This beautiful Contemporary Navajo weaving is a “Dazzler”. The weaver is Cordelia Begay. It measures 27″ x 44.5″.
There is an ageless beauty to Navajo weaving. Navajo weavings are many things to people. Above all else, Navajo weavings are masterworks, regardless of whose criteria of art is used to judge them. They are evocative, timeless portraits which, like all good art, transcend time and space. Navajo weaving has captured the imagination of many not only because they are beautiful, well-woven textiles but also because they so accurately mirror the social and economic history of Navajo people. Succinctly, Navajo women wove their life experiences into the pieces.
Navajo people tell us they learned to weave from Spider Woman and that the first loom was of sky and earth cords, with weaving tools of sunlight, lightning, white shell, and crystal. Anthropologists speculate Navajos learned to weave from Pueblo people by 1650. There is little doubt Pueblo weaving was already influenced by the Spanish by the time they shared their weaving skills with Navajo people. Spanish influence includes the substitution of wool for cotton, the introduction of indigo (blue) dye, and simple stripe patterning. Besides the “manta” (a wider-than-long wearing blanket), Navajo weavers also made a tunic-like dress, belts, garters, hair ties, men’s shirts, breechcloths, and a “serape-style” wearing blanket.
Rug Revival Period (1920–1940)
A combination of factors helped revive the Navajo weaving industry: continued demand for a good quality rug and the contribution of several farsighted people.
Several people in different areas began experimenting with vegetable dyes and vegetable-toned chemical dyes. 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 effort was extended even further by the Diamond Dye Company, which introduced a series of dyes called “Old Navajo.” Now the weaver had, in one package, both the mordant and the colorant. This process was faster and less dangerous than the old mixing with acids, and it produced more uniform results.
In 1934, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Navajo Sheep Breeding Laboratory at Ft. Wingate (near Gallup, New Mexico). Here, they developed 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 these developments, the high standards demanded by many traders and the public nearly eliminated the low-grade weaving associated with the “pound rug.”
Eye Dazzler (Germantown) Period (1880–1900)
The influx of Germantown three- and four-ply yarn entered the Navajo weaving story in the 1880s. Its brilliant colors, and the Navajo weavers’ thirst for this color, added style to the sedate “Chief’s Patterns.” Germantown yarn gave birth to the “Eye Dazzler.” Brilliant reds, greens, yellows, blues, and more found their way into blankets and wall hangings.
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 weavers created wearing blankets. However, once the Pendleton Woolen Mills introduced their product, this 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 non-Indian people started using Navajo blankets as floor coverings, bedspreads, and wall hangings. This new 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 proliferated well into the 20th century, with a definite eye to balance the pattern. This more expensive yarn was only used by the better weavers.