Many of you who follow our newsletter are aware that we are in Durango, Colorado, the home of Fort Lewis College and the Center of Southwest Studies.
The Center is the home of the Durango Collection, representing 800 years of weaving in the Southwest. It was put together by Mark Winter and Jackson Clark Sr. The living collection, which is constantly being added to, was donated to the Center by Richard and Mary Lynn Ballantine of Durango.
The Durango Collection is one of the finest of its kind. Two blankets from the Collection have been chosen by Pendleton to be the first of their “Preservation Series” honoring early Navajo weaving.
If you are familiar with Pendleton Blankets, you know that they have been a standard trade item among Native Americans for over 100 years.
They are valued gifts at Pow-Wows and special occasions. When my sons were born, we were gifted small Pendleton blankets from a Navajo friend.
The blankets that have been created from the Durango Collection pieces are simply outstanding and each one you purchase benefits the Center of Southwest Studies, Native Education and Health.
The first is based on a Serape Blanket from the early 1800s that would have been dyed with Indigo dye and naturally blended white wool. It measures 64” x 80”, basically a twin size. You can imagine how beautiful this blanket would have been wrapped around the shoulders of its proud owner. Pendleton has recreated that beautiful blue color that fascinated the Navajo weavers.
The second weaving has a great story to go with it. It is based on a Navajo Child’s Blanket. The name is misleading as there never has been a documented photo or any writing which confirmed that Navajo children wore blankets. Ty Campbell, an expert in Navajo weaving offers the theory that these small blankets were woven by Navajo women to be sold, perhaps to Union soldiers as souvenirs of their time in the west. Regardless, many of these small blankets were, in quality, the equal of the classic Navajo blankets.
Back in the 1980s, we were doing a fund-raising Indian Art Sale for the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake. I left the show before noon to grab something to eat. Now, I don’t know how it is with you, but sometimes you just know what you want for lunch and that day I wanted Kentucky Fried Chicken! Sometimes you just have to do things like that.
I drove downtown to a pick up a box of chicken, with mashed potatoes and green beans, and ate it while driving back to the Museum. A couple of blocks away from the Museum, I turned in an alley to toss the remains of the meal in a trash can.
As I pulled to the side of the alley to toss the box, I noticed a Navajo weaving covering a barbecue grill on a covered back porch. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew it looked old. The program I was giving at the Museum was about to start, so I didn’t have time to follow up, but after the Museum closed, I headed back down to see if I could get a look at the blanket.
The man who answered the door probably thought I was crazy, but I eventually talked him into letting me see the piece. He also had a gorgeous Germantown Navajo weaving on his wall. He knew absolutely nothing about the weavings. We talked for quite a while and I convinced him the Child’s Blanket, which had been woven in the 1800’s, did not belong on the grill.
I was at a disadvantage as I really did not know what the piece was worth. My experience at that point with weavings was pretty much limited to contemporary rugs. I offered him $1000.00 for the blanket and $1200.00 for the Germantown. To his credit, he declined, but he asked, “If I bring the weaving to Durango, will you pay me that same amount.”
I agreed, hoping my father wouldn’t be upset if the man showed up with the rugs and I was wrong about the values. Before I left, I asked him to please not clean or wash the weavings as he could destroy their value.
About six months later, the gentleman showed up at the showroom we had in the old Pepsi plant in Durango. I wasn’t there, but Dad remembered what I had told him about two weavings.
The man said, “Your son told me you would give me $2200 for these two weavings. I want to sell them.”
My Dad was an honest man. He looked at the weavings and immediately knew I had underpriced them. The two pieces were worth at least $5000. He started to explain to the man that he would pay him more and the man erupted.
“Not one more word! You can either write me a check right now for $2200 or I am walking out the door.” and he started to pick up the weavings.
Dad wrote him a check and the man left. When he got to the bank to cash the check, he realized it was for a thousand more than he’d asked. He didn’t come back to the showroom, but Dad got a nice note from him.
The best part is that Mark and Dad could have sold the piece and made some good money, but instead they kept it in the collection, and it ended up at Fort Lewis College.
The original weaving was dyed with indigo and cochineal, raveled trade cloth and hand spun wool. This Pendleton Blanket faithfully captures the colors and look of the original piece. It measures 64” x 80”.
Both blankets are available through Toh-Atin Gallery for $269 each. Their sale will benefit the work of the Center. If you are looking for a beautiful piece for your home or a gift that will be treasured for generations, these blankets will fit that bill!