Nizhoni Ranch News
On the Way Santa Fe
One of our favorite collectors send a photo of his newest acquisition. This beautiful double saddle blanket looks great above his arm chair!
Thanks for Sharing!
- Beth Barth
What is a Unicorn in the Navajo Weaving World?
One in a million? You bet!
We have discovered the Holy Grail for a Navajo textile collector. This 1st Phase Navajo Chief Blanket is not a Classic, but is truly an EARLY Classic Ute.
This is one of the finest woven Ute Style 1st Phase Chief Blankets. There are approximately 65 Early Classic 1st Phase Chief Blankets known to exist. Approximately half are permanently in museums or in other institutions.
Many have heard about the Antique Roadshow episode filmed in Tucson where a very nice man was informed a rug that had been passed down to him was, in fact an Early Classic Ute Blanket. If you haven't seen the episode or it's been a while it is a heart warming tale!
- Beth Barth
Native American Art Magazine April/May 2019
April 1st, by Susan Sorg
A look at the Navajo Poncho Serape from its early beginnings through today.
When does clothing go from something worn or put on without thinking, everyday part-of-your-life clothing to becoming something artistic, as in “wearable art”? And, it has a rich history. For those who deal in it or collect it, the answer is easy: something created by a Navajo weaver.
Take the poncho, for example. No, not one of those waterproof ones you see at an outdoor sporting event or even the ones some of us who came of age during the late 60s wore along with our bell-bottomed jeans. Ponchos have been around for centuries, and believed to have originated in South America along the Andes. Spanish conquistadores most likely were the first Europeans to see them on this side of the Atlantic and took them back home. The style also migrated north into Mexico, then further north into what’s now the American southwest.
Scholars generally agree Navajo weaving was likely established in 1650, but wasn’t well known until around 1800. The “Classic” phase is from 1800 to 1865 while “Late Classic” picks up in 1865 and continues until 1880. It’s during the Classic period when Navajo weaving was becoming more prominent, not just among different tribes, but also among U.S. soldiers, traders, cowboys, and other adventurous souls heading west. A poncho created by a Navajo weaver was considered a high-end status symbol.
“A poncho was as expensive as a house back then. It would take a couple years to make,” says Jeff Voracek, owner of Red Mesa Gallery in Penryn, California.
“The highest documented price for a Navajo weaving was allegedly, something in the 1850s that sold for $500,” he adds. “$50 to $100 was what it cost you to get a good blanket. And a poncho would certainly be on the high side of that. It was for the person who could afford it”
Joyce Begay-Foss, the outreach director for the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe agrees ponchos and other historic wearable items created by Navajo weavers were of high quality.
“Ponchos were made for people as a high trade item, sometimes those in the military, people who served in the infantries traded for them,” she says, adding other weavings such as Chief Blankets, were also highly thought of and sought after.
Two examples of high quality ponchos from the Classic/ Late Classic periods are now thousands of miles apart. One is in Philadelphia, in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archeology. Experts believe it was woven approximately 1850, using handspun wool yarn, of white and dark blue, dyed in indigo, as well as bayetta (raveled worsted) which gets its deep red from cochineal. The zig-zag design is often referred to as a snake pattern.
According to William Wierzbowski who is with the museum, the poncho was donated decades ago. “It was gifted to us in 1976 by Ted Newbold, a Philadelphian who was involved in arts and culture,” Wierzbowski writes. “It was part of his first wife’s family summer cottage décor in northern Michigan but I recall him telling me that they had no idea how her family acquired it.”
Meanwhile, back in the southwest another poncho resurfaced only a few years ago, this time in New Mexico. It passed down through a family in Albuquerque, and was brought to the attention of Steve Getzwiller, collector and owner of Nizhoni Ranch Gallery in Sonoita, Arizona. “A picker friend of mine found it, and I got first shot at it even though half a dozen other dealers wanted it,” he explains.
PC 256, Classic Poncho Serape, circa 1860, 55" x 78" - call for pricing
“It’s in absolutely mint condition,” he continues. “And it’s got the same snake pattern as the one in the Philadelphia museum has.” Getzwiller firmly believes his poncho, which he thinks was made in the mid-1860s, came from the same weaver. Others, who have seen only photos of Getzwiller’s weaving, say the similarities are strong, and it could certainly be from the same weaving family.
Gallery owner Jeff Voracek who has handled it says similarities of the two pieces are not by accident. “When you’re that good of a weaver, you wouldn’t be copying anybody else,” he says. “It’s very similar, it’s not a copy whatsoever, and it’s unique. I would call it the fingerprint of the prior weaver.”
Voracek also believes Getzwiller’s poncho could have been made later, more like early 1870s, citing the deep purple used in the piece instead of indigo blue, saying it was a new color for Navajo weavers. “When they got packet dyes, they went wild with them. And packet dyes are there in the (18)70s. So in this blanket that Steve has, it’s got purple bayetta in it, a really fine diameter purple bayetta,” And, Voracek says he has not seen purple in any other weaving like this.
The Classic and Late Classic periods was ripe with other variations of “wearable art”, with dazzling blankets made to be worn with pride. Instead of the Spanish name sarapes, Begay-Foss prefers to call them “shoulder blankets.” These pieces are woven vertically, and created in many, many sizes.
“They have a very fine warp and weft count,” she says. “The piece is so tightly woven, they’re known for warmth and nearly waterproof.” That also added to their durability and value. Who wouldn’t want something which kept you warm and dry through the often harsh and changeable seasons in the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico and Arizona?
“It’s warm. You can sleep with it, you can walk with it, and you can do anything with it on. It was like that,” says master weaver Kathy Marianito. “This was different yarn, thicker yarn, and it makes it a thicker blanket and poncho, and things like that.”
“One thing to remember,” says Joyce Begay-Foss, “this was during the period of the Long Walk, when the government marched the Navajos out, in 1863, and then when they came back in 1868. This was within that time frame. We have these master pieces of weaving…that’s what sustained our people, with these amazing woven pieces.”
The Navajos were literally herded off their lands, walking hundreds of miles to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. It was a horrific time for them but one in which their culture grew stronger with resolve and ingenuity. The weaving continued, with an assortment of materials such as commercial yarn, which weavers got from the government. They also had bayetta, which is usually commercial cloth and often times flannel which was then unraveled. While bayetta came in virtually every color it was often times red when they got it, or else dyed red with cochineal.
Whatever the material, Navajo pieces made during the Classic and Late Classic years were quite simply stunning. These are the years leading up to the Long Walk, followed by the time at Bosque, and afterwards when weaving of ponchos and wearable blankets increased. A perfect example are Chief Blankets, as praised by scholar Joe Ben Wheat in a 1976 article, when he called it “one of the finest achievements in Navajo weaving.” Simple, and yet made with the best materials to be found by the best weavers, these were expensive and considered a status symbol to own.
“They were woven for people of prominence, Chief Blankets,” says Begay-Foss, who also points out the irony of the name for this type of wearing blankets. “We don’t have chiefs…we have leaders, ‘Nataaniis’.”
One of those early leaders, Manuelito and his wife Juanita, who was a master weaver in her own right, helped in the negotiations to end the time of the Diné, the Navajo people at Bosque. In 1868, the Navajos finally returned to their native lands, becoming one of the few tribes to achieve that. However, this painful exile with the Long Walk remains seared in their history.
It was during this time another type of “wearable art” came to be, and those are blankets, serapes, with a “Spider Woman hole.” Spider Woman is one of the primary deities in the Navajo culture. Legends say it was she who taught the Navajos to weave, and in some of the older blankets in the 19th century, a small slit was left, a hole like in the center of a spider web, to acknowledge what Spider Woman did for the people. Others say the small hole in the center of a blanket, a sarape, had another purpose.
“They used to peek through it, and hide behind and see soldiers when they were coming and what have you,” says Steve Getzwiller. “That’s the story I’ve heard but that’s more in the line with conjecture.”
A Spider Woman hole is in the center of one weaving he’s owned for decades. This serape defies the odds and rules when it comes to determining ages of historic Navajo textiles. Getzwiller says the colors used were those only found at Bosque. And yet the design, with serrate prominent on the diagonal stripes, is thought to have originated much later.
PC 258, Serape Blanket, 3 ply Saxony with natural dyes - call for pricing
Getzwiller says some of the weaving is done with 3-ply Saxony yarn, again something usually found in Late Classic. There’s also two shades of red, out of 4-ply yarn, as Voracek discovered…and that’s not all.
“When you have something with 4-ply in it, that would typically be 1880s,” Voracek says. “But he happens to have one that has two shades of 4-ply and one’s a red and one’s more of a pinker red, and they’ve both been tested twice as cochineal….and cochineal stops in the 1870’s.”
Then there’s the design, serrate, or knife edge, the diagonal stripes which come to a point and was usually seen in the 1870s or later. “There were pieces collected at Massacre Cave that had serrate on it,” Voracek continues. “That was close to (the year) 1800, so we know they had the ability to do them…but most of the time they didn’t.”
Voracek also remembers a conversation he had with Steve Getzwiller giving yet another element to the legends behind adding a Spider Woman hole to weavings.
“It’s purported by Steve, from talking to relatives of Bosque survivors that it was something they incorporated if they have survived Bosque,” Voracek says. “If they had went through Bosque, or during or right after, when you see the Spider Woman holes that was like a statement: ‘I was there. I survived it.’”
Voracek also believes there to be far fewer weavings with Spider Woman holes than there are actual ponchos which have survived this long. Ironically, Navajo woven ponchos are starting to come back, and it’s through the great-great granddaughter of Manuelito and Juanita: Kathy Marianito, who says some of the designs were passed down to her.
“The design,” she says, “I had to wait for it, and I don’t want anyone to copy it.”
Serape Poncho Navajo Weaving : Kathy Marianito : Churro 1450 : 35″ x 60″
“The silk wool blend piece that Kathy did, it’s the first poncho serape to come off a Navajo loom in 100 years,” says Getzwiller, taking about a poncho Marianito wove a few years ago with Spider Woman crosses on it.
Marianito, who says she gets many of her designs from her dreams, points out how anyone can get a jacket in a store. “They’re machine made, even the way they color it now, and it’s the yarn, machine yarn. They use our designs now, even the moccasins, paper towels, design on it.”
But to weave something you wear? Now that brings joy, along with pride to the weaver. It is part of Marianito’s DNA, her family tree going back to Juanita, much like designs of earlier weavings carried down into future ones which she still dreams of.
“That’s the way I am,” she says. “It makes me happy and makes me proud of myself. I love to do that…I don’t know how to describe it any (other) way.”
“That was my dream,” she continues, “something that I’m going to make, and make it into a magazine, or something that I made to look at. Someday they’re going to look at it, and then my grand kids are going to say ‘This is my grandmother’s. She made it like this’ and they’ll carry it on.”
- Beth Barth
Back in the Saddle Again!
We LOVE to see saddle blankets in use! Fantastica looks fantastic and Guapo es muy guapo in their new (vintage) saddle blankets! Lucky horses!
Thanks to our friends in California for sharing!
- Beth Barth
An Anita Bekay has relocated to Rhinebeck
Rhinebeck is a quaint town in New York State. This Anita Bekay Klagetoh/Ganado looks stunning - especially framed by the parquet floor.
Nizhoni Ranch Gallery is located 45 miles South East for Tucson. Interesting story, the painting above the mantelpiece is by a Tucson artist, Ellis W. Cooke. Great art knows no physical boundaries!
- Beth Barth
No More Wall Space? No Problem!
Our wonderful clients from San Antonio sent this to us:
"Finding the right place for our collection of Navajo rugs, blankets and serapes that we have purchased from your gallery over the years is not easy. I made this bench seat of cherry wood that finally works. It is 7’ wide and 30” high. I thought you would enjoy seeing how great it works as well. Do you recognize them? Many years of enjoyment".
Yes, we recognize ALL of them. What a wonderful way to display. We will mention to collectors who complain they have run out of wall space - that they might need a bench!
- Beth Barth
Update - Hand Wash Stations on the Navajo and Hopi Nation
Here is an update we received from Red Feather on 6/17/2020:
Thank you for supporting our handwashing campaign for Navajo and Hopi families without running water.
Since first posting the idea to social media we have had over 200 requests for help and that keeps growing every day. We have been blown away by the outpouring of support from compassionate individuals located all over the United States and even from abroad. To date, we have raised approximately $40,000, received multiple in-kind contributions, and had a strong network of volunteers contribute their time and expertise in helping to build the units.
It has taken us some time to ramp up our capacity, but things are starting to move along now. Global shortages (due to COVID) for some of the materials needed in the construction of the handwashing systems has presented some hurdles, but we are addressing these as fast as we can.
We realize not everyone uses social media, but if you do, we encourage you to visit our Facebook page to see regular program updates, including pictures and videos of families receiving help. It is always a tricky thing for nonprofits to understand how best to communicate with our supporters like you. We have been considering using text to phone to provide updates as not everyone checks their email regularly. If this is something that would interest you, please send us a short reply to this email saying please text me updates. We promise not to overwhelm you with too many messages regardless of how we share our work.
If you have any questions, please reach out at any time.
Below are a few pictures from our recent volunteer event and attached are pictures of families getting helped.
Red Feather Development Group
2501 N. 4th St. Suite 17
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
- Beth Barth
With Love From the Navajo Nation
Elvie Vanwinkle just finished this incredibly colorful Moki made with 100% Churro wool. Her granddaughter Peyton is sending love from the Navajo Nation. Something all of us could use right now!
This weaving won't last long:
- Beth Barth
Hand Washing Stations on the Navajo and Hopi Nations
Nizhoni Ranch Gallery received this information from Red Feather. Red Feather is a non-profit organization that supports American Indian Nations and who we have supported for years.
With the COVID-19 pandemic they have shifted their main focus of helping Navajo and Hopi with housing needs, to improving access to hand washing in communities without running water.
We hope you will consider making a donation to this worthy cause.
- Beth Barth
Tough Times on the Navajo Nation
By The Associated Press, 4/29/2020
Residents on the Navajo Nation will be under another lockdown this weekend as the tribe seeks to keep the coronavirus from spreading even further into communities.
The lockdown is the fourth the tribe has implemented. It comes around the first of the month when tribal members often travel to towns bordering the reservation to shop for food and other supplies.
Tribal officials say they are working with businesses on the reservation to create safeguards for Navajo elders, such as extending shopping hours exclusively for them and others who are at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Anyone who doesn't need to leave their homes for food, medicine or in the case of an emergency is being told to stay home.
“We don’t want to see any more lives lost, and we don’t want to see our Diné people sick," Vice President Myron Lizer said. "It's sad and it's devastating for many families.”
The weekend lockdown starts Friday at 8 p.m. MDT and ends Monday at 5 a.m. MDT.
As of Tuesday, the tribe’s health officials reported 1,873 positive cases of COVID-19 and 60 deaths. The 27,000 square-mile (70,000 square-kilometer) reservation stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 4/29/2020
Per-Capita, the Navajo Nation is just behind New York and New Jersey in the amount of people testing positive. FEMA has set up field hospitals in Chinle and Shiprock that will be operational by this weekend.
- Beth Barth
Navajo Tree of Life going to Papua New Guinea
Why of all places in the world would the US embassy in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea choose a Navajo weaving to adorn one of their walls?
We had a hunch. The US embassy wanted to show appreciation to the Navajo Code Talkers who were stationed in the area of Papua New Guinea.
More about the Navajo Code Talkers and how they shaped WW2 go to: https://americanindian.si.edu/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html
- Beth Barth
25% Off Store Wide Sale!!
COVID 19 has hit the Navajo Nation incredibly hard. We have supported our weavers for close to 50 years, in good times and bad. This pandemic and economic crisis is no different. We will continue to supply wool to our weavers and pay them as they weave. Please help us support our weavers by taking advantage of our 25% Off Store Wide Sale! The discount will be applied when an item is added to your cart. You can also shop via email or phone!
We have many weavings that will be posted soon and that have never been offered. Also, if you are looking for something in particular and you don’t see it on our website – give us a call. We just might have it in the vault. 520-455-5020.
Robin and Beth
- Beth Barth