While stationed in Phoenix in the mid-1980s, I bought this rug for $500 from an officer whose mother wove Navajo rugs. The textile was made using natural yarns, which were hand-spun and dyed with natural dyes from the Arizona desert.
Dear Helaine and Joe:
While stationed in Phoenix in the mid-1980s, I bought this rug for $500 from an officer whose mother wove Navajo rugs. The textile was made using natural yarns, which were hand-spun and dyed with natural dyes from the Arizona desert. I would like to know if you are able to recognize the weaver from the picture, when it was made and its current value.
B.B., Lompoc, Calif.
The Navajo are a Native American people of the Four Corners region of the United States (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah). The Navajo have been accomplished weavers for at least 300 years, but few examples of 18th-century Navajo work survive, and most items found today were made in the mid- to late 19th century or later.
Originally, the Navajo made utilitarian blankets for use as cloaks, dresses and saddle blankets, but as more and more tourists came into the area, the Navajo began making rugs for visitors to take home. Over the years, the patterns and materials used have evolved, but in the beginning, natural fibers and natural dyes were hallmarks of the Navajo product.
In the late 17th century, the Iberian Churra sheep was introduced by the Spanish, and it is the wool from this animal that was used to create the fabric of the blankets. This yarn was colored with dyes derived from desert plants, but by the late 19th century, aniline or chemical dyes and manufactured yarns were often substituted.
We asked appraiser (and friend) Joan Caballero of Santa Fe, N.M., for her opinion of this rug, since it is a little out of our area of expertise. It was her opinion that this is a rug from the Burntwater area of the Navajo Reservation near Sanders, Ariz. These types of rugs were developed by Bruce Burnham and Don Jacobs of the Burntwater Trading Post. The rugs are known for their beautiful pastel colors derived from the native vegetation, and the best examples were made from handspun yarns.
These rugs originated in the late 1960s, but the rug in today's question appears to be from the 1980s. The colors of mauve, lavender, pink and sage green were in vogue at that time, as was this particular pattern. We are concerned that the design appears to be slightly blurry in the image supplied by B.B. We hope this is a photographic problem and that the colors have not faded or run, as this would greatly devalue the rug.
A note of caution. Less competent weavers using commercial dyes and yarns replicated the "look" of these rugs to some degree, and this can present a problem to many buyers. The weaving on this piece appears to be from the Wide Ruins, Pine Springs or Crystal locale of the Navajo Nation, but we cannot be absolutely positive because many weavers replicated this style in other areas.
It is unfortunate that B.B. did not tell us the size of the rug, and this prevents us from valuing it with any certainty. Assuming that the piece is in good condition and approximately 32 by 40 inches –– and that it was made from homespun wool colored with natural plant dyes –– the current insurance-replacement value is between $500 and $750.
This is just a little more than B. B. paid for this piece, but with the passage of time, this style of weaving with its muted pastel colors has become somewhat dated.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.