Purple Magazine
— S/S 2010 issue 13

Navajo Blankets

Chief Pattern Blanket, second phase, 1860 – 1870, handspun and unraveled wool, 56 x 69½ inches, William H. Claflin, Boston

Native American art has held a constant fascination for artists and collectors for over a century. The Chief Blankets woven by Navajo women combine symbolic designs to form abstract patterns. They are considered by Navajos to be their highest art form and they have influenced numerous American painters, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and Kenneth Noland.

Chief Pattern Blanket, First phase, 1850 – 1860, handspun and unraveled wool, 55 x 69 inches, Anthony Berlant, Santa Monica, California

The word “blanket” fails to capture the versatility of the loom – woven, hand-dyed textiles the Navajos use as serapes, cloaks, dresses, entry drapes, and saddle blankets.
Each blanket has special meaning — one may represent a chief’s personal identity, for example — but all convey a harmonious geometry in genealogical and cosmic symbols.

Late Serape Style, 1870 – 1880, handspun, unraveled and 3-Ply wool, 80 x 52 inches, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Transitional Style, 1895 – 1900, handspun wool, 85½ x 51 inches, Anthony Berlant, Santa Monica, California

Transitional Style, 1885 – 1895, handspun wool, 82 x 52 inches, Anthony Berlant, Santa Monica, California

The Navajos wear these elegantly geometric textiles in different ways, draping them according to preference and function, making them more of a second skin than a garment.

Flag, 1870 – 1885, handspun and 4-Ply wool, 23¾ x 56½ inches, Millicent A. Rogers Memorial Museum, Inc., Taos, New Mexico

They sometimes are placed on the ground to sit on, but the blankets are never used as rugs — although in the late nineteenth century the Navajos did begin producing a thicker, hand-spun yarn to sell to tourists as rugs.

Images are from The Navajo Blanket by Mary Hunt Kahlenberg
and Anthony Berlant, 1972, Praeger Publishers Inc.

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S/S 2010 issue 13

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