Press: Living West Magazine -A Tucson adobe home showcases top-tier Navajo rugs - May/June/July 2003
By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Photos by Terence Moore
Navajo weavings and Mission furniture fill this Arizona home with authenticity
When Steve Getzwiller was 19, he traded his childhood collection of hunting rifles for four Navajo rugs at a trading post in Phoenix, AZ He didn’t necessarily get the better deal. “ But I didn’t have any further use for the guns. And I sure wanted those rugs badly,” Getzwiller says. Today, many more brilliantly hued Navajo textiles blanket the walls of this home, 45 miles southeast of Tucson, AZ, on a 70-acre horse ranch which he shares with his wife, Gail. The ranch lolls on the edge of the Whetstone Mountains where oak trees dot lush rolling hills and sprawling skies host dramatic violet and pink sunsets.
More than 30 years have passed since the young Getzwiller, the son of rodeo cowboy Marion Getzwiller, traded in his guns for rugs. And today what began as a pastime has turned into a vocation: Getzwiller makes his living as a dealer in Native American textiles and basketry. He buys and sells both historic and contemporary Navajo weavings and is considered an expert on the subject. In 2000 the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ, featured his personal collection of Native American rugs in an exhibit.
The Getzwiller’s’ adobe home, the original structure constructed in 1911 in the Territorial style, is filled with dozens of Navajo rugs and weavings that dominate the 5,000-square-foot residence. The textiles are stacked, spread, and sprinkled throughout various rooms, with rugs gracing the floors, and blankets hung on the walls as well as draped on beds and sofas.
Woven from sheep’s wool in rich earth-tone hues of crimson red, indigo blue, and earthy brown, they add warmth to the spaces. Their bold geometric designs were created mostly on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah in such popular patterns as Two Grey Hills, Teec Nos Pos, and Ganado. Handcrafted textiles like these sell anywhere from $200 to $20,000 and may take a year or more to produce.
To balance the bright colors and busy designs of the rugs, the Getzwiller chose clean-lined period Mission furniture for their home. Mission furniture originated in the early 1900s, a part of the American Arts & Crafts movement which is currently undergoing a healthy revival. The marriage of the Navajo rugs and the historic American furniture, made of heavy wood, is a good one. Take the entryway, where two Navajo rugs dating from the 1920s greet visitors. One weaving hangs on a wall behind a Mission-style table and another covers the tile floor of the entry. The strong geometric patterns of the sepia-toned textiles blend well with the minimalist lines of the sturdy brown oak furniture.
Likewise, in the living area, a detailed pictorial Churro wool tapestry sprawls across the wall above a rare desk manufactured by L.& J.G. Stickley. The simple but practical Stickley piece dates from the early 1900s and offers a subtle complement to the eye-catching textile. The Stickley brothers, who believed in the inherent beauty of natural wood and leather, helped popularize the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States. Stickley furniture is still manufactured today at a plant in Manlius, NY, but the Getzwillers prefer to purchase older pieces through dealers and auctions.
The union of the rugs and furniture, as well as Arts & Crafts lamps and Native American basketry and pottery displayed throughout the residence, imparts a rustic, western feel sans cliché. No statues of howling coyotes or cornball cowboy curios here. Authenticity matters too much to Getzwiller, who is currently helping to preserve and revive 19th-century designs made from the wool of Churro Sheep.
He regularly commissions Navajo weavers to produce highly detailed rugs from the wool. Every month he climbs into his Chevy Suburban and heads to the reservation, spending a week working with a select group of weavers. Getzwiller has also reintroduced the use of cochineal dye, a crimson red-purple dye that is extracted from the bodies of small insects imported from Mexico, among other places. “Cochineal is one of the two natural substances used for dark red in the world. To the Spaniards it was more valuable by weight than gold,” he contends.
As much sense as this interior design makes for his ranch home, it’s hard to believe that the house was once completely filled with Victorian furniture. Getzwiller used to tell customers that it proved Navajo rugs could blend with any style of furniture. But he knew the Arts & Crafts-era pieces would strike a better balance with his textile collection, so eventually the Getzwillers sent the Victorian pieces off to auction houses in California and Massachusetts. As the furniture sold, they turned around and purchased the Arts & Crafts period pieces. “It was just like the time I traded guns in for rugs,” Getzwiller says. “The only way I could afford to begin collecting the new pieces was to trade in the old ones.”
Houston-based Bonnie Gangelhoff is editor of Southwest Art magazine. (Resources: Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado AZ; Steve Getzwiller’s Nizhoni Ranch Gallery; L.& J.G. Stickley Furniture: Robb & Stuckey, Scottsdale, AZ; Baker Knapp & Tubbs, Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA.) May/June/July 2003 – Living West Magazine