Two Grey Hills Navajo Rug
“On a trail of beauty we walk”
If one wished to characterize a Two Grey Hills rug, they’d begin by showing you an exceptional tapestry weave of 80 or more wefts per linear inch. If the tapestry had been woven by master weaver, Daisy Taugelchee, it might have upwards of 115 wefts per inch. The colors would be natural, finely spun wools in brown, beige, white and black, with carded hues of tan and grey. The design would be complex, featuring one or more black borders surrounding strong, central elements such as hooked or terraced crosses or diamonds, with progressive and interlocking frets, possibly eight pointed Valero stars and geometric motifs in the four corners. The rug would have a thin, white “spirit line” at a top corner, an exit line for the weaver’s spirit, leading from the central design area to the outer edge of the rug. Yet the impressive piece would be only half the story, the appearance, but not the heart.
To truly understand a Two Grey Hills rug, to comprehend its style evolution and to recognize the numerous people who played a part in its development, one has to travel back in time, to the year 1894 when Joseph R. Wilkin, Reservation freighter and “...typical adventurer of the plains, rough and ready, but large hearted and openhanded,” received a license to trade in the Chuska Mountains at Cottonwood Pass. One would admire the land of fragrant firs and sparkling water when Wilkin later sold his interest to Irishman J. B. Moore; and one would come to know that from 1896 through 1911, Moore fostered and promoted the famous Navajo rug style known as Crystal, inspired in part by Oriental rug designs from Turkey and Iran.
In 1897 Joe Wilkin headed east over the Chuska range, and along with Frank and Henry Noel, founded the Two Grey Hills Trading Post on an empty expanse of dusty desert. The post was so named because of two prominent sandstone buttes nearby. In 1898 Wilkin left to start a tent post at Sanostee, and soon other traders became owners of Two Grey Hills: Win Weatherill in 1902, Joe Reitz in 1904 and Ed Davies in 1909.
Prior to Davies ownership the rugs woven in the Two Grey Hills area bore a striking resemblance to Moore’s Crystal designs. It is generally acknowledged that “…some of his (Moore’s) original designs filtered east through the snowy confines of Washington Pass to be nourished by Two Grey Hills weavers.” (James:1999) From Amsden to McNitt, Kent to Kaufman, the refrain is the same: “Moore launched the style in rugs known now as Two Grey Hills,”...“Moore is credited,”… “Moore’s designs are forerunners…”
Looking at an old photo of Ed Davies’ booth at the 1913 Shiprock Fair, one can instantly see that the rugs he showcased were almost identical to Moore’s Crystal creations. Admirers of contemporary Two Grey Hills rugs would be correct in acknowledging the debt owed to J. B. Moore and the Crystal weavers of the early 20th century. Through their creativity and persistent efforts they achieved a style which echoes in Two Grey Hills patterns today.
In 1909, while Ed Davies was establishing himself at Two Grey Hills, George Bloomfield purchased the Toadlena Trading Post five miles to the west. Though competitors, in that lonely land they soon became good friends. It was their fifteen year collaboration, along with numerous talented weavers and Bloomfield’s son-in-law, Charles, which elevated the Two Grey Hills style from Moore’s original platform and created the now famous regional rug.
McNitt states: “Moore had been gone from Crystal a year or longer when Bloomfield and Davies began encouraging weavers to use cleaner and better wool, to spin a finer yarn thread, and to improve their designs.” Bloomfield’s daughter, Grace Herring, reiterated the same thing in an engaging oral interview conducted by the University of Northern Arizona:
“I've seen him (George) on his hands and knees many times, showing them how they could make them better, how they could make them finer, and to use the patterns from the potsherds into the patterns of their rugs. Now, he and Mr. Davies did that together. They worked very close together…when they first went there, the rugs were very rough…they were heavy. And they immediately started to try to tell them to make them finer and better and to keep them definitely within the range they did. Now, they did used to use some blue and red there, but Mr. Davies and Dad told them to keep it Two Grey Hills, which was the natural colors. And Dad and Mr. Davies are the ones who started to show them to not put any color into their rugs…then after Charles took over the trading post, he became very interested in the weaving. He was especially interested in Daisy Tauglechee. I wish Charles could tell this story, 'cause he could tell it so much better than I did, but he wanted some way to get Daisy to get her weaving to be finer and finer. And I can still see him sitting down with a ruler and saying, "Now, Daisy, don't you think you could make it much finer than you have made it now?" And so he marked off in grids here how many strings going this way, and how many this way. He said, "Do you think, Daisy, that you could make it fine enough that you could put this many in an inch?" She said, "I believe I can." And sure enough, she did. And that's where the tapestry weaving started to come in, was because Charles worked with her so hard. He has never been given credit for that--not that he wants credit, but he was the one that got 'em to get finer.”
It is generally accepted that the magnificent Two Grey Hills rug style came into full measure around 1925 and has continued unabated since. Les Wilson, current owner of the Two Grey Hills Post and Mark Winter of Toadlena Trading Post, share Bloomfield and Davies’ passion for superior weaving, intricate geometric designs and finely spun, natural wool. Mark Winter is especially connected to area weavers and their families, having written a splendid 598 page volume, The Master Weavers, chronicling the history of the area, the weavers, their rugs and family genealogies. Legendary weavers Daisy Taugelchee, Bessie Manygoats and Clara Sherman are featured and hundreds of contemporary weavers such as Victoria Manygoats, Rose Blueeyes, Mary Ann Foster and Frieda Fulton are included. The Toadlena Post website states: “Today, all the Two Grey Hills weavers from Toadlena are ancestors of those who wove for Bloomfield and Davies.”
The path to perfection of a Two Grey Hills rug has been walked for many years, by many people, arm in arm, side by side. The traders’ contributions to the Two Grey Hills style are undeniable, yet as Ernie Bulow states in a Gallup Journey article: “No matter how boldly and convincingly the traders promoted the Two Grey Hills rugs, the story is really about the hundreds of artists who created them.”