J.B. Moore, proprietor of the Crystal trading post from 1896 to 1911 influenced the Navajo rug design aesthetic by encouraging weavers to create rugs that were reminiscent of Oriental rugs, with similar motifs woven in the Navajo way. Since the Crystal trading post was located in a remote mountainous region, Moore printed and sent mail-order catalogs (one in 1903 and one in 1911) for Navajo rugs to buyers back east. Buyers could select a design from the catalog as well as the grade of wool to be used. Not only did weavers make rugs that were exact replicas of those found in the catalogs, but they also used the most popular design elements in rugs of their own composition.
Here are some of the common design motifs that characterize Crystal rugs:
Hook motifs are often used in geometric borders and to flank large central motifs.
The waterbug motif is a popular Crystal rug design element. Waterbugs usually have a central “body” with four “legs” - two on each side. These motifs can be quite abstract, sometimes with multiple waterbugs forming a larger, repeating pattern.
Frets or Keys
The fret shape (also called a key) is a design element derived directly from Oriental rugs and is a popular border pattern in Navajo Crystal rugs.
The chevron is a zigzag pattern used in Navajo Crystal rugs. As in the example pictured here, a chevron border can make a highly visual pattern.
The Whirling log motif is an ancient symbol that was used by many cultures. Trader J.B. Moore (and other traders of the day) encouraged Native American weavers to incorporate this symbol into their weaving patterns. Seeing this motif in a rug helps us date the weaving as the use of this symbol by weavers ceased altogether in the 1930s due to WWII.
Crosses, especially in borders, are a classic Crystal rug motif, seen in the J.B. Moore catalogs. They can be solid or outlined, and their use imparts a timeless, bold design aesthetic that is as appealing now as it was in the early 20th century.
A Valero star is an eight-pointed star motif found in Navajo and Hispanic weavings beginning in the 1800s. Weavers of Navajo Crystal rugs often incorporate Valero stars, either as single motifs, in rows as a border, or occasionally as a repeating pattern for an entire weaving.
The Storm Pattern
A Navajo storm pattern is a unique subset of Crystal rug motifs that together form a larger pattern. Storm pattern rugs have been popular from the days of the J.B. Moore’s 1903 and 1911 mail-order catalogs and remain popular to this day.
Storm patterns are characterized by a large, central rectangle connected by zig-zag lines to four smaller rectangles - one in each corner. Any of the other Crystal rug motifs discussed here may also be included, such as waterbugs or whirling logs.