The Chief Blanket, woven by the Navajo Women of the 1800s, was one of the most prestigious possessions a Southwest American Indian could possess. The blankets were simple and elegant in their design, beautifully woven and accented the body of the weaver.
At first, they were simple striped designs. Later they were accented with rectangles and diamonds. These blankets were made for the woman’s family and, when that need was met, they were made to be sold and traded. The name, Chief’s Blanket, came from the fact that the Chiefs of the Plains tribes commonly wore the blankets. They were the only ones who could afford them with a fine Chief’s blanket selling for as many as 20 horses!
Over the last 20 years, many contemporary Navajo weavers have begun to experiment with the old blanket designs, adding their own interpretations.
The first time I saw this kind of interpretation was in the 1980’s after a weaver we worked with came in who had been at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff and saw an exhibit of Navajo wearing blankets that dated to the 1800’s. She decided to use one of the patterns she liked in her next rug.
The experience she had really illustrates an unappreciated benefit of museums. The young Navajo woman was exposed to a beautiful style of weaving that reflected her tribal culture. She had never seen this type of blanket nor did she have an appreciation of the quality of the work that her ancestors had created during periods of extreme hardship. Those blankets got her excited about weaving. She learned more about where she came from and who she was. It instilled a real sense of pride in her and her work.
Laverne Barber, who will be demonstrating
weaving during the gallery walk, had a different experience. I had decided that
it would be cool to have a First Phase blanket woven with Churro wool and using
the Indigo dye that the original blankets were woven with. These blankets were
basically blue, white and brown strips, going from side to side of the weaving.
The loom was wider than it was tall.
I arranged for Laverne to work with Beverly Anderson, a local weaver, to help Laverne dye some of the wool with Indigo. I gave Laverne a photo of a First Phase blanket and she began to weave it.
One day, I took my daughter-in-law, Teresa, who is a terrific photographer, down to see how the progress was coming on the rug. When we got to her home at Burnham, we found that she was weaving the piece on a loom that was taller than wide and the stripes were vertical instead of horizontal.
She was about halfway up the piece and I asked her how she liked it. She said it was boring her to death to weave nothing but stripes. Since I really didn’t want a First Phase that had the weft threads going the wrong way, I said, “Why don’t you just finish it however you want to. Forget about the picture.
She did, and it was a fabulous piece with an Eagle, Buffalo, and Medicine Men performing a ceremony and a painted Buffalo skin. I was happy she didn't finish the blanket design! It sold to a Wyoming collector right away.
Laverne regularly uses blanket designs in the work today. She has woven a special piece for the Gallery Walk titled, “Sitting Bull’s Chief Blanket”
We have some wonderful pieces and I hope you will join us. The Fall Gallery Walk is the biggest art event of the year in Downtown Durango. It’s a great opportunity to see old friends, catch up on what’s going on in the galleries and catch a meal at one of our outstanding restaurants.