Navajo Rugs

The Compelling Magic of Native American Rugs

Navajo rugs constitute a phenomenal contribution of Native Americans to the world of textile production, and co-create a broader category of American rugs. These unique flat-weaves, due to their exceptional quality, original patterns, ethnic vibe and gripping history, have swiftly gained worldwide recognition and nowadays enjoy popularity comparable to Scandinavian rollakans. Actually, their fame spread throughout the western world as early as at the dusk of the 19th century, when Navajo rugs began to be made for commercial purposes and not only for domestic use. It was also the moment of transition in which these remarkable textiles transformed from dresses, saddle blankets, cloaks and covers to strictly flat-woven rugs. As one expert expresses it, "Classic Navajo serapes at their finest equal the delicacy and sophistication of any pre-mechanical loom-woven textile in the world." We could not put it better. Navajo rugs are such inseparable part of Navajo culture that they play a role in the creation myth of their cosmology. According to old tales, a spiritual being called “Spider Woman” came to the women of Navajo tribe and revealed them the instructions for building the first loom from sky, sunrays, earth, rock crystal and lightning. Then, Spider Woman taught them how to weave and mesmerizing Navajo rugs were born.   

What are the Origins of Navajo Rugs?

navajo rugs - sand-rug 12x9The origins of Navajo rugs are unclear, however, most probably the tribe has learnt the craft of weaving from their Pueblo Indian neighbors. Some experts suspect that Navajo people were not weavers until after the 17th century, when they took in some of Pueblo Indians forced to escape their lands after Pueblo Revolt to evade the wrath of the conquistadors. This social interchange most likely triggered the creation of Navajo rugs and their distinctive weaving tradition. Spanish records show that the Navajo began to herd ship for wool and weave blankets from that time onward, which strongly supports the thesis about neighborly exchange of goods and services. Nonetheless, it is possible that the creative origins of Navajo rugs arose straight from Navajo culture instead of being borrowed from the neighboring people. Written records, beginning with Spanish colonial descriptions of the early 18th century, establish Navajo tribe as exquisite weavers for at least 300 years. By 1812, governor of Zuni Pueblo Pedro Piño, named the Navajo the best weavers in the province. 

What are Characteristic Features of Navajo Rugs?

In the late 17th century , the Navajo purchased the Iberian Churra, a breed of sheep from Spanish explorers, and developed them into a well-suited to the climate brand new breed, Navajo-Churro, distinguished by useful, long-stapled wool. Antique Navajo rugs made from exceptional Navajo-Churro wool are characterized by incredible durability and high knot density allowing the creation of fascinating tribal patterns. Although the majority of Navajo carpets builds upon simple geometric motifs, they exhibit upmost sophistication comparable to this of Scandinavian rollakans or Oriental kilims. Many of the patterns are crafted into a fourfold symmetry which, according to scholars, embodies traditional ideas about harmony. As the economy for Native American carpets grew rapidly, traders encouraged the locals to weave their textiles into distinct styles. navajo rugs - antique carpet bb2979They included "Two Gray Hills" –predominantly black and white, with traditional motifs. "Teec Nos Pos" – colorful, with very extensive patterns, "Ganado" – red dominated patterns with black and white, Oriental and Persian styles, such as gul – an octagonal medallion, "Wide Ruins," "Chinle," banded geometric patterns, "Klagetoh", diamond type patterns, "Red Mesa" and bold diamond patterns. The eye-dazzling Navajo rugs may also sometimes encompass iconic designs from antique Caucasus carpets. Traditional Navajo weaving technique used upright looms with no moving parts, in which support poles were constructed of wood. Prior to the mid-19th century, the coloration of these Native American rugs encompassed mostly natural brown, white and indigo which was obtained through trade and purchased in lumps. By the middle of the century the color palette has been extended to include gray, yellow, black, green and red which until now are also associated with Navajo rugs. 

If you would like to find out more about Navajo rugs, do not hesitate to contact us by email DD@DorisLeslieBlau.com or call 212-517-9178. You are more than welcome to visit our gallery located on 306 East 61st Street, 7th Floor, New York and if by any chance you are visiting the capital, come to The Washington Design Centre at 1099 14th Street, N.W. Suite 325. We assure that our consultants will be at your disposal, serving with their expertise and kind advice.