We know it is an obvious statement when we say we live in the Southwest. Our history boils over with the essences of “Old West” vibes to this day. Long gone are the days of old, but much of that Southwest history is still alive in our business as we see it in your homes on a day-to-day basis. 

Do you have a genuine Navajo rug stashed in the closet? Laying on the hall floor? Or rolled up under the bed? Such rugs are on a merry-go-round of being popular one decade and then out the next. The beauty and artistry of Native American weavings tend to accentuate the Southwest décor which makes western-themed homes in Arizona so special, but most owners have little knowledge about Navajo rugs.

No two rugs are alike. However, most rugs can be traced to their place of origin. The Navajo reservation can be divided into 13 weaving regions, each producing its own characteristic rug. The “Shiprock” region around Farmington, New Mexico is noted for the “Yei” figure taken from sand paintings that have a white background with turned slender figures and a stylized rainbow. Such rugs are usually small and are considered like a fine painting.

The larger “Yei” rugs come from the Lukachukai region with some figures as large as a small person. The distinctive rug from Teec Nos Pos has the greatest appeal for a serious collector. It typically has an outline design that is characteristically filled with a serrated zigzag design. Almost every feature is outlined in one or more different colors including reds, black and grays joined by a concert of purples, oranges and even florescent pinks. This is a short view of three of the 13 recognizable regions.

From 1850 to 1890, the Navajos were noted only for their “chief blankets” as rug making was not a necessity. Then, in 1890, the need for such blankets shifted to the making of rugs that were growing in demand and were known as “pound rugs” and not sold separately, but by the pound. The rugs were intended for everyday use and were considered throw-aways. It was not until the mid-1920s, with the encouragement of some farsighted trading post owners, that the Navajo rug began to command a certain degree of respect for its artistry. It is the early rugs from 1920 through the 1950s that tend to have not only historical interest, but also value.

Patterns and designs are rarely diagrammed as almost all designs and colors were visualized; therefore, Navajo weaving is constantly changing.

From 1900 to 1930 the trading post owners were responsible for influencing the course of weaving.For example, the “Hubbell Revival” rugs emphasized a great deal of red, the use of contemporary designs of the past and tighter weaves. The Two Gray Hills introduced vegetal and native dyes in the late 1930s. These rugs remain the premium creation of the Navajo loom since the thread count often exceeded 100 threads per inch. If the provenance is known on the rug, it could be worth a great deal to a collector.

But beware: many fakes abound that are made in Mexico, India and Pakistan that use a blend of wool, polyester or acrylic. Navajo rugs are 100 percent wool and are woven on an upright loom with a continuous warp thread that runs the entire length. The fake rugs are woven on a horizontal loom with the warp ends dangling from each end. The fake’s ends are darned back into the body of the rug. These are just a couple of examples of how to spot an imposter.

Navajo weaving is alive and well. It is truly an American art form and does add beauty and value to any home or business, but make sure it is truly a Native American weaving and not a decorative fake that is stashed under your bed.

— Email us at damshill@yahoo.com or write Ask the Appraisers, c/o Jeffrey Pearson; 5525 North 12th St., Phoenix, AZ 85014.