In the early 1980s, our family did a fundraising show of Navajo weavings and Indian jewelry at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. My sister, Antonia, was a student at the University of Utah, and one day, riding a chairlift at Alta with a friend who was on the board of directors of the museum, she learned of the problems they had raising funds.
So, she offered the family business to help raise some money and some awareness. We did the show for about ten years and made many wonderful friends in the Salt Lake City area. A few years before the pandemic, we started up again at the new museum and plan to pick it up again this year.
I tell you this because it was at this show that I met my first real miniature collector. I won’t share her name, but she and her husband were big supporters of the museum. At one of the early shows, she asked me if I had any miniature Navajo rugs. I showed her a few about a foot in length, but she said, “No, I mean very small. Small enough for a dollhouse.”
My expertise in dollhouses was limited. I asked, “You mean a kid’s dollhouse?”
She smiled at me and said, “No, it’s a little more than that. Perhaps you and your family can come over after the show tonight and see my dollhouse.”
It wasn’t a question but more of a notice that after the show closed, that’s where we were going. Our parents liked these people, and they were happy to be going to check out the dollhouse. My sister and I were a little less enthused until we got there.
This dollhouse occupied an entire room, about 20 feet by 15 feet, maybe larger. It was made with exquisite workmanship with every detail to scale. There were at least 50 rooms in the house, everything from a garage to a formal dining room to a recreation room with a miniature pool table. One room was decorated with French furniture and miniature European tapestries and paintings. Another was contemporary modern. There was a formal dining room and a smaller family dining room off the kitchen.
This “dollhouse” was a work of art, and each room was a unique themed creation.
The owner showed us a room near the corner of the house decorated with American Indian items. There were small pots and baskets, paintings, and some small kachina dolls. The furniture was upholstered with Southwest Indian patterns.
“I need a nice Navajo rug for this floor," she said. “It has to be three inches wide and no longer than five inches long. It must be woven with thin enough threads to make it appear to be to scale. Can you find me one?”
Thank goodness my dad jumped in and said, “Sure!” because I had no idea where to find something like that. After we left, I asked him where he looked for a miniature rug, and he said, “Eddie Foutz at Shiprock Trading post has a weaver that makes those for him.”
Sure enough, Ed had a lovely miniature Ganado style weaving, and the woman loved it. And my sister and I had a whole new appreciation for dollhouses!
There are not many artists who weave miniature Navajo rugs, but the ones that do are real artists. We were recently given about 70 of these weavings from a collection that has been put together over the last 30 years. I think you might be surprised by how unique they are.
Another thing I have learned is that you don’t have to own a dollhouse to collect miniatures! There are many collectors of small weaving, pots, kachinas, and other art forms. Look at these great pieces, and you’ll see that they have all the artistic appeal of a large rug! They just come in a small size!