Exhibit: 2001 - The Getzwiller Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weavings 1975-2000

Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Wickenburg Arizona 
Introduction & Overview by Peter Iverson - 2000 

The Getzwiller Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weavings

There is good news for the thousands of people who attended the extraordinary Getzwiller exhibit of historic Navajo weaving at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg. And there is even better news for all who missed it.

On November 4, 2000, the museum opened a second installment: The Getzwiller Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weavings, 1975-2000. The exhibit will present stunning contemporary work. It will also testify to Steve Getzwiller’s remarkable achievements during the past quarter century.

Getzwiller resides on the family ranch near Benson in Southeastern Arizona. Since the mid-1970s he has made countless journeys north to the Navajo Nation to work with Navajo weavers. His first close relationships were developed with individuals from the Wide Ruins and Chinle areas. Getzwiller encouraged them to expand their existing natural dye palettes through employment of new roots, clays, barks, and other dyestuffs available on the reservation.

His commitment to high quality weaving has been demonstrated in a variety of ways. Getzwiller collaborated with dye artisans and weavers to create the Burntwater style designs. In addition, he promoted Navajo weaving and educated collectors through his association with major American Indian art galleries throughout the United States. His book, The Fine Art of Navajo Weaving, co-published with the noted photographer Ray Manley of Tucson, has reached countless readers.

Getzwiller has taken additional steps in recent years to help improve the quality of Navajo weaving. He has encouraged weavers not to be limited by older regional patterns, but rather to continue to build from that foundation. A rancher, he is persuaded about the benefits brought by holistic resource management and has applied these principles to weaving. Appreciating that using wool of the highest possible quality is centrally important, Getzwiller was inspired by the blankets of the classic period before 1865. These blankets, woven from the fleece of the old Navajo Churro sheep, represented the pinnacle of Navajo weaving. He thus sought to reintroduce this lustrous fiber.

So began the Navajo Churro Collection. In 1994 Getzwiller began his collaboration with some of the best dye artists and Navajo Churro breeders. This effort has created an exclusive palette of colors, including natural dyes not used in Navajo weaving for more than 100 years. The hand-washed and hand-dyed wool yields color superior to that of commercially prepared yarns.


Getzwiller has commissioned outstanding weavers to use only Churro wool. Each weaving is registered as part of the ongoing Navajo Churro Collection. This project has afforded him great satisfaction and has established the finest flock of Churro sheep on the reservation. He terms the reintroduction of Churro wool “completing the circle and reconnecting some of the weavers with their past.”

When asked to comment about the past quarter century, Getzwiller says, “Given the accomplishments of these 25 years I am exceedingly optimistic about the potential of the next 25 years.” Confident about what he will be able to contribute, he concludes, "Navajo weaving is my focus. It is my life; I am driven to see just how good Navajo weaving can be."

Ray Manley once compared Getzwiller to the famous traders J.B Moore and Lorenzo Hubbell in regard to “The way he works with the weavers on design and color consultation.” Getzwiller’s influence, Manley observed, “continues to elevate the art form. His name has become synonymous with quality Navajo weaving".

To verify Manley’s characterization, one should visit Wickenburg this fall. The Getzwiller Collection of Contemporary Navajo Weavings promises to be cause for continuing celebration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter Iverson is regents’ professor of history at Arizona State University, Tempe. Aided by Guggenheim fellowship, he is working on a history of the Navajos.   Photographs by: Ray Manley    (Peter Iverson… a leading scholar of the 20th century in Native American History, wrote; DINE: A History of the Navajo People and FOR OUR NATIVE PEOPLE

Steve Getzwiller influences the Burntwater Navajo Rug Style

Dye artists inspect the finished rug for the first timeSteve Getzwiller began working with Navajo weavers in the Wide Ruins area of the Navajo reservation and encouraged the ladies to expand their natural dye palates. He also encouraged them to expand their design ideas by giving them books of Sioux bead work designs, resulting in some fabulous textiles which were featured in this exhibit by Nellie Roan, Agnes Smith, Betty Roan, Annie Tsosie, and more.

This was the beginning of the journey which brought about the collaboration between these ladies mentioned above (all sisters), who dyed the wool and Alice Balone and Sadie Curtis who wove the Burntwater weaving pictured shown here. This was the first and last collaboration of this kind where Navajo weavers from one part of the Navajo Nation would dye wool from native plants and natural materials found near them (many of these dyes were hallmark dyes and secret recipes of each Navajo family), and allowed another weaver to use their wool to weave a rug in a Burntwater style. In the Ray Manley image shown here, Steve along with the Smith Sister's, admire the Burntwater Rug -- they all dyed the wool with their personal trademark natural dyes.The rug was woven by Sadie Curtis and Alice Balone. This never before collaboration yielded a masterpiece!

This weaving and all of these ladies were featured in Steve’s Book "The Fine Art of Navajo Weaving" and the early Arizona Highways Navajo Rug issue, which brought on a demand for the Burntwater rugs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.




Steve’s growth took him to different areas of interest in design, seeking out the best materials to weave (including Churro Wool), and cultivating new weavers to work with him. The final room of this exhibition featured the Nez family, which was a delight to the eyes, Teec Nos Pos, Pictorials, Bistie, and more. All part of the Navajo Churro Collection’s large and intricate Navajo Rugs.  Read more about the Navajo Churro Collection Story here.


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