Navajo Weaving and the American Flag: A story of the Harvey Family

andy-bertha-harvey-flag-weavingAndy and Bertha Harvey

The Harvey family lives north of Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation Capital. I don’t know when my Dad met them, but I don’t think I remember a time when he wasn’t buying weavings from Esther Harvey, the mother and head of the family.


Polaroid of Esther and Bertha Harvey in 1979


Esther and Bertha with a collection of small weavings

charlene-bertha-harvey-2007Charlene and Bertha Harvey in 2007

Esther was one of his favorite weavers and in his book, “The Owl In Monument Canyon,” Dad wrote a story about her and the pictorial flag rugs that she wove. The book is out of print, but we carry used copies at the gallery or you can find it on Amazon. In the book, she is referred to simply as Esther in his chapter about Navajo Pictorial Rugs.

Esther used to weave vegetal dye weavings; Crystals, Wide Ruins and Chinle style rugs. Bertha and Charlene, her daughters, were weaving by the time I got in the business, in the early 70’s. Bertha and I are about the same age and Charlene is a little younger.


Bertha Harvey at the loom

There was an Arizona Highways magazine that came out about that time with a photograph of Sadie Curtis, another weaver we worked with, weaving an American flag rug in front of the Hubbell Trading Post. Dad really liked the photo and, I think because Esther’s rugs were about the same basic dimensions as a flag, he asked her if she could weave one.

I don’t know if she had ever woven an American Flag before, but it came back absolutely perfect. We sold it and he ordered another one. This went on for three or four weavings and they always sold quickly.


Chinle weaving by Bertha Harvey

The Bi-Centennial was coming up and there was a popular image of an American flag with a circle of 13 stars and a “76” in the center of the circle. Dad asked Esther if she could try and make one of those.

Now it wasn’t one of those conversations like you might imagine. Dad and Esther were really great friends but she spoke no English and he spoke no Navajo. Bertha or Charlene would always have to translate. Esther seemed to get a kick out of the fact that he wanted rugs that looked like a flag, but she would always smile and weave them for him.


Recent Chinle style weaving by Bertha Harvey

The “76” weaving came out great! Dad saved that one for his pictorial collection. Then he decide that it would be cool to have a New Mexico flag rug. This too came out perfectly. The Colorado flag was next and after she brought it in, Dad gave it to Colorado Governor John Love, a friend of his. Then he asked her to do a Texas Flag. It didn’t come back for a long time.


 Chinle weaving with deep red, black, grey and white colors


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When it finally arrived, he could tell something was wrong as Ester was not her cheerful self. When he unfolded the weaving, he could understand her concern. As I described it at the time, the star in the middle “looked like a KOA sign that had been hit by a Mack truck.”

Esther was clearly upset, but my father absolutely loved that rug. He kept it in his personal collection and never let Esther even think there was anything wrong with it.

I used to do shows in different stores with Esther and Bertha. They would demonstrate weaving and we’d have a great time. Bertha had a job at the Navajo Nation Inn as the pastry chef. The hotel has changed names, but she is still there. Charlene ended up graduating from college at the UNM extension in Gallup. Her son, Kyle, is on a full ride scholarship in some science I can’t pronounce at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. When he was in high school, he used to come up and stay with me and go to the Fort Lewis College basketball camp. They are a great family that is a pleasure to know.

Bertha and Charlene still weave, but not as much as before. Charlene is working and Bertha is taking care of Esther who has developed Alzheimer’s. When they bring a rug up, Esther usually comes along and seems to know who I am and gives me a hug and a big smile, but you never know if she is just one of those friendly souls who reaches out to everyone.

Bertha has taken over weaving flags and they are just as beautiful as her mother’s. She doesn’t like to do them all the time. Recently Charlene and Bertha worked on weaving some re-creation Chief’s blankets that were really great and both of them still like the Chinle styles, although they like using brighter aniline dyes rather than vegetal dyes.

This week, Bertha brought in one of her flag rugs. She brought her nephew, Andy, with her. He had not been in Durango since he was a youngster and he reminded me that I had taken him and Kyle to Baskin Robbins while Bertha was at the bank cashing her check for a rug she brought in. I did remember that, but this very handsome young man was a long way from the kid I used to take for ice cream!

Time goes by quickly and it is wonderful to see this family evolving to where they are. For Bertha and me, one on the buyer’s side and one on the artist’s side, it has been a wonderful journey and one that I hope continues for a long time. We only see each other about 4 times a year, but if you multiply that by 40 plus years, that is a lot of visits, and they are always wonderful.

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