How to Identify Authentic Navajo Weavings
Handmade rugs in traditional Navajo rug patterns make wonderful heirlooms. Their durability is legendary and their designs and colors are timeless. To honor this great tradition, it is important to buy authentic weavings from reputable sources.
I went to one of the local experts on Navajo weavings, Steve Getzwiller, owner of the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery. He has made it his life’s work to help weavers improve their craft, find buyers, generate income and keep this beautiful tradition alive.
Getziller says authentic Navajo rugs, blankets, and wall hangings are still hand-woven on traditional, upright looms. Most are made from 100-percent wool, and some are even made from desirable Navajo-Churro wool. Handweaving contemporary Navajo rugs is a very time consuming and disciplined art form that generally takes two to three months for a single piece.
“The hand weaving process of a Navajo rug cannot be mechanized, which adds to their rarity and value. Rugs that are not authentic Navajo can be easily identified by an expert and sometimes by the novice eye. The materials used, the way the rug is finished on the sides, and some
times the color and design give a fake away,” says Getzwiller.
Price of Weaving
The price of an authentic Navajo rug or blanket depends on the size, tightness and intrica
cy of the pattern, as well as the dyes, processes and the rug’s condition. In general, the tighter and finer the weave, the more valuable the piece. Contemporary Navajo rugs range from under $500 to many thousands. Anything woven prior to 1950 is considered historic with prices starting around $1,000 or more depending on size, design and quality. Don’t be fooled by discount prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Check the Condition
The condition of a Navajo rug will always affect the price: check if it is clean, straight or damaged, and if the color is running or fading. Just because it’s flawed, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valued. Consider the age of the rug and how much you are drawn to the weaving before you decide if you can live with the flaws. Most times, these issues can be fixed by an expert.
There are 28 styles of Navajo rugs, and some are more difficult to weave than others. Before you invest in a rug, it isworth a quick online search to see which designs and patterns catch your eye.
Starting in the 1920s and continuing through today, Navajo rug designs are identified by and named for the region from which the design originated, such as Chinle, Ganado and Teec Nos Pos. Other styles, such as Sandpainting, Two-Faced and Twill are not identified with a region of the Reservation but still very authentic. View a map of the Navajo Reservation and where the designs originated.
The Navajo Reservation is the largest in the United States, encompassing a land mass of 27,000 square miles in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. According to the 2000 census, about 174,000 of the nearly 300,000 Navajos live within the Navajo Nation.
View Before You Buy
It’s a lot to remember, so Getzwiller recommends you look at all your options before you buy. He provides information about Navajo designs, profiles of artists and examples of many styles online at Nizhoni Ranch Gallery in Sonoita.
Some of Getzwiller’s favorite Navajo rugs and blankets are also on display at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg. They are shown with his personal collection of Native American pottery, baskets and jewelry, as well as cowboy gear including guns, saddles and boots in his exhibit called One Trader’s Legacy: Steve Getzwiller Collects the West. The exhibit is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., from Nov. 18 through June 3, 2018.