Towards the end of the1800s, the Navajo had begun to adopt the clothing worn by the traders and settlers in the Southwest. The Navajo women moved from wearing the woven dresses and blankets that came from their looms and adopted the long velvet skirts and blouses that they were first exposed to by U.S. Army officer's wives while the Navajo were kept in captivity during the Civil War.
Men began to adopt the pants and shirts of the white man. Fashion was changing on the Navajo reservation and even the traditional Navajo blanket was being replaced by the Pendleton blankets sold by the trading posts.
The traders, realizing the need to create an economy for the Navajo people to survive on, began to encourage the women to use their skills to weave "rugs." They were looking for thicker and heavier pieces that could be marketed to Easterners whose parlors were adorned with Oriental rugs at the time.
This led to the evolution of the Regional style of weaving, including the Ganado Red, Two Grey Hills and more. But during the transition to this period, there was a unique period of time where the traders imported commercially spun and dyed wool yarns to the reservation and encouraged weavers to use it.
During the last decade of the 1800's, through the first decade of the 1900's, three and four ply yarns that were manufactured in the mills of Germantown, Pennsylvania, were available on the reservation. Some traders embraced the yarns for use in the weavings as it provided uniform color and speeded up production. Some, like Don Lorenzo Hubbell, at the post that bore his name, preferred that his better weavers use hand spun wool as he wanted to be able to market the weavings as "Indian hand made."
Four in One Germantown weaving circa 1890
The Germantown yarns offered a wide variety of colors and, because they were commercially spun, they were uniform in size and did not have the "fuzz" that was associated with hand spun wool. Most of the time, these pieces were woven on a white cotton warp, further speeding up production.
But the yarn was expensive and the pieces did not hold up as floor rugs as well as heavy hand spun pieces and slowly weavers reverted to their own hand spun wool.
What is unique about the Germantown weavings, in addition to their bright colors and sharp patterns, is that they can definitely be attributed to this unique period of time. If you buy a weaving made with this yarn, you can be pretty darn sure it is at least 100 years old!
Today, I'd like to share a unique Germantown weaving with you. It comes from the late part of that era. An interesting attraction about this weaving is that the design is much larger and more bold than most Germantowns. It lacks the intricate pattern that you often see in Germantown weavings but it is gorgeous and has a charm and feeling of power that I love. And the colors are so rich! The weaving has had a few small repairs, and is in excellent condition. It certainly makes a powerful statement. Also, it is woven on a wool warp, unusual for a Germantown.
Germantown wool retains its vibrant color and exhibits a beautiful sheen.
This weaving was purchased from Mark Winter in 1990 when he had his shop in Santa Fe. Mark was my father's partner in putting together the Durango Collection of Navajo and Southwestern textiles which is now at the Center for Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College. The owner has sent it to us to sell and we are happy to share it with you.
The weaving is 84 x 57" and is priced at a very reasonable $7500. It is not on our website so please call for more information.
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