"Navajo Blankets of the 19th Century: Selections from The Textile Museum Collections" will be on view Sept. 5, 2003 through March 14, 2004 in Washington, D.C.

Curator is Ann Lane Hedlund, director of the Gloria F. Ross Center for Tapestry Studies at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.

The exhibition features 16 blankets made between 1800 and 1890 that highlight the powerful aesthetics and significant trends characteristic of 19th-century Navajo weaving.

The exhibition also explores how experts today analyze Navajo blankets' materials, structures, and designs to assign dates to each textile.

Using upright frame looms and basic hand tools, Navajo weavers created colorful wool blankets that served many purposes, including use as clothing, cloaks, baby wraps, bedding, furnishings, saddle pads, and trade goods.

Throughout the 19th century, Navajo weavers refined the blankets' designs and layouts as they drew inspiration from native basketry patterns and neighboring Pueblo, Mexican and Spanish American weaving traditions.

The blankets in the exhibition represent some of the most notable and dynamic styles developed--chief's-style blankets and women's-style blankets, a poncho, smaller sarapes, and wedge weave blankets.

The Textile Museum's presentation of the exhibition is supported by endowed funding made possible by the late Gloria F. Ross and the Gloria F. Ross Foundation.

Navajo blanket styles

While the Navajo weaving tradition became established around 1650, weaving prior to 1800 is not well known.

Navajo weaving of the 19th century can be divided into several distinct periods: Classic (1800-1865); Late Classic (1865-1880); Transitional (1880-1895); Rug (1895-1950) and Modern (1950-present).

Navajo Blankets of the 19th Century will include examples from the Classic, Late Classic, and Transitional periods of Navajo weaving.

Six Classic and Late Classic chief's-style blankets, characterized by wide horizontal bands often overlaid with bold geometric motifs, are featured in the exhibit.

The name "chief blanket" is a misnomer, as local family heads rather than chiefs governed the Navajos.

Such blankets were valued as trade goods among the Plains Indians to the north and east and were often worn by high status men and women from Plains tribes.

Style evolution

Over the course of the 19th century, the chief's style evolved through several phases, from basic stripes to elaborate layers of geometric motifs.

Navajo Blankets of the 19th Century includes a rare first phase chief's-style blanket along with later second and third versions, and two second phase women's-style blankets.

The Late Classic period of Navajo weaving was an intense time of cultural change for the Navajo people.

Perhaps the most cataclysmic event of this period was Kit Carson's 1863 forced removal of the Navajo people to Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner, New Mexico), where they were interned until 1868.

Starting with the captivity at Bosque Redondo and continuing to 1879, the U.S. government supplied the Navajos with goods, including yarn, fabric, blankets, and weaving tools.

This exposure to new materials, and also to stimuli such as Spanish American and Mexican patterned blankets, influenced Navajo design and led to textiles of the Transitional period.

Shift in production

During this time, production shifted from traditional blankets to smaller textiles and rugs with brilliant colors and designs largely intended for the trade market.

Six Late Classic sarapes in the exhibition come from these turbulent times, while two wedge-weave blankets in the exhibition represent the end of the Late Classic period and Navajo weaving's entry into the Transitional period.

Studying Navajo blankets

Changes in wool quality, yarn composition, and dyestuffs occurred frequently in Navajo weaving during the 19th century.

Such dynamics inherent in the weaving materials now allow scholars to reconstruct a more precise timeline for Southwestern textile types.

The late Joe Ben Wheat, former curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, used technical analyses, chemical dye tests, and archival records in his pioneering work on Southwestern blankets.

Using Wheat's methods, including the scientific identification of red dyes, the exhibition Navajo Blankets of the 19th Century presents new research relative to dating The Textile Museum's collection.

Micrographs of yarns in the exhibition's blankets illustrate the kinds of materials that allow analysts to date each textile more accurately. Charts of the dye analyses and examples of raw materials and tools will also be on display.

UA professor

Hedlund, the curator, holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she began studying with Joe Ben Wheat in 1973.

She has conducted ethnographic research among contemporary Navajo weavers and historical research on Southwestern textiles for 30 years.

Currently a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, Hedlund is author of numerous publications and recently edited the book Blanket Weaving in the Southwest by the late Joe Ben Wheat, which will be published by the University of Arizona Press in fall 2003.

Founded in 1925 by George Hewitt Myers, The Textile Museum is an international center for the exhibition, study, collection and preservation of the textile arts.

The museum explores the role that textiles play in the daily and ceremonial life of individuals the world over.

Special attention is given to textiles of the traditional societies of the Near East, Asia, Africa and the indigenous cultures of the Americas. The museum also presents exhibitions of historical and contemporary quilts, and fiber art.

Visiting the museum

With a collection of more than 17,000 textiles and carpets and an unparalleled library, The Textile Museum is a unique and valuable resource for people locally, nationally and internationally. For further information, call 202-667-0441.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free; suggested donation is $5.

A related symposium, "Navajo Weaving in the 19th Century: History, Materials, Design" will be held at the museum in Washington, D.C. Oct. 10-12.

For more information or to register, call (202) 667-0441, ext. 64, or visit www.textilemuseum.org/symposium.