Essential West: Navajo Pictorial Rugs and Blankets
Navajo Pictorial Rugs and Blankets
Navajo Pictorial weavings are the perfect marriage of artistry and engineering
Collectors worldwide value pictorial Navajo rugs and blankets for their charm and the artistic vision needed to create them.
All Navajo textiles are woven on simple, un-mechanized frame upright looms that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. To make a visually successful rug using such basic tools, a Navajo weaver must develop a highly attuned spatial sense to plan and execute the complex geometric patterns for which these weavings are known.
Weavers that add pictorial elements to their textiles require great command of their craft as often these weavings require round motifs which are difficult to achieve. The most collectible Navajo pictorials are early and have unique designs that can rival paintings for imagery and use of color, particularly in textiles with entire landscape scenes. Trains, planes, and automobiles are always sought after.
Navajo pictorial weaving of New Mexico's Shiprock landform
Themes in Navajo pictorial weavings
Pictorial weavings usually reflect aspects of daily Navajo life, whether it be people, livestock, insects, cars, trucks, or even airplanes flying overhead - though more intangible concepts such as faith and home also are popular. Imaginative weavers have also explored other diverse topics including maps, fairytale creatures, and even product branding.
Below are a few examples of Navajo pictorial weavings from the Medicine Man Gallery collection throughout the years. We hope you enjoy seeing these woven treasures as much as we do.
This kind of pictorial weaving is called a Tree of Life and symbolizes life's progression. This example features an exquisite aniline-dyed cornstalk contrasting vividly with the natural wool colors in the rest of the rug. Circa 1920-30.
The weaver of this Transitional Period blanket used alternating rows of natural wool colors to mimic leaves on trees. The effect next to the bubblegum pink Navajo hogan has a midcentury modern feel, though it was woven 50 years before the inception of that design aesthetic. Circa 1900.
A lovely rendition of a cornstalk. Note how the weaver used just a touch of red for the corn tassels and used natural variegation in the wools to provide a mesa-like background.. Crystal Trading Post region, circa 1910.
A winsome grasshopper munches thistle plants. Circa 1910 - detail view shown.
This butterfly textile was woven in natural, undyed wools. Circa 1940.
Three colorful butterflies in a sampler-size textile by weaver Marie Begay. Circa 1990.
A rainbow of songbirds on a Tree of Life motif take wing in this rug by weaver Mary Hosteenez. Contemporary.
Sprightly roosters mirror each other in this early rug example. Notice the motion of the birds captured by the weaver. Circa 1910 - detail view shown.
An eagle flies in a woven landscape that includes mountaintops and cumulonimbus clouds. Contemporary.
This abstract horse is an early example of Navajo pictorial weaving. The cubist flavor of the geometric animal imparts a modern feel. This is one of the earliest Navajo pictorials woven in a sampler size that could be sold to railroad travelers; woven in Churro blanket wool. Circa 1890.
Navajo pictorial weaving featuring a lamb in a flower-covered meadow. Circa 1980.
Weaver Vanzine Mazie created this tongue-in-cheek rug featuring a woven cowhide. Contemporary.
Navajo Germantown pictorial sampler featuring an early 20th-century automobile with snazzy red tires and doors. Many Westerners thought the Model T was the scourge of the backroads - this might have been the first car the weaver had ever seen. Pictorials of this nature are very rare. Circa 1920.
A wonderful depiction of the Santa Fe Railroad woven in Germantown yarn with creative handling of spelling and letterforms. The Santa Fe Railroad opened up New Mexico and Arizona to the tourist trade for the Navajo people. This example is rare; early weavings with words are highly collectible. Circa 1890.
This rug features period vehicles executed in black and aqua aniline-dyed natural wool. Circa 1950.
Here, the weaver has made four flatbed trucks the focal point of her rug. Above the front hubcap are the letters "GMC" and each hubcap has a shading detail. The weaver was very precise in her weaving: The light fixture on the truck tells us it was a 1956 GMC truck, possibly done in trade for a truck dealership in Gallup, New Mexico. C. 1950s.
An excellent example of pictorial weaving, this rug features two Mountain Way dancers. Notice how the weaver deftly used orange-dyed wool to accentuate the feet and the cornstalk. Circa 1920-30.
This rug, featuring six Mountain Way dancers, is a remarkable feat of both representational imagery and composition. Each dancer sports a concho belt, turquoise jocla necklace and earrings, and striped trousers. Circa 1920.
Here, the weaver has chosen to depict a dancer of a different culture. As labeled in the rug itself, this weaving features a Shalako kachina dancer of the Zuni people. Note too the shading and perspective of the Zuni Pueblo buildings in the background. Circa 1980.
Rug featuring a cross, an open Bible, and the words "JESUS SAVE." The weaver had a good eye for detail, using red to make the radiating glow above the cross and accentuate the edges of the Bible; she also effectively imitated words on the page by alternating rows of black and white yarn. Circa 1940-50.
This sampler-size weaving was undoubtedly created as a wall hanging - a simple, but effective, expression of faith for the home. Circa 1950-60.
Likely this single saddle blanket was woven by commission from someone named "Flay." The weaver's upside-down orientation of the flag and the letters makes this splendid folk art. Circa 1930.
The weaver of this magnificent rug apparently loves a challenge! Every state is clearly identifiable by shape and labeling and the choice of red, white, and blue color palette makes this rug a unique piece of Americana. Circa 1960-70.
A pink cupid is the star of this sampler by weaver Jannie Pete. Circa 1970-80.
Also by weaver Jannie Pete, this sample features a smiling leprechaun with buckles on his shoes. Circa 1980.
Weaver Rose Bilah created this sampler with favorite items from Christmastime: a decorated tree, candy canes, and wrapped presents. Circa 1980.
This weaving features Totem Pole Rock of Monument Valley, executed in sandstone-colored aniline-dyed wool with natural wool background and clouds. Circa 1930-40.
A charming rug of the Shiprock formation in New Mexico, complete with a jolly shining sun. Circa 1960.
Simple but stunning, this weaving depicts Mitten Rock, one of the buttes in Monument Valley. Circa 1920-40.
The vibrant red house makes this early pictorial Gallup Throw special. This image likely represents a hogan, the traditional dwelling of the Navajo. Circa 1915.
This rug depicts Navajo community life with horses, sheep, people, homes, and trucks. Circa 1980.
Image depicting life on Cedar Ridge in Arizona. A weaver sits at a traditional loom, erected outside a hogan and a man tends to a flock of sheep in the distance. Circa 2000.
Vibrant Crystal rug with "Evelyn." This rug was likely made as a commission piece. Circa 1940.
A vibrant regional rug inscribed with the name "Cora Dandy." The weaver had to reconcile placement of the spacing of the last name. Circa 1930-40.
The message "HOME SWEET HOME" is accompanied by several birds in this piece by weaver Ella Begay. Circa 1960.
The weaver that created this Pepsi logo did a superb job matching the icon's proportions and color palette. Circa 1960.
Weaver Julia Tso of the Ganado region of Arizona created this well-balanced woven message. Circa 1970.
For 30 years, J. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery has been a trusted resource for expertise on authentic vintage Navajo weavings. The gallery has one of the largest collections of Navajo rugs and blankets in the United States, including numerous Navajo pictorial weavings.
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