Navajo Weavings from the Transitional Period
One of the most interesting periods in the history of Navajo weaving began in the 1880’s and went through the first decade of the 1900’s. It is called the Transitional era because it marked the switch between the weaving of wearing blankets by Navajo women to weavings intended for sale.
The evolution to the commercial marketing of Navajo weaving actually began in 1882 when the railroad reached Gallup. For the first time there was a way to transport goods back to the East. The trading post owners were quick to realize the economic benefits that would accompany this potential new market for Navajo weaving.
The railroad also opened the Southwest to tourism and a heightened interest in Indian arts and crafts.
The number of Navajo wearing blankets that were being woven had declined dramatically by the 1880. The Navajo people were adopting the clothing styles of the white man. The “traditional” long velvet dress and blouse that most Navajo woman adopted were actually inspired by the dress of military officer’s wives during the Navajo’s period of incarceration during the Civil War.
Most, but not all, of the early Transitional blankets depended on a striped motif that drew it’s inspiration from the earlier Navajo blankets. Most were woven with hand spun wool yarn that was colored with aniline dyes.
Trading post owners were not art dealers. They were merchants who sold coffee, sugar, flour, pots, pans, fabric and anything else they could, to their Navajo customers. They also bought and sold wool and livestock.
The idea of providing designs to weavers for their rugs developed over time and by the 1920’s, the regional weaving styles had taken over the Navajo weaving market, leaving the Transitional pieces with their own historical period.
Transitional weavings were generally softer and more pliable than those of the later regional period. The obvious reason is that most of the women weaving these pieces had spent their lives weaving soft and pliable blankets that were intended to be worn. It’s like an oil painter changing his technique. It takes a while.
This period of weaving is one of my favorites. The designs vary from simple and elegant to wild and disjointed. Transitional weavings really marked the first departure from established patterns by Navajo weavers and fostered an explosion of creativity.
My mom is quick to point out to customers that these weavings are great bed covers because of their soft feel. That is her favorite thing about them, so I needed to mention it!
We have a wonderful collection of Transitional weaving right now. One of my favorites, and one of the simplest, I call the “Barber Pole” weaving.
The soft white wool is lined with red and brown diagonal stripes. If you are old enough to remember Barber Poles, you’ll know what I mean! This piece dates to about 1900. It is 56”x 78” and is priced at $5500.00
The second is one of the neatest Transitional pieces we have ever had. It has red and orange aniline dyes, but is unique in that the blue color is indigo, which was the source of blue in most of the Classic wearing blankets. You just have to imagine that this woman somehow had a stash of indigo dyed yarn left over from that period, and that she used in this blanket. It dates to the start of the Transitional period. It is 54” x 76”, in great shape with one small stain that could be taken out but it was in a museum exhibit and that is one way to prove it is the same weaving. It is priced at $8500.00.
The third one has a refined style, with the stripes having a notched or stepped design. It has red, orange and yellow aniline dyes and dates to the early part of the 1900’s. It is a beautifully woven piece, measures 55” x 78” and is one of the most uniform transitional weavings that I have seen. It is priced at $7500.00.
There are several other Transitional era weavings on our new web site that you will enjoy seeing!
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Jackson Clark II