Navajo Textiles

The Museum is home to a significant collection of contemporary Navajo weaving including works by Julia Jumbo, Arlene James, Isabel John, Ruther Teller, Mary and Cora Cohoe, and Vera Begay.  The museum received this collection from the late Edwin L. Kennedy, a major collector of Navajo weavings and a member of the Juniata College Board of Trustees.

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Vera Begay, Tec Nos Pos, wool and cotton

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Ruth Teller, Two Grey Hills (detail)

A Brief History of Navajo Weaving

Raising sheep, spinning wool, and weaving textiles have long been part of the Navajo way of life. The Navajo textile tradition began with the Pueblo Indians who taught the Navajo how to weave. After working with simple Pueblo designs, the Navajo weavers expanded their patterns and subject matter. This Classic Period (1850-1870) of Navajo weaving was followed by a Transitional Period (1870-1890) when weavers attracted greater trade with non Navajo through the introduction of new pictorial imagery and commercially manufactured fibers such as dyed wool from Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Trading posts and catalog sales, established in the 1890s, promoted and increased the popularity of Navajo rugs. Traders encouraged Navajo weavers to assimilate patterns from basketry and oriental style rugs into their weaving in order to meet the demand for elaborately woven and intricately patterned items. The titles of such rugs often refer to regional styles and locations near major trading posts, for example, Ganado and Two Grey Hills. This demand affected the design, materials, as well as function of Navajo weavings. Traditional Navajo textiles included clothing, floor coverings, blankets and saddles. Only after increased trade with non Navajo did rugs become a dominant form of production.

The geometric patterns woven into these textiles are often archetypal and symbolic in meaning. Through the repetition of forms, one finds associations with the cyclical or regenerative as experienced in nature and in life. Earth, sky, day, night, hills, and canyons are also popular imagery. Slight variations in symmetry, figure/ground relationships, harmony, and balance remain constant objectives among Navajo weavers despite continuous change in design, color, and patterns.

The rugs in the museum's collection date from the twentieth century but reflect the characteristics inherent in those from the Classic or Transitional periods. Navajo textiles weave the past with the present as representative storytellers of history, ceremonies, and beliefs.