NATIVE AMERICAN RUGS GUIDE

For nearly two centuries, Navajo rugs have been highly sought after trade items, prized for their beauty and quality. Anthropologists believe the Navajo people were introduced to weaving in the 17th century by the Pueblo people, who had been growing and weaving cotton for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish. Navajo weavers primarily used wool from the churro sheep brought by the Spanish. The Navajo believe that Spider Boy gave them their first loom and that Spider Woman taught them how to weave. Early Navajo blankets were simple in design and used very little color. By the middle of the 19th century, Navajo “Chief’s Blankets” had become a highly valued trade good, known for their softness and quality, and were traded as far away as the Great Plains. Styles were influenced by Spanish and Mexican weaving and artists began to add some geometric patterns such as rectangles and diamond shapes.

Navajo weaving declined in the late 19th century as more manufactured clothing and goods arrived with the railroads and demand decreased. Around the turn of the century, traders like J.L. Hubbell, C.N. Cotton and John B. Moore encouraged the revival of Navajo weaving, believing rugs could be marketed to audiences in the Eastern United States. As the only significant customers of Navajo rugs at this time, these traders had a significant impact on the direction of Navajo weaving. They introduced their own design concepts and, as a result, particular weaving styles developed around trading posts, such as Two Grey Hills and Ganados. Navajo weavers also turned to vegetal dyes at this time and in a few decades became known for the unsurpassed quality of their rugs and tapestries. Today Navajo rugs are prized for their artistry and craftsmanship and considered among the most valuable in the world.

Two Grey Hills

Two Grey Hills is a style of Navajo weaving that developed around the Two Grey Hills Trading Post in northwestern New Mexico in the early 1900s. Widely considered the most sought-after of all Navajo rugs, Two Gray Hills rugs are the height of art and craftsmanship. They are known for their use of undyed wool, all-natural color and intricate geometric designs. The wool is hand carded and hand-spun, techniques rarely practiced in any other parts of the world, making the yarn extremely soft and fine. A small rug or tapestry takes more than 400 labor hours from carding to completion and for this reason Two Grey Hills rugs are generally the most expensive and prized style of Navajo rug.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life is a pictorial style of Navajo rug that gained popularity after World War II. The traditional Tree of Life pattern consists of a corn stalk or other plant rising from a Navajo wedding basket, with birds adorning the leaves of the cornstalk. Tree of Life is one of the most recognized rug patterns and may have come from Navajo sand painting designs

Eye Dazzlers

Eye dazzlers are a Navajo rug style that developed in the late 19th century during the transitional period when Navajo weavers began using colorful commercial dyes and yarns in their blankets and rugs. The style features elaborate stair step and stacked diamond designs and was inspired by the elaborate geometric patterns found in Mexican Saltillo weavings. These rugs were called eye dazzlers because the complex terraced designs were so dazzling that they appeared to vibrate. With their striking patterns and vibrant colors, these rugs because extremely popular at trading posts and with tourists. Today, many expert Navajo weavers make rugs in the renowned eye dazzler style, creating sophisticated fine art tapestries that impress collectors around the world with their breathtaking patterns and stunning artistry.

Teec Nos Pos

Teec Nos Pos is a style of Navajo weaving that developed around the Teec Nos Pos trading post in northeastern Arizona. With its striking complexity of design, Teec Nos Pos is considered one of the most intricate, detailed and valuable of all Navajo rug styles. It developed in the early 20th century when traders encouraged Navajo artisans to create designs like those found on Oriental rugs. Teec Nos Pos rugs look very different from other styles of Navajo weaving. They are often large and bold, featuring a broad border and central panel made up of multiple design elements. Navajo weavers sometimes incorporate feathers, arrows, rainbows and other motifs drawn from their culture. Today, the most skilled Navajo weavers carry on the Teec Nos Pos tradition, creating impressive large-scale rugs that demonstrate their technical brilliance. These distinctive rugs are a statement-making addition to any fine art collection.

Pictorial Styles

Navajo weavers have been creating pictorial rug styles since the 19th century, but they grew in popularity after World War II. Early pictorial designs usually featured feathers, arrows, animals and other familiar Navajo icons within a geometric design. In the second half of the 20th century, artists began to fill their rugs with a single pictorial scene, such as vibrant landscapes, yei figures inspired by sand paintings, or the popular tree of life pattern. The tree of life pattern features a cornstalk emerging from a Navajo wedding basket, with birds perched on the leaves of the cornstalk. The design celebrates the natural world and reminds us of the importance of living in harmony with nature. Today, pictorial rugs are one of the most widely collected styles of Navajo weaving, admired for their inspiring scenes and technical sophistication. The pictorial style allows artists to showcase their creativity and imagination, creating unique rugs that have brought a fresh perspective to the world of contemporary weaving. 

Chief's Blanket & Revival Styles

In the 19th century, the Navajo wove blankets for trade with the Spanish and other Native American cultures. By 1850, their “chief’s blankets” had become a highly valued trade good, known for their warmth, softness and high quality. Though the Navajo have no chiefs, the blankets were known as chief’s blankets because only the chiefs of Plains Indian tribes and other wealthy people could afford them. There were three phases in the development of chief’s blanket designs. In the first phase, which lasted from approximately 1820 to 1860, blankets featured a simple design of broad horizontal stripes in brown, white and indigo blue. Second-phase blankets had the same horizontal stripes with the addition of red rectangles. In the third phase, weavers added diamond motifs drawn from Mexican rug designs. Third-phase rugs were red, indigo blue, black and white and generally had nine diamond shapes, often with crosses, zigzags, triangles and other motifs inside them. Together, these three phases make up the Classical period in Navajo weaving, which ended with the arrival of the railroad in the Southwest in the 1880s. Today, many Navajo weavers have returned to these classic styles of weaving, creating extraordinary revival-style rugs that will last for generations.