2003 Navajo Rug Exhibit Treasures of the Navajo Horsemen

Historic Saddle Blankets from the Getzwiller Collection

 Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Wickenburg Arizona - 2003


2003 Navajo Rug Exhibit

PROLOG BY PROFESSOR PETER IVERSON   Knowing Steve Getzwiller has eased my disappointment about not having had the chance to know J.B. Moore. An outsider who barged into the world of Navajo weaving, Moore made the Crystal trading post in the early 1900s a center for innovation and a focal point for imagination. He played a vital role in the turn of the century transition that transformed Navajo weaving. Moore introduced new designs, encouraged weavers to realize new heights, promoted the idea of individual achievement, and through persistent and insistent advertising expanded the audience for this extraordinary American art form.

Now that sounds like Steve Getzwiller. He, like Moore, can upon occasion be as contrary as he is creative. Although some old-timers admire Getzwiller’s efforts there are others who assume the old doctrine of water rights in the West, prior appropriation (’first in time, first in right”), ought to apply to the marketing of Navajo weaving.

Steve and Gail Getzwiller were very enamored with Navajo Saddle Blankets and very anxious to share their collection at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.   Following the saddle blankets through the timeline of the Navajo people reveals where some rugs were woven, what time period, and sometimes the purpose of the weaving.  Saddle blankets were the last blankets the Navajo wove for themselves.  Early designs reflected the simple wearing blanket elements and later designs were traceable to regions of the reservation.  Some of the most interesting blanket were of randomly carded and spun wools, woven to produce the illusion and spacial dimension of the Navajo landscape.  Yes, saddle blankets may seem like a very simple and insignificant part of Navajo weaving culture, but inside the wool, design, and randomness - is Art.  Simple. Raw. Art.

From Benson, rather than Britain, Steve Getzwiller is another entrepreneur who has experienced antagonism as well as approbation. That is an almost inevitable outcome when you try to honor the past, attempt to live in the present, and work to help forge the future. Even if in many ways the century in which Getzwiller is operating differs dramatically from the early 1900s, he too, is going to leave a lasting legacy.

This exhibit of saddle blankets at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg reveals once again the richness of the bequest. As in the two previous stunning displays of Getzwiller’s collection that graced this same site, we see in Treasures of the Navajo Horsemen: Historic Saddle Blankets From the Getzwiller Collection the power of imagination combined with the precision of execution. We see the trajectory of tradition being heightened by the application of innovation.

Steve Getzwiller understands the opportunities and obligations inherent in the multi-faceted role he has undertaken. It is not the easiest of journeys, but the results are remarkable. Those who appreciate Navajo weaving are already looking forward to October 25. However, even if you think you have no interest at all in saddle blankets you should make your way to Wickenburg. You are likely to change your mind about this subject. This presentation might even transform you into a collector. J.B. Moore would have like that.

PETER IVERSON Regents’ Professor of History Arizona State University and author of “Dine: A History of the Navajos” (University of New Mexico Press) selected as the Western Writers of America Spur Award winner for the best non-fiction book published in 2002 about the 20th Century West.