Sallie Lippincott and her husband, Bill Wagner, purchased the Wide Ruins Trading Post in the 1930s when she was only 28. They were the first traders on the reservation who required their weavers to use vegetal dyes.
Before this time, nearly all weavings were made with commercial dyes purchased at the trading post. Sallie felt that the weavers from Wide Ruins were not producing top-quality rugs. After buying the post, she told the weavers that for the next two years, she would buy whatever rugs they brought to the post, but after that, they had to meet her quality standards, and they had to be made with vegetal dyes.
She then took over an old government building and hired quality weavers to teach anyone who wanted to learn how to weave the best quality Navajo rugs possible.
Sallie felt that if a woman learned to weave from her mother and her mother was not a great weaver, the daughter probably would not be either.
The weavers took to the challenge, which became a competition to see who could develop the best sources for vegetal dyes. The weaving quality improved, and within a few years, other trading posts at Crystal and Chinle promoted vegetal dyes.
Lippincott was also adamantly opposed to having borders on weavings. She felt that the simplicity of open weavings with horizontal designs was preferable to the more intricate designs made at Two Grey Hills and Teec Nos Pos. Her niece told me she would walk around a weaving with a border on it!
She and Bill sold the post following World War II and built a home in Oregon, cutting and assembling logs. These were hard-working people. Eventually, they divorced not because of the house, and Sallie settled in Santa Fe, where she continued supporting Native artists. Today the home is owned by Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band.
When Indian Market came, many friends she had made at Wide Ruins came to town and brought their families to stay with her. She was like the pied piper, walking through the Santa Fe Indian Market trailed by a parade of Navajo children.
She was one of a few people who worked as a group to save the Santa Fe Market when it was in trouble, and she was later honored as a Santa Fe Legend by the city.
This woman was a legend in her own time. When I first worked for my father in the business, I was in the rug room at the Pepsi plant in Durango. This very proper and attractive woman walked in and asked if “Jackson” was there. I knew she had to be talking about my dad, and I replied, “He’s at lunch, but he’ll be back soon if you would like to wait?”
She thanked me, stuck her hand out, and said, “I’m Sallie Lippincott.”
I remember looking at her and asking, “The real Sallie Lippincott?”