Navajo Blanket Tells Native American History

Navajo Blanket and Navajo History Through Textile

Native American history is best told, not in schoolbooks, but in their art. And, some of the most revealing pieces of this cultural heritage are textiles. Pieces like this Navajo chief’s blanket tell a story of the Native American community, spirituality and struggle for survival.

Also called a serape, this blanket was made during the tribe’s internment in eastern New Mexico in 1865. Woven in rich reds, the piece is striking as much for its color as for the bordered design. Red was extremely hard to come by then, especially by the Native Americans. Their way around this was to unravel machine made rugs, and re-weave the thread into their own designs.

Navajo Chief's Blanket
Navajo Chief’s Blanket

But this design is also rare, and shows the growing intrusion of the outside world not on just the Navajo culture, but their art as well. Notice the partial borders at the blanket’s four corners. Bordered textiles were a popular theme of the time, picked up from the detailing seen on exotic Oriental rugs. Their use here suggests the weavers had seen such rugs – though most likely through photographs – and copied the style.

Borders, however, conflicted with the inherit nature of design to Native Americans. Their creations were believed to be connected with their spirituality, and something that should be shared. Acting as a boundary, borders inhibited the spirituality of the design. The solution was to incorporate another rare feature – the Spider Woman’s Hole.

A small slit in the center of the blanket’s design field, the Spider Woman’s Hole is named after the woman who, legend says, taught the Navajo to weave. The hole acts as a sort of spirit line that allows the design energy that went into the piece back into the world.

It is always surprising to learn how something as simple as a blanket, can unfold to tell such an intricate story. Like most antique rugs, the beauty is not only in the design, but in the rich history behind it.

This blog about the Navajo Blanket was published by: Nazmiyal Antique Oriental Rugs in NYC.