Navajo Weaving

First Phase Chief’s Blanket
Dominated by horizontal lines, and nothing else.  Made between 1820 and 1850.  Very few are extant.  And very valuable.  I love these designs & feel their obvious resonance with modern art.



I was smitten by Navajo weavings (in their many styles) the first time I traveled to the Southwest, and my amazement has never ceased.  I have gone there several times since, buying a few (which I treasure) and admiring many, both in person at trading posts, rug stores, and, when at home, in the many books I’ve collected. 

Especially attractive to me is perhaps the earliest and simplest version of this design, which has come to be known as the first phase “chief's blanket.”  These blankets were at first worn by the Navajo themselves and later widely traded to other tribes, who valued their beauty and utility.  In fact, they became known as "chief's blankets" due to the high respect and value they had to tribes far and wide.  These were worn during the day and slept with at night.


Second Phase Blankets frequently added elements, like rectangles, in a way, truth be told, that can detract from the minimalist drama for me.

As in much art, for the weavers (traditionally women) personal expression is balanced with tribal practice.

"These blankets have a luminescent quality; the white areas appear as floating blocks of white color rather than as a negative ground.  The subtle variations in modular scale and the energy contrasts resulting from the different colored yarns make a quietly controlled statement and yet build a forceful, unrelenting single image."
Kahlenberg & Berlant, The Navajo Blanket, p. 16


Third Phase Chief's Blankets incorporate more bold elements and vary the horizontal lines. This, as an example, is a very successful design – with nine prominent crosses.  And the colors!  What can I say more of their brilliance?  I love this blanket.
Below is a summary of Navajo weaving with specific reference to the chief's blanket:

“’In the middle of the 17th century, the Navajo had begun sheep herding and making their own wool, skills they picked up from the Spanish settlers. By the late 17th century, they learned to weave from their neighbors, the Pueblo. The weaving skills of the Navajo craftswomen surpassed those of the Spanish and the Pueblo craftsmen within just a few decades, and Navajo blankets became a prized possession desired by the wealthier Indians and Spanish throughout the West. These were worn by the Navajos,’ Campbell says, ‘but they were also commercial items that were traded to the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Ute. They were prized, in part, because they served as coats by day and blankets by night and were far lighter than buffalo skins. The Navajo wove the blankets so tightly that they were ‘practically waterproof,’ notes Campbell.  The blankets were also valued for their beauty, and an important Indian would wear a blanket proudly as a ceremonial wrap on special occasions. They were commonly called "chief's blankets" by Indians and traders — and are still referred to by that name — because they were so expensive that only chiefs or other wealthy individuals could afford them.’”

By Dennis Gaffney, from Antiques Roadshow website.
Stephen Gerstman Art
In these newsletters you will find in no order or purpose whatsoever brief discussions of art and artists as I have found them after having wandered many years down the beautiful streets of art.  Like my counterpart, the flaneur, I go where the fancy of the moment takes me.

Copyright © 2021 Stephen Gerstman, All rights reserved.

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