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Navajo Rugs: A Wee Bit of Knowledge


Do you have a genuine Navajo rug stashed in the closet? Laying on the hall floor? Or just rolled up and under the bed?  Such rugs are on a merry-go-round of being popular one decade and then out the next.  The beauty and artistry of Native American weavings tend to accentuate the southwest décor which makes for a western-themed home in Arizona so special; however, most owners have little knowledge about Navajo rugs.

No two rugs are alike; however, most rugs can be traced to their place of origin. The Navajo reservation can be divided into thirteen weaving regions each producing its own characteristic rug.  To highlight a sampling of regions would be to start with my own hometown: Farmington, New Mexico and the "Shiprock region" noted for the "Yei" figure taken from sand paintings that have a white background with turned slender figures and a stylized rainbow.  Such rugs are usually small and are considered like a fine painting.

The larger "Yei" rugs come from the Lukachukai region with some figures as large as a small person.  The distinctive rug from Teec Nos Pos has its greatest appeal for a serious collector.  It typically has an outline design that is characteristically filled with a serrated zigzag design with almost every feature outlined in one or more different colors such as the common reds, black and grays joined by a concert of purples, oranges and even florescent pinks. Such is a short view of three of the thirteen recognizable regions.

From 1850 to 1890, the Navajos were noted only for their "Chief Blankets" as rug making was not a necessity. But in 1890 the need for such blankets shifted to the making of rugs that were growing in demand and were known as "pound rugs" and not sold separately, but by the pound.  Such rugs were used for everyday use and were considered throw-aways.  It was not until the mid 1920's with the encouragement of some farsighted trading post owners that the Navajo rug began to command a certain degree of respect for its artistry. It is the early rugs from 1920 through the 1950's that tends to have not only a historic interest, but also have value.

Patterns and designs are rarely diagrammed as almost all designs and colors were visualized, therefore, Navajo weaving is constantly changing.  From 1900 to 1930 the trading post owners were responsible for influencing the course of weaving.  For example, the "Hubbell Revival" rugs emphasized a great deal of red, the use of contemporary designs of the past, and tighter weaves.  The Two Gray Hills introduced vegetal and native dyes in the late 1930's.  These rugs remain the premium creation of the Navajo loom since the thread count often exceeded one hundred threads per inch. If the provenance is known on the rug, it could be worth a great deal to a collector.

But beware!  Many fakes abound that are made in Mexico, Ukraine, India, and Pakistan that uses a blend of wool, polyester or acrylic.  Navajo rugs are 100% wool and are  woven on an upright loom with a continuous warp threat that runs the entire length.  The fake rugs are woven on a horizontal loom with the warp ends dangling from each end.  The fake's ends are darned back into the body of the rug.  These are just a couple of examples of how to spot the fake.

Navajo weaving is alive and well.  It is truly an American art form and does add beauty and value to any home or business, but make sure it is truly a Native American weaving and not a decorative fake that is stashed under your bed.

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