding results. The open, unbordered styles also pleased the
Navajo weavers.

The Dupont Chemical Company experimented with developing a wider range of
colors, this was extended even further by the Diamond Dye Company's
introduction of a series of dyes called "OId Navajo" Now the weaver had, in
one package, both the mordant and the colorant This was faster, more uniform
and less dangerous than the old mixing with acids.

In 1934 the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Navajo Sheep
Breeding Laboratory at Ft. Wingate (near Gallup, N.M.). Here they were able
to develop a breed of sheep combining the high mutton producing qualities of
the Rambouillet with the better wool qualities of other breeds. The lovely,
long staple wool of the 19th century Churro sheep was, however, a thing of
the past.

In addition to the above, the high standards demanded by many traders and
the public nearly eliminated the low grade weaving associated with the
"Pound Rug."


As indicated by the title, this represents a period of weaving that is
characterized by specific patterns, colors or motifs that are largely
geographically oriented. Earlier we note the strong influences of Lorenzo
Hubble and the Ganado Trading Post, J.B. Moore and the Crystal Trading Post,
Leon McSparron and the Chinle Trading post, and Mr. and Mrs. William
Lippincott and the Wide Ruins Trading Post. Other areas developed specific
styles that further identified their product. Many were branches of the
above four trading centers, some were unique. All did not last from 1940 to
the present but many did and others were created. This clearly different
styling gave rise to the first geographical rug collectors criteria, much
like a mint mark for a coin collector. This also allowed a collector to
predate his collected rug with rugs of earlier periods leading to his
current type

As can be imagined, one regional style will often blend with another. Also,
a weaver living in one area can surely weave a rug with a design native to
another area or blended with her own design. This does not affect the rugs
value and the rugs regional identification remains with its style or styles,
not with the home of the weaver. One of the largest and most beautiful Two
Grey Hills rugs ever created was woven by a Navajo weaver living in Morenci,
Arizona, over 200 miles south of the reservation.

Today, according to one reference, only about 25% of all rugs tend to be
regional in identification with 40% being classified as 'General." Still
this entire period can be classed as the Regional Style Rug Period because
It was the regional development of pattern and color that created the
collector field we know today. Also, it was the blending of these regional
patterns and colors that have produced some of the extremely valuable
"general" patterns that exist today.