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Navajo Ganado Rug, circa 1920, 69" x 45"
Simplicity Of Design
by Mark Sublette
Collectors of Navajo weavings are encouraged to organize and build their collections to fit into neat categories. There is nothing wrong with this approach, in fact my gallery and website navigate through hundreds of Navajo weavings using just this method. Inventory is usually sorted by trading post, type of weaving, date created or size. There is one search, however, you would not be able to execute, "Simplicity of Design." These enigmatic Navajo weavings are square pegs plugged into round holes and often overlooked as being un-Navajo or having designs that are too simple. These outliers are difficult to categorize as a special group.
Navajo Crystal Rug, circa 1900, 72" x 42"
Simplicity of design is a common thread of artistic expression, whether a Navajo rug or a Rothko painting, these art forms share common traits that set them apart. Predominant use of color and/or bold repetitive elements are markers of simplicity. Chief's blankets, recognizable bastions of classic Navajo aesthetics, are clear-cut examples of "less is more" artistic thinking. Using horizontal lines of blue, brown, and white, First Phase Blankets don't dazzle their audience through loud intricate use of color. Instead their design speaks through wonderful shades of natural color and subtle gradations of wool. One can't help but wonder if the omnipresent reminder of mother natures geologic formations found pervasively on the Navajo reservation isn't one of the key factors of inspiration in this artistic process.
Navajo Transitional Blanket with Lightning Design, circa 1890, 64" x 55"
What makes a masterpiece from simplicity? Early Chiefs blankets fall into this category but are only a small subset. Weavings with less recognizable patterns are not as easy to identify, however there are common characteristics. Using color in a subtle fashion as the main form of expression is one example. Banded blankets fall into this group. A preponderance of negative space as a design element is another often seen in Saddle Blankets Perhaps the largest group of textiles that defy specific or easy categorization are defined more by what they are then what they are not. These are the textiles of exclusion, odd balls that deserve attention. Any weaving that garners remarks such as "I have never seen one like that before," or "Are you sure it's a Navajo?" or "It's very simple looking," are the pieces I am interested in. These outliers of quick classification are the artistic gems I find compelling yet most often overlooked by the general collector base. To think outside the norm allows growth and can't help but lead you to the treasure trove of masterpieces embracing simplicity of design.
This July, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery in Santa Fe will present a collection of 30 Navajo masterpiece textiles from 1860 to 1950 in an exhibition titled Simplicity of Design.
Navajo Second Phase Chiefs Blanket Variant, circa 1890, 55" x 80"
Navajo Transitional Blanket with Lightning Design, circa 1890, 90.5" x 64"