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Blanket Statements

August 13 through December 31, 2005


(above: Pictorial Rug, 1982, by Isabell John (1933-2004). Wool. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum.1982.8)


Blanket Statements provides a snapshot of a single decade in the long history of Navajo creativity through close examination of more than 10 Navajo textiles woven in the 1980s and early '90s. Navajo weavers have been creating exquisite textiles for more than three centuries. With ever-changing ideas, materials and designs, they have created a world of beauty for which they have become justly famous. Ranging from abstract, eye-dazzling patterns to intricate pictorial scenes to bold geometric explosions, the designs created by Navajo weavers during the 1980s were built upon their strong cultural heritage while also being clearly focused on the present. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn why master weaver Isabel John wove detailed scenes of life on the Navajo reservation into her textiles, while Irene Clark chose to collaborate with the contemporary American painter, Kenneth Noland, to translate one of his drawings into a woven textile.





Wall text from the exhibition

Burnham Rug, 1988, by Bessie Barber (Navajo, b. 1955)

This style originated with a small family of weavers living in Burnham, New Mexico. At the center of the rug, four stylized, seated Navajo ceremonial figures frame a basket surrounded by feather motifs. In the Burnham style (and Bessie Barber's work specifically), you can often find small representations like these in the midst of an otherwise geometric design. 


Ganado/Klagetoh Red Rug, 1982, by Elsie Jim Wilson (Navajo, 1924-2003)

Ganado Red rugs usually have a central red diamond (or double diamond). Named after an Arizona community just south of Ganado, Klagetoh rugs are similar, but with gray centers and red backgrounds rather than the reverse. To Elsie Jim Wilson, classifications like these didn't really matter; she wove what she liked. In recognition of her efforts "to further Native American cultures," Wilson received the 1990 Arizona Indian Living Treasure Award.  (left: Ganado/Klagetoh Red Rug, 1982, by Elsie Jim Wilson (1924-2003). Wool; L: 58-1/2 x w: 37 inches. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum. 1982.7)


American Flag Rug, about 1986, by Attributed to Mary Gould (Navajo, dates not known)

The United States flag has inspired Navajo weavers since at least the 1870s. Artists have used this icon, either singly or in multiples, as a bold design element that often expresses the weaver's patriotism. 


Rug within a Rug, 1991, by Anonymous (Navajo)

A man and woman dressed in traditional clothing hold up a rug showing six masked religious dancers. The dancers are led by Talking God, grandfather of the gods, and followed by the Water Sprinkler. This weaver (who prefers to remain anonymous) specializes in creating textiles featuring images of these dancers, or Navajo Holy People (yé'ii). Because of the extreme tightness of the weave and the complexity of the design, this rug required more than seventeen months of work. 


Stacked Boxes, 1991, by Mary Brown (Navajo, b. 1950)

This complex optical illusion is created by a simple arrangement of three contrasting colors. The boxes appear to move if you shift your attention from one color to another. After 15 years away from the loom, Mary Brown made this weaving in response to a friend's challenge. It is highly unusual to maintain such skill after a long time away from weaving. (left: Stacked Boxes, 1991, by Mary Brown , b. 1950. Wool; L: 74 x w: 44-1/4 inches. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum. 1991.744) 

Chief Style Revival Rug, 1988, by Grace Henderson Nez (Navajo, b. 1913)

This design is a revival of a shoulder blanket style commonly woven by Navajo women more than 150 years ago. Grace Henderson Nez prefers to continue such designs as a tribute to the multiple generations of weavers in her family. In turn, she shared her extraordinary talents by teaching her daughter, Mary Begay, who is also a master weaver. Nez has brought a greater understanding of Navajo weaving to a larger audience by conducting public weaving demonstrations at Hubbell Trading Post in Arizona. 


Maquette for Nááts'íílid, 1990, by Kenneth Noland (American, b. 1924)

Gloria F. Ross (1923­98) worked to have the designs of prominent contemporary artists captured and transformed into wool. During the 1980s, realizing that Kenneth Noland's paintings were a perfect match for the Navajo loom and color range, she commissioned a series of designs from the artist. She then searched for individual Navajo weavers who might weave specific images. Typically, Navajo weavers visualize designs in their heads and rarely commit them to paper. But for this unusual collaboration, Irene Clark agreed to create a rug based on Noland's original drawing. 


Crystal Rug, 1985, by Ella Rose Perry (Navajo, b. 1929)

Regional rug styles began in the 1940s, when trading post owners encouraged nearby weavers to use specific designs and colors in their textiles. Ella Rose Perry weaves in the Crystal style, which is characterized by broad horizontal design bands that use only yarns made with plant dyes. Within these bands, any number of design motifs can be incorporated to make each rug unique. If you look closely at this textile, you can see another hallmark of the Crystal style-narrow, wavy lines within the broad color bands. 


Pictorial Rug, 1982, by Isabell John (Navajo, 1933-2004)

To Isabell John, weaving held great significance. It was a source of pride and a source of income -- but it was also a very visual way of teaching younger generations about important Navajo customs. Fearing the loss of certain aspects of Navajo culture, John deliberately set out to teach younger Navajos through the images on her textiles. Hand weaving is a very slow process, and John created very large rugs. As the images began to take shape on the loom, John used these scenes of Navajo ceremonies and dances to instruct younger generations about the importance of their heritage. 


Round Rug, 1982, by Rose Owens (Navajo, 1929-94)

The inspiration for the shape of this weaving came to Rose Owens as she observed a spider weaving its web. Round rugs are very rare in Navajo weaving, and Owens struggled to develop a technique to create them. This rug's unusual design, which includes a Navajo wedding basket motif at the top and bottom, is further testimony to her innovation and creativity. (right: Round Rug, 1982, by Rose Owens (1929-1994). Wool; 43 inches diameter.  The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum. 1990.270)


Tufted Rug, 1989, by Amy Begay (Navajo, b. 1965)

To create the shaggy surface of this textile, Amy Begay inserted extra mohair threads to one side as she wove. Originally used by the Navajos as thick padding under saddles, this type of weaving is rare today. Begay enjoys the challenge of creating tufted rugs and has won many awards for her artistry. 


Teec Nos Pos Rug, 1983, by Bessie Lee (Navajo, b. 1921)

Teec Nos Pos patterning, named after a community near the northeast corner of Arizona, is characterized by a large central rectangle filled with multiple geometric elements, each outlined in a contrasting color. This central panel is then surrounded by a detailed border. The X shapes in the inner and outer borders are characteristic of Bessie Lee's family's style. 


Nááts'íílid (Rainbow), 1990, by Irene Clark (Navajo, b. 1934)

This textile is the result of a three-way collaboration set in motion by Gloria F. Ross. Ross commissioned Irene Clark to weave this textile based on the adjacent drawing, made by contemporary painter Kenneth Noland. Clark named this rug Nááts'íílidbecause of its strong symbolism for her:

"All of the colors of the rug symbolize the array of colors depicted in the rainbow. The rainbow is a strength that protects and paves the path to beauty and harmony. As a nation, the Navajo people and our government continue to be protected by the rainbow. The rainbow also signifies sovereignty." (right: Naats'iilid( Rainbow), 1990, by Irene Clark, b.1934. Wool;L: 48-3/4 x W 100-3/4 inches. DenverArt Museum; gift of Gloria F. Ross and Kenneth Noland. 1992.133)


Two-Faced Rug, 1988, by Audrey Spencer Wilson (Navajo, b. 1920)

Because of the way they are woven, most Navajo rugs have identical front and back sides. However, a small handful of weavers choose to create pieces with two entirely different sides. By setting up her loom in a complicated manner, Audrey Spencer Wilson is able to weave detailed images of Navajo Holy People on one side of this rug and a plaid pattern on the other. 


Rug, 1990, by Irene Clark (Navajo, b. 1934)

Master Navajo weavers today are part of a thriving and intense art market, and their work is highly sought after by collectors, dealers, and museums. With its innovative terra cotta, khaki, and gray color scheme, as well as its elaborate, category-defying design, this rug won the 1990 Best of Show award at the Annual Navajo Artists' Exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona. 


(above: Rug within a Rug, 1991, by anonymous artist.Wool; L: 35 x w: 43 inches. The Gloria F. Ross Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weaving of the Denver Art Museum 1991.835)


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:


this online audio show:

Boston College partnered with the Forum Network for:

Religious Imagery in Navajo Textiles (1 hour, 11 minutes) a lecture by Rebecca Valette, professor, french, Boston College, who explains that seemingly abstract Navajo designs are, in fact, religious symbols imbued with specific meanings. [November 7, 2002]


these online videos:

Smithsonian TV is a central index of multimedia content and a multimedia hosting service of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Smithsonian TV is streaming these programs on its web site:

The University of Arizona Library presents 21 QuickTime video clips from the production Navajo Weaving originally produced in 1990 by KUAT-TV, Tucson, Arizona.

The WGBH/Boston Forum Network includes a number of videos on Art and Architecture. Partners include a number of Boston-area museums, colleges, universities and other cultural organizations. Boston College partnered with the Forum Network for:


and thisVHS video:

Art of Navajo Weaving and The Durango Collection of Southwest Textiles, The is a 56 minute dual-film video distributed by Interpark, Cortez, CO. The Art of Navajo Weaving beautifully documents the state of Navajo weaving, looking at it's origins and, through a visit with a contemporary Navajo weaving family, it's current state. It features Isabel and Geanita John, award winning pictorial weavers. The Durango Collection, an interesting and educational film, is a tour through the Durango Collection, the most complete collection of Navajo and Southwestern weaving in the world. The Collection is a part of The Southwest Center at Fort Lewis College The film is narrated by Jackson Clark and Mark Winter. (text courtesy of petroglyphtrail.com)





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