21" x 23"
This is a tapestry weaving of unusually fine workmanship inspired by the Second Phase Chief’s blankets of the early days of Navajo weaving. It features the classic red, blue, white, and black color palate and adds arrow elements and a distinctive railroad track, which were characteristic of this elegant early style. Technically, the weaving is as tight and well-woven as any Navajo textile in our collection.
Weaving has been carried to a high degree of perfection by the Navaho. The art as it exists among them today is not an invention of their own, as nothing similar is found among any other tribe of the Athapascan stock. It is pretty safe to say that the Navaho learned the art of weaving from the Pueblos. Their own legends, however, account for it in their own way. The hanelnaeheke hani', or moving upward chant legend, records that the art of weaving was taught by the Spider Man and Spider Woman in the following manner. "The Spider Man drew some cotton (ndaka') from his side and instructed the Navaho to make a loom. The cotton-warp was made of spider-web (nashjei bitlol). The upper cross-pole was called yabitlol (sky or upper cord), the lower cross-pole ni'bitlol (earth or lower cord). The warp-sticks were made of shabitlol (sun rays), the upper strings, fastening the warp to the pole, of atsinltlish (lightning), the lower strings of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), the heald was a tsaghadindini isenil (rock crystal heald), the cord-heald stick was made of atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and was secured to the warp strands by means of nltsatlol billdestlo' (rain ray cords)." "The batten-stick was also made of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), while the beidzoi (comb) was of yolgai (white shell). Four spindles or distaffs were added to this, the disks of which were of cannel-coal, turquoise, abalone and white bead, respectively, and the spindle-sticks of atsinltlish (zigzag lightning), hajilgish (flash lightning), atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and nltsatlol (rain ray), respectively." "The dark, blue, yellow and white winds quickened the spindles (beedizi) according to their color, and enabled them to travel around the world."
Presumably, this legend accounts for the now vanishing tradition that weaving should be done with proper moderation. Overdone weaving (akeitlo) is ameliorated by a sacrifice offered to the spindle (beedizi). Its prayerstick (bik'et'an) consists of yucca, precious stones, bird and turkey feathers, tassels of grass (tlo'zol) and pollen, and forms part of the blessing rite (hozhoji). The hach'eyatqei, or ch'aeyatqei (prayer to the gods), is recited with the sacrifice. The custom withholding maidens from weaving before marriage, which was formerly observed, is also explained by the fear of overdoing weaving. Little or no attention, however, is paid to this tradition today. Pgs. 221, 223
For references to steps in weaving, coloring and dyeing of wool, setting up of loom, weaving, Implements, use of loom, designs and knitting refer to below Pgs. 223-256
Take, for instance, the famous art of Navajo weaving. If you ask a member of the tribe today when weaving was learned, she - for Navajo weavers are women - will tell you that they were taught by Spider Woman, "in the beginning." Yet the Navajo weaving technique, point for point, exactly duplicates that of the Pueblos, who have been weaving since A.D. 600. It is a complicated art, and Navajo girls today need years to learn it from a female relative, practicing every day. It is difficult to believe that the Navajos had worked out the loom, the spindle, and all the other equipment before this era of "learning by marriage." A blanket got in trade, a loom glimpsed on a visit to some pueblo would never have given them enough information. Then there is the problem of sex etiquette, for most Pueblo weavers today are men. Indian proprieties would surely forbid a Navajo woman to receive daily instruction from a strange man. But if she married him! It is possible to imagine the skilled weaver working in a Navajo home, trying to teach his sons who were still wedded to the life of hunting and fighting and, finally, imparting the art to his daughters. That this did not happen too early in Navajo history can be gathered from the fact that all known specimens of Navajo weaving are in wool. Therefore they were made after the Spaniards had come and after the Navajos had sheep. And sheep did not come to the Navajos in any quantity until after the Pueblo revolt. Pgs. 46-47
Even such everyday tasks as weaving must be done only in moderation. Many women will not weave more than about two hours at a stretch; in the old days unmarried girls were not allowed to weave for fear they would overdo, and there is a folk rite for curing the results of excess in this activity. Closely related is the fear of completely finishing anything: as a "spirit outlet," the weaver leaves a small slit between the threads. Pgs. 225-226
The Navajos believe in the Greek maxim "Nothing to excess " believing that overdoing a thing brings bad luck as an offense to the spirits. For the same reason nothing must be too perfect. A rug or basket design with a solid border must have a break in it or flaw to let the spirit of the maker, who has spent so much time and energy, escape. It is natural that things which bring one a livelihood should also have some restrictions. Many commercially minded weavers and other craftsmen have begun to ignore the taboos of their trades as being too restrictive. The large number of taboos relating to pottery making have been given credit for the decline of that craft, and none are listed here.
Don 't hit anyone with weaving tools - crack the tools.
They will be paralyzed in the future.
Don't spank your children with weaving tools.
They'll get sick.
Don't have a weaving comb with six points.
Your baby might have six fingers.
Don't go between the poles of the loom when a woman is weaving.
You won't grow - cause evil - won't get much for the rug.
Don't have the loom of the weaving stand too long.
It will tire and hurt you.
Don't eat or drink while you prepare the loom for the rug.
You'll get poor - won't get much for the rug.
Don't eat while you are weaving.
It will go slow - won't be any good.
Don't weave a Yei figure with one eye smaller or one leg shorter.
It will affect you that way in later life - affect your baby.
Don't leave a Yei figure in a rug unfinished.
The Yeis will get angry - bring bad luck.
This is interesting as a compromise taboo. Yeis are Holy People and as such are supposed to be represented only in the sandpaintings which are used and destroyed before sundown but never done in any permanent form. The famous hermaphroditic medicine man Hosteen Clah was one of the first to weave rug versions of the sandpaintings. In the Shiprock area Yei rugs and other pictorial tapestries became increasingly popular after WWII.
Don't be stubborn while weaving a rug.
It won't be worth much.
Don't throw weaving tools.
You 'II never finish the weaving.
Don't burn weaving tools.
The "Yeis" will get angry - bad luck.
Don't weave if you don't know a weaving song.
It won't be any good.
Don't leave tools in the loom when they are not in use.
You won't finish right away.
Don't weave when it is raining.
It will cause the loom to fall.
Don't stand by the loom when it is raining.
Lightning will strike you.
Don't pass things through the loom.
Anything you pass through will be lost -food, yarn, beads.
Don't bump into or move around a loom you are preparing for a rug.
It will be crooked - you won't be able to get it straight.
Don't leave carded wool too long.
When you start weaving it won't like it and you'll have trouble.
Don't make fun of your weaving.
It will get worse - you'll be poor.
Don't leave a loom outside.
It will collect bad things.
Don't cut off a loom once it is made.
You will have a short life.
Don't steal a rug - wool - weaving tools.
You'll never be lucky - always have bad luck.
Don't weave immoral things in a rug.
You'll be sterile.
Don't weave any taboo animal into a rug.
You will have all the bad luck associated with that animal.
Don 't hang rugs out in the sun.
The sun will take it as an insult.
Don't weave at all (boys).
It will affect the reproductive organs.
Don't weave on the north side of the hogan.
The rug won't be worth anything.
Don't drag your rugs on the ground.
Don't leave an unfinished rug outside at night.
It might be witched - you won't be able to finish it or sell it.
Don't put a rug over your horse's face.
It will go blind.
The principal occupation of the present-day Navajo is raising sheep, goats, and a few cattle. And yet four hundred years ago he had seen no sheep or horses. Under the treaty of 1886, each Navajo was given two sheep - about twelve thousand sheep altogether, since not more than sic thousand Navajos survived Bosque Redondo. Now a million sheep graze on the Navajo land. Since the introduction of sheep to this country by Coronado's men, Navajo women have been weaving rugs on crude hand looms - an art which was not entirely new to them, since they already wove with yucca and other vegetable fibers. Pg. 167
There is a saying that a rug is not good unless a weaver puts her "soul" in it. Like Changing Woman, the Holy Person whom the Navajo woman personifies, the weaver is an eternal creator who weaves both an individual product of her own mind and a more universal product from the mind of the tribe. Pgs. 10-11
Tracing the history of Navajo chief blankets is about tracing the history of Navajo weaving. There are several different ways to address the origins of Navajo weaving both from a Navajo cultural perspective as well as historic documentation of their weaving tradition. This discussion of Navajo chief blankets will focus on the historic origins.
While archaeologists and anthropologists argue over the earliest arrival date of Athabaskan speaking people in the Southwest, it is without a doubt that weaving was adopted from their Pueblo neighbors and documented from at least the mid-1600’s. Weaving on a vertical loom using native cotton dates back to at least 700 A.D. (anthropologist Kate Peck Kent believes as far back as the time of Christ), a technique which migrated through Mexico to the Rio Grande Pueblos and Hopi Mesas.
Churro sheep were introduced by Spanish expeditions led by Coronado in 1540 and again in 1598 by Don Juan de Onate and continued to be the primary source of wool until the Long Walk period in the early 1860’s.
Blankets produced prior to 1865 are categorized as the Classic Period of Navajo weaving. Weavings were wider than long and woven for use by Navajo and other native peoples for wrapping around the shoulders. They are subdivided into three or four categories starting with the First Phase Chief Blanket.
Before delineating the specifics of each style, the term Chief Blanket needs to be addressed. The Navajo people do not have “chiefs”, per se. Although any Navajo could weave and wear this style of weaving, they were often recorded being worn not only by important Navajo leaders, but other tribes’ leaders as well. The Navajo people became highly adept in their weaving skills and their blankets were sought after by Pueblo, Ute, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Sioux and other surrounding tribes.
Once freight wagons, western settlers and later trains started moving across the Southwest, Anglo collectors became enamored of Navajo blankets. The Classic Period for Navajo weaving lasted until about 1865, the time when the majority of Navajo people were rounded up and force marched to Fort Sumner in New Mexico.
While different styles of wearing mantas were woven during this period, the Navajo chief blanket style became the most famous. The First Phase Chief Blanket predominated up until about 1850. The pattern consists of wide black or brown and white stripes. Indigo blue dye and red cloth were introduced by the Spanish resulting in thinner stripes of blue and occasionally narrow lines of raveled red appearing in this early style of blanket. Approximately 50 First Phase Chief Blankets are known to exist from this time period.
Second Phase Chief Blankets followed the same stripe pattern as the First Phase with the addition of small red bars or rectangles in the indigo blue stripes. Indigo dyed stripes typically appeared as the center and end stripes of the blanket with the remaining stripes being black or brown and white. This resulted in twelve red bars of color decorating the center and corners of this blanket style. The Second Phase chief blanket was evolving from the early 1800’s especially as red cloth and yarns became more available to Navajo weavers and this style continued into the 1870’s.
The Long Walk was a true watershed on many levels. Although historically horrendous for the Navajo people, it had a positive effect on Navajo weaving because of greater exposure to Rio Grande Hispanic weavings. A classic Rio Grande blanket design features a diamond in the center. From about 1860 to 1880, the six red bars located in the central stripes merged into three central designs, typically a terraced edged diamond in the center and two half diamonds at each end of the center stripe. Crosses were also a popular pattern in the nine-spot layout which became known as Third Phase Chief Blankets.
Finally, the full impact of Hispanic weaving design made itself felt in Navajo blanket styles. Serrated quarter, half and full diamonds or connected crosses became the dominating feature of the blanket along with the more liberal use of red yarns and dyes, both aspects resulting in the sublimation of the original dark and light horizontal stripes. The Fourth Phase Chief Blanket first emerged around 1870, a reflection, too, of the shift Navajo weaving was making from wearing blankets to rugs, a timeframe in Navajo weaving known as the Transition Period.
Today, Navajo chief blankets woven during that period are valued up to $500,000. The style remains popular among Navajo weavers and can be woven in the classic forms listed above or include other pictorial, geometric and color elements. Because of the transition from blankets to rugs, it is not uncommon to see the chief blanket design woven in a format which is longer than it is wide. Wherever Navajo rug designs may evolve, their roots remain in the beauty and simplicity of the original wearing blanket designs.