Style: Navajo Saddle Blankets

Dessert Caballeros Western Museum exhibit, "Treasures of the Navajo Horseman" from the Geztwiller Collection

There can be little doubt that the rich Navajo weaving tradition has contributed significantly to the material horse culture of the West. The winning combination of beauty and durability of the Navajo saddle blanket made them an indispensable part of the American Cowboys’ outfit. Available from trading posts across the Navajo reservation, they became some of the most affordable and eagerly sought examples from the Navajo loom.

 

With the introduction of the 1890s and subsequent popularity of Pendleton trade blankets, the saddle blanket became truly the last blankets the Navajo produced for themselves. Woven as gifts for family and friends, they became treasured possessions of the Navajo horseman.

 

The saddle blankets in our collection date from the 1870s to the 1940s, which demonstrates the transition of wools and dyes available during this time frame. With earlier saddle blankets (1870s – 1900) it is difficult to determine the area of the reservation in which they were woven.

 

Blankets of this period still reflect the simple design elements of the wearing blanket era. By the 1920s virtually all of the styles defining the various trading posts had been established and saddle blanket designs became more identifiable by region.

 

There is an artistic quality and inherent freedom of expression reflected in many of these early saddle blankets. It is a treat to discover the use of randomly carded and spun wools, woven to produce the illusion of depth and to emphasize the spatial dimension of the Navajo landscape. Whether it is a simple twill design, fanciful pictorial, or complex and colorful Teec Nos Pos style, Navajo saddle blankets represent a unique window into the cultural past and artistic diversity of the Navajo weaver.

 

These woven treasures are being appreciated by an ever growing number of collectors today. ~Steve Getzwiller

 

Popular with early traders, the American Calvary, the Hispanic population, and even the Navajo themselves, Navajo Saddle Blankets hold an important niche in weaving history. Known as much for their durability and versatility as their aesthetic beauty, the need for these ubiquitous weavings grew rapidly as the reliance on horses and sheep began to expand across the country.

 

History of Navajo Saddle Blankets

Replacing sheepskin pads in the 1860s, Navajo Saddle Blankets became the preferred choice for anyone looking to add comfort and style to their wooden or leather saddles. Tightly woven and with intricate designs, they provided important extra padding in a time when comfort was a premium. Highly collectible even today, these saddle blankets often boast simple patterns, but come in a variety of colors, sizes and thicknesses. 

 

From People to Horses

Wearing blankets were an important item for many of the Navajo during the time,which made it an easy transition to create more defined blankets, perfect for horseback riding.   (the diminutive version of the full sized saddle blanket is sometimes referred to as the Child’s Blanket) In fact, between 1900-1930 the Navajo Saddle Blanket became one of the most sought after Navajo weavings in the country—even the famous Will Rogers had a double saddle pictorial blanket made in 1925!

 

Three Distinct Styles

After wars, campaigns against the Navajo, and changing economic tides, the Navajo Saddle Blanket has mostly dwindled down to three specific blanket styles—“simple” striped, decorative with borders, and “fancy” complex patterns. That obviously depends on the weavers skill and the use of the blanket, as most parts of the blanket (except for the corners and edges) can’t be seen while in use.

 

The Nizhoni Ranch Gallery carries a unique variety of antique and contemporary Navajo Saddle Blanket, ranging from the simple motifs with unique corner patterns, to double saddle blankets with contrasting colors and patterns that catch the eye. We believe that whether you keep it as a tapestry, use it for riding, on the floor by your bed, or just want to maintain a beautiful piece of history, our saddle blankets will surely be exactly what you’re looking to find.

 

For additional information about Navajo Saddle Blankets, please visit the  Dessert Caballeros Western Museum exhibit, "Treasures of the Navajo Horseman"

 

The exhibit catalog featuring 42 examples of saddle blankets from the 1870s-1940s is available.  You may view it here.  

 

 

Look at the variety of color and design that was woven into these saddle blankets. The longer ones would be folded in half to provide additional comfort, and in some weavings, when folded in half there was a different pattern.  <click on photo to enlarge>