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Egret and crab

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Eyedazzlers

 

Late classic wearing blanket with border - Ex Blue Heron Gallery

Late classic Moki blanket
- Hilbert Museum Collection

The Navajos have long been known for their beautiful weaving. In the early part of the 19th century they wove blankets with homespun wool and native dyes. 

The Navajos learned to weave from the Hopi and Pueblo Indians. Curiously the Pueblo weavers were men, the Navajo weavers were usually female.

In 1863 the Navajo tribe was forced on what is known as “The long march” to a remote encampment at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico called Bosque Redondo where they were interned by the United States government until 1868. This was situated over 350 miles from their native home and lands.

It was at Bosque Redondo where, some say in order to placate them and keep them busy, the government issued them a new and exciting commercial wool from a suburb of Philadelphia called Germantown.

Germantown eyedazzler
Hilbert Museum Collection

This new aniline dyed wool, originally a three ply but then quickly becoming a four ply, allowed them to create a brilliant new type of weaving called an eyedazzler. 

These new weavings were very time intensive to weave and much denser, almost four times the knots per inch compared to the older wool. 

The colors were startling, the repetitive patterns kinetic and bordering on what we would now describe as "Op Art."

They were typically created with a cotton warp, making them a bit more fragile than blankets created with a wool warp. 

Germantown runner
 from Hubbell Trading Post
ex. Blue Heron Gallery


Fringe was added sometimes but only after the weaving was finished, not a part of the general field.

The advent of the railroad and the trading post, as well as the popularity of shows like Wild Bill Hickock’s Exposition at Niagara Falls piqued interest in our native Americans. 

This greatly increased the desire of Americans to buy native goods of all kinds including blankets.

Most germantown blankets date from 1870 to 1900 although there was a minor revival from 1910 to 1915. 

While they were no longer woven, their design complexity and color continued to influence Navajo weavings in what is known as the transitional era.

Transitional banded blanket
Hilbert Museum Collection
The transitional period began in 1895 and the homespun wool blankets started to be influenced by the Germantown designs and colors. 

These are now called transitional blankets. It is important to note that blankets of all kinds largely gave way to heavier rugs at this point in the timeline. 

Until this time they were worn, covered doorways and beds but had not been on the floor.

Germantown eyedazzlers occupy a special historical apex in Navajo weaving that will never be eclipsed or matched again on a design level.

The newly expanded Hilbert Museum, a part of Chapman College located in Orange, CA is opening a new show, Eyedazzlers: Marvels of Navajo weaving from the Hilbert Collection

The exhibition runs from February 23 to September 7, 2024. Reservations highly suggested.

I am happy to say that I have sold several beautiful blankets that are in this collection. I look forward to seeing this marvelous new show. I got a sneak peak at the new addition a few weeks ago and it is really something.

The Hilberts have created a wonderful Museum of California Art and if you have not visited yet, you need to. It is truly something.