Published: November 14, 2000
GREENWICH, CONN- The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science presents “” through January 15, 2001. Featuring blankets and rugs from the Bruce Museum collection, donated by several Greenwich residents, the exhibition presents several examples of major styles and influences on the Navajo weaving. Through tradition and innovation, Navajo textiles tell a story of adaptation, survival and change.
According to Navajo myth, the Dine, or the People, were led to the Southwest from the underworld by the Holy People. Spider Woman taught them to weave. Anthropologists say that the Navajo migrated south from Canada into New Mexico sometime before 1400. From the Pueblo people they adopted the upright loom and weaving techniques.
During the years before 1864, known as the Classic Period (1650 – 1863), Navajo women wove textiles that ranged from thick utility blankets (diyugis) to extremely fine “wearing” blankets. The broadly striped “Chief blankets” were so named because they were prized rdf_Descriptions of trade between high-status members of neighboring tribes and early traders. A Chief Blanket, Third Phase, distinguished by a diamond motifs, is on view in the exhibition and represents a later example of one of the most avidly collected of the Classic blanket styles.
Historically, the Navajo era of prosperity came to a sudden and traumatic end in 1863. Seven thousand Navajo were rounded up by US troops led by Kit Carson and held captive for four years at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Only one-quarter of these Navajo survived, and when they were released, they found their homes, pastures and flocks destroyed, and their homeland reduced to one-fifth of its original size. During their confinement the Navajo were issued “Rio Grande” blankets, and the eight-pointed Vallero star, a motif commonly used in blankets woven in the Spanish villages, later filtered into Navajo weaving cycle. A Rio Grande with Vallero Star Blanket, is featured in the exhibition.
The Transition Period (1863 – 1875) is marked by many outside influences on . In the1870’s, trading posts were established on the reservation. Weavers could now buy packaged synthetic dyes and commercially spun yarns. With these multi-colored yarns the Navajo wove “eye dazzlers,” named by the early traders because of the intense colorings of the dyes. And as the Eastern market sought more Navajo-woven rugs, weavers switched form making wearing blankets to floor rugs. The eye-dazzler blanket on view features bayeta threads taken from prized European Bayeta cloth which was painstakingly unraveled strand and respun into yarn.
The transition Period also found the Navajo weavers departing from the stripe design, a characteristic of the Classic Period. The banded style shoulder blanket on view features bands of sharp-toothed serrated zigzags alternating with solid bands. The blanket also features diagonal “lazy lines,” a style created by weaving one segment wedge at a time, and a technique unique to the Navajo, not found in Pueblo or Hispanic pieces.
The Rug Period (1895 – 1950) is known for the Navajo use of plant dyes in their weavings and for the regional styles that developed. For the next 40 to 50 years, the Navajo developed a new weaving style almost every decade. Always resourceful, weavers absorbed the new ideas, and incorporated them into existing Navajo designs or invented new ones. Regional specialization developed as weavers living in a single area adopted similar techniques and styles. Taking the names of trading posts or communities, regional styles included Ganado, Two Gray Hills, Crystal, Teec Nos Pos, Chinle and Wide Ruins. The trader influenced outline style rug from Granado, Ariz is a gift to the Bruce Museum collection from Greenwich resident Avice Lea and was originally acquired from the Fred Harvey Co., a popular hotelier from the era, by the president of the Santa FE Railroads as a housewarming present for Mrs Lea’s parents. Weavers were also encouraged to experiment with native dye plants to produce designs in soft earth tones.
Another example from this period, the Ye’ii rug, depicts five elongated front-facing ye’ii figures (Holy People) separated by four tall corn stalks. Ye’ii Rugs mark the first time Navajo deities were featured in Navajo weavings. The ye’ii figures were adapted form sandpainting designs of healing ceremonies, but the rugs themselves were not used in Navajo worship. And due to the spiritual nature of the subject matter, not all weavers felt comfortable with this style.
Today’s Navajo nation, with over 220,000 members, is the largest Indian group in America. In the present day, Navajo weavers continue to adapt, innovate and create their art within a traditional framework. While regional styles persist, the Contemporary Period (1950 – Present) includes individual weavers who have become known by name. Both on and off the reservation, Navajo women today can choose between weaving and many other jobs to support themselves, yet those who choose to weave are growing in number.
Designs have become increasingly complex, and the dye palette mote extensive. A representation of this period on view in the exhibition, wide ruins rug, was made in 1981 by Navajo weaver Fannie Joe from Wide Ruins, Ariz. The Wide Ruins regional style represented a revival of the Nineteenth Century Hispanic serrate diamond design and vegetal dyes in soft tones.
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