Over the years, we have seen Navajo weaving evolve from wearing blankets to the transitional and Germantown weavings, the early floor rugs, and the regional styles. I’ve been thinking about where we are today and would like to share some thoughts.


Regional styles identified with the trading posts where they originated or developed are the basis of many collections that have given traders and dealers a way to market rugs. The names of the posts, Two Grey Hills, Wide Ruins, Crystal, Teec Nos Pos, Shiprock (Yei’s), Burntwater, Ganado, and others, identify the different styles.


My father used to give talks on Navajo weaving, saying, “Don Lorenzo Hubbell would buy any kind of rug that a weaver did as long as it was red, black, grey, and white, and that’s why the Ganado Red style evolved.” He was partly joking as Hubbell bought many different types of weavings, but it was true that, in general, he liked and paid more for the weavings with predominate red patterns.


The Crystal patterns began their lives as geometric designs that J. B. Moore, the original trader in 1896, put in a catalog and marketed across the country. The style changed in 1944 when Don Jensen bought the trading post. Seeing the successful use of vegetal dyes at Wide Ruins and Chinle, he encouraged his weavers to follow suit by weaving borderless striped rugs with those natural dyes.


In the Two Grey Hills area, which includes Toadlena, one of the last remaining trading posts still operating, the traders encouraged the use of natural wool colors woven into geometric patterns with borders.


All of these styles evolved because the trader was the primary source of anything that surrounding Navajo people wanted to buy. The posts were also the closest and easiest place to sell what the Navajo had to sell or trade. The trading posts bought wool, livestock (primarily feeder lambs), weavings, pinions, and, later, jewelry from the Native population.


Trading posts were also the center of community activity, the post office, and a source of medical help, and many traders acted as undertakers.

Hundreds of miles of dirt roads blanketed the Navajo reservation, making it time-consuming and challenging to travel to different trading posts, particularly before the automobile became common. That began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Navajo people could purchase vehicles and better roads were built.


In addition, the Federal Government created new rules that made it nearly impossible for trading posts to accept pawn. People in the area of a post secured short-term loans from traders using jewelry, saddles, rifles, or anything of value they owned. While there were some abuses, in most cases, trading posts charged low interest and seldom sold a piece of pawn when the owner failed to pay. These people were their customers; keeping that customer was more important than dollars made by selling their pawn.


Off-reservation shops were not restricted in the interest they could charge, and Navajos began to take their pawn there. Pawnshop owners had no reason to keep someone’s belongings if they went dead. Millions of dollars in Navajo wealth were lost as these shops sold “dead pawn.”


The days of the trading post were numbered. Grocery stores like Basha’s and Walmarts in towns the Navajo could now travel to could easily beat the trader’s prices and offer more goods. While still low, employment grew with tribal, federal, and private sector jobs.

Weavers began to take their work to surviving trading posts like Teec Nos Pos and Cameron Trading and people like my dad in Durango, Bill Garland in Sedona, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and multiple off-reservation traders in Gallup and the Farmington area.

The weavers were exposed to work different than they saw at the trading posts. They were more likely to travel to the Gallup Ceremonial or the Navajo Nation Fairs and see weavings from across the reservation.  And, like any artist, they adopted different elements from different areas.


Some, like the weavers from Burnham, incorporated designs from multiple weaving areas, creating their own new style. The most important lesson I learned from that time was in the 1970s when Helen Begay brought the first Burnham weaving I had seen to our old showroom in the Pepsi Cola Building in Durango. She showed me the weaving, and I asked her, “What kind of rug is that?”

She replied, “It’s a Helen Begay weaving.” 

That was when we quit selling contemporary weavings as Ganado or Two Grey Hills. They became Mae Jim’s, Esther Harvey’s, Rachael Curly’s, or whoever the artist was.

Today, weavers do amazing work with their designs while still leaning on past traditions. One of the most interesting developments has been the trend for weavers from all areas of the Navajo Nation to return to the designs of traditional blankets. This style adaptation appears to be one of the only patterns that consistently appears in top-quality weavings from all areas of the reservation.


Even weavers who usually create older regional styles occasionally weave a Chief’s blanket. And, of course, they throw their own interpretation into the designs. This is because of the number of books and museum shows featured wearing blankets. One of the first ones I purchased came from a woman whose name I’ve forgotten, who had been to the Museum of Northern Arizona and seen an exhibition of the old blankets.

Maybe it is a desire to return to history and honor the weavers who created the original blankets. I don’t know.  But, I believe that the re-creation of the blanket style has become what I regard as the first Pan-Reservation Style.


It owes its origins not to any trading area or individual weaver but to the women of yesterday who created the original masterpieces of the Navajo loom.