Ganado Navajo Rug

Ganado Navajo Rug

In the beginning, in the time of creation, Spider Woman taught the Navajo the art of weaving. Spider Man taught them how to make their sacred loom.

“The cross poles were made of sky and earth cords, the warp sticks of sun rays, the healds of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb.”

Everything a weaver needed was there - fibers and dyes from plants, design elements from nature - lightning, stars, the sun, terraced clouds, trees, animal tracks, the four sacred mountains, the four cardinal directions. Inspiration came from sandstone striations on vermilion cliffs, from white of day and black of night. Modern experts say the Navajo learned to weave from the Pueblo people, yet the Navajo know that it was Spider Woman who helped them create a web of beauty with their sashes, mantas, serapes, breechcloths, blouses and blankets.

Ganado Navajo Rug woven by Ella Williams Ganado Navajo Rug woven by Ella Williams

The Navajo first wove with native cotton and yucca fibers. Indigenous people cultivated cotton as early as 700 AD in the Salt-Gila region and by the 1100s in Canyon de Chelly. Over time weavers replaced these plant materials with the silky wool of churro sheep, introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s . From increased contact with Spanish and Mexican neighbors, the Navajos' original color palette of natural wool and vegetal dyed yellow, was augmented by the brilliant red of raveled English bayeta cloth, Spanish indigo dye and Saxony yarn.

The first descriptions of Navajo textiles appeared in Spanish accounts from the 1700s. Later reports came from U.S. military and government personnel.

Vicente Troncoso, while accompanying a Navajo chieftain home from Santa Fe in 1788, stated that the Navajo, “...make the best and finest serapes that are known, blankets, wraps, cotton cloth, coarse cloth, sashes and other [things] for their dress and for sale.” (Wheat: 1976)

Don Pedro Bautista Pino, lawyer and landowner near Santa Fe, NM wrote in his 1812 “Exposicion” that, “...their woolen fabrics are the most valuable in our province.”

Ethnologist Charles Lummis described these superior weavings in his 1892 book, Some Strange Corners of Our Country: “The very highest grade of Navaho blanket is now very rare...The colors of these choicest blankets are red, white, and blue, or rarely just red and white...Red is very much the prevailing color, and takes up some four-fifths of the blanket...”

Such was the Classic Period of Navajo weaving (1650-1865), a time of beauty and quality in textile production, raiding and enslavement between disparate groups, and far reaching networks of commerce and trade. This was also a time before the Navajos' 1864 Long Walk to Bosque Redondo and their four year incarceration by the United States government. During their imprisonment Navajo weavers were given synthetically dyed yarn and cotton string for warp. They were also allotted Rio Grande style blankets with a Spanish aesthetic of color and design. Weavers were now exposed to serrated diamonds, wavy lines and borders. With their release from Bosque Redondo in 1868, a new period of Navajo weaving began.

Transition: 1865-1895

When the Navajo returned to their homeland they encountered a vastly different world. Gone were their thousands of sheep, horses and goats, their beloved peach orchards, cornfields and hogans which had provided their means of livelihood and support. Now they were completely dependent upon the United States government for their survival. Weavers had little recourse but to use the rations of commercial yarn and cotton warp that were given to them. When the government finally provided sheep they were a churro-merino cross with a greasy fleece and short, kinky fibers. In a land of little water for washing, the wool proved inferior for weaving.

Everything had changed in the Navajo world, even their dress, and in the midst of this change came traders, the transcontinental railroad, Fred Harvey and his tourists, a Euro-American yearning for all things “Handcrafted & Natural,”and new avenues for economic growth. It was against this backdrop that John Lorenzo Hubbell - “dean of Navajo traders” - purchased the trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1878 and began to trade.

At first Hubbell traded wool for the staples of Navajo life: coffee, sugar, flour, tin pots, calico and western clothing. His blanket business was fairly small. But soon enough, and with the addition of C.N. Cotton as a partner in 1884, Hubbell realized that he could increase his business threefold by trading wool from the Navajo for weaving supplies, then trading their finished blankets for more store goods and selling the blankets for cash to East Coast consumers enamored with Native American crafts.

It is said that during their decade of partnership, “Hubbell and Cotton, more than any other traders, launched Navajo craftwork as a profitable industry.” They too, perhaps, contributed to its brief period of decline. In their zeal to maximize profit and production, Hubbell, Cotton and others encouraged the use of aniline dyes, garish Pennsylvania Germantown yarns and cotton warp. Instead of purchasing blankets by quality, they bought by the pound. Navajo weavers, in an explosive style revolution, began weaving loosely woven blankets in a riot of colors with serrated diamonds, striking eye dazzler patterns and Saltillo designs. Germantown yarns, handspun merino and prepackaged dyes predominated. Because of the greasy wool, the dyes set unevenly, faded in the sun and bled when wet. (It should be noted that this was a paradoxical time in Navajo weaving, for some of the finest Germantown textiles were woven during this period.)

The Rug Period: 1895-Present

It was at this point that Hubbell set out to restore Navajo weaving to its Classic days of excellence. His first steps were to standardize materials and design, eliminate the use of cotton warp, discourage the use of gaudy colors and return to handspun churro wool. Hubbell and Cotton vigorously promoted bordered designs in order to appeal to an East Coast market familiar with Oriental rugs. In fact, the two are credited with being the first to market Navajo blankets as rugs, although the Hyde Brothers, Fred Harvey and J. B. Moore all played a part. Hubbell now insisted on high quality weaving and paid for rugs based on their technical and artistic merit.

Lorenzo Hubbell promoted large rugs, hallway rugs and Classic patterns. One of his favorites was the Moki style - thin, alternating bands of indigo blue and dark brown with red crosses or terraced diamonds in the center. Above all Hubbell loved the crimson red of bayeta cloth and encouraged Ganado weavers to weave rugs with red backgrounds. Hubbell's preference for this color is the origin of the famous “Ganado Red.”

Hubbell commissioned artists to paint small oil and watercolor drawings of his favorite Classic blankets. He then hung these paintings in the trading post for weavers to study or copy. The most common colors in these designs were black, white, gray, red and blue. The main design elements were terraced diamonds, hollow crosses, swastikas, terraced zigzags, the Spider Cross, triangles and stripes. (Boles:1982)

Today, a Ganado rug is the one style that many people associate with Navajo weaving. It is typically a large, well woven rug with a deep red background and black border. The central design motifs are the same that Hubbell admired: crosses, terraced diamonds and crosses within diamonds. Smaller terraced forms are often placed in each corner. The borders may be solid black lines or more complex patterns in a mix of black, gray and white. As in Hubbell's day, the two most prevalent colors in a Ganado rug, other than black and red, are gray and white.

Every Ganado rug carries the imprint of a visionary man and the spiritual foundation of a strong and creative people. Lorenzo Hubbell's dreams would never have materialized without the talent and participation of the Navajo weaver – one whose deft and nimble fingers are guided by the beauty in Spider Woman's heart.

Ganado Navajo Rug

In the beginning, in the time of creation, Spider Woman taught the Navajo the art of weaving. Spider Man taught them how to make their sacred loom.

“The cross poles were made of sky and earth cords, the warp sticks of sun rays, the healds of rock crystal and sheet lightning. The batten was a sun halo, white shell made the comb.”

Everything a weaver needed was there - fibers and dyes from plants, design elements from nature - lightning, stars, the sun, terraced clouds, trees, animal tracks, the four sacred mountains, the four cardinal directions. Inspiration came from sandstone striations on vermilion cliffs, from white of day and black of night. Modern experts say the Navajo learned to weave from the Pueblo people, yet the Navajo know that it was Spider Woman who helped them create a web of beauty with their sashes, mantas, serapes, breechcloths, blouses and blankets.

Ganado Navajo Rug woven by Ella Williams Ganado Navajo Rug woven by Ella Williams

The Navajo first wove with native cotton and yucca fibers. Indigenous people cultivated cotton as early as 700 AD in the Salt-Gila region and by the 1100s in Canyon de Chelly. Over time weavers replaced these plant materials with the silky wool of churro sheep, introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s . From increased contact with Spanish and Mexican neighbors, the Navajos' original color palette of natural wool and vegetal dyed yellow, was augmented by the brilliant red of raveled English bayeta cloth, Spanish indigo dye and Saxony yarn.

The first descriptions of Navajo textiles appeared in Spanish accounts from the 1700s. Later reports came from U.S. military and government personnel.

Vicente Troncoso, while accompanying a Navajo chieftain home from Santa Fe in 1788, stated that the Navajo, “...make the best and finest serapes that are known, blankets, wraps, cotton cloth, coarse cloth, sashes and other [things] for their dress and for sale.” (Wheat: 1976)

Don Pedro Bautista Pino, lawyer and landowner near Santa Fe, NM wrote in his 1812 “Exposicion” that, “...their woolen fabrics are the most valuable in our province.”

Ethnologist Charles Lummis described these superior weavings in his 1892 book, Some Strange Corners of Our Country: “The very highest grade of Navaho blanket is now very rare...The colors of these choicest blankets are red, white, and blue, or rarely just red and white...Red is very much the prevailing color, and takes up some four-fifths of the blanket...”

Such was the Classic Period of Navajo weaving (1650-1865), a time of beauty and quality in textile production, raiding and enslavement between disparate groups, and far reaching networks of commerce and trade. This was also a time before the Navajos' 1864 Long Walk to Bosque Redondo and their four year incarceration by the United States government. During their imprisonment Navajo weavers were given synthetically dyed yarn and cotton string for warp. They were also allotted Rio Grande style blankets with a Spanish aesthetic of color and design. Weavers were now exposed to serrated diamonds, wavy lines and borders. With their release from Bosque Redondo in 1868, a new period of Navajo weaving began.

Transition: 1865-1895

When the Navajo returned to their homeland they encountered a vastly different world. Gone were their thousands of sheep, horses and goats, their beloved peach orchards, cornfields and hogans which had provided their means of livelihood and support. Now they were completely dependent upon the United States government for their survival. Weavers had little recourse but to use the rations of commercial yarn and cotton warp that were given to them. When the government finally provided sheep they were a churro-merino cross with a greasy fleece and short, kinky fibers. In a land of little water for washing, the wool proved inferior for weaving.

Everything had changed in the Navajo world, even their dress, and in the midst of this change came traders, the transcontinental railroad, Fred Harvey and his tourists, a Euro-American yearning for all things “Handcrafted & Natural,”and new avenues for economic growth. It was against this backdrop that John Lorenzo Hubbell - “dean of Navajo traders” - purchased the trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1878 and began to trade.

At first Hubbell traded wool for the staples of Navajo life: coffee, sugar, flour, tin pots, calico and western clothing. His blanket business was fairly small. But soon enough, and with the addition of C.N. Cotton as a partner in 1884, Hubbell realized that he could increase his business threefold by trading wool from the Navajo for weaving supplies, then trading their finished blankets for more store goods and selling the blankets for cash to East Coast consumers enamored with Native American crafts.

It is said that during their decade of partnership, “Hubbell and Cotton, more than any other traders, launched Navajo craftwork as a profitable industry.” They too, perhaps, contributed to its brief period of decline. In their zeal to maximize profit and production, Hubbell, Cotton and others encouraged the use of aniline dyes, garish Pennsylvania Germantown yarns and cotton warp. Instead of purchasing blankets by quality, they bought by the pound. Navajo weavers, in an explosive style revolution, began weaving loosely woven blankets in a riot of colors with serrated diamonds, striking eye dazzler patterns and Saltillo designs. Germantown yarns, handspun merino and prepackaged dyes predominated. Because of the greasy wool, the dyes set unevenly, faded in the sun and bled when wet. (It should be noted that this was a paradoxical time in Navajo weaving, for some of the finest Germantown textiles were woven during this period.)

The Rug Period: 1895-Present

It was at this point that Hubbell set out to restore Navajo weaving to its Classic days of excellence. His first steps were to standardize materials and design, eliminate the use of cotton warp, discourage the use of gaudy colors and return to handspun churro wool. Hubbell and Cotton vigorously promoted bordered designs in order to appeal to an East Coast market familiar with Oriental rugs. In fact, the two are credited with being the first to market Navajo blankets as rugs, although the Hyde Brothers, Fred Harvey and J. B. Moore all played a part. Hubbell now insisted on high quality weaving and paid for rugs based on their technical and artistic merit.

Lorenzo Hubbell promoted large rugs, hallway rugs and Classic patterns. One of his favorites was the Moki style - thin, alternating bands of indigo blue and dark brown with red crosses or terraced diamonds in the center. Above all Hubbell loved the crimson red of bayeta cloth and encouraged Ganado weavers to weave rugs with red backgrounds. Hubbell's preference for this color is the origin of the famous “Ganado Red.”

Hubbell commissioned artists to paint small oil and watercolor drawings of his favorite Classic blankets. He then hung these paintings in the trading post for weavers to study or copy. The most common colors in these designs were black, white, gray, red and blue. The main design elements were terraced diamonds, hollow crosses, swastikas, terraced zigzags, the Spider Cross, triangles and stripes. (Boles:1982)

Today, a Ganado rug is the one style that many people associate with Navajo weaving. It is typically a large, well woven rug with a deep red background and black border. The central design motifs are the same that Hubbell admired: crosses, terraced diamonds and crosses within diamonds. Smaller terraced forms are often placed in each corner. The borders may be solid black lines or more complex patterns in a mix of black, gray and white. As in Hubbell's day, the two most prevalent colors in a Ganado rug, other than black and red, are gray and white.

Every Ganado rug carries the imprint of a visionary man and the spiritual foundation of a strong and creative people. Lorenzo Hubbell's dreams would never have materialized without the talent and participation of the Navajo weaver – one whose deft and nimble fingers are guided by the beauty in Spider Woman's heart.

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