A Personal Look at Navajo Weavings

Andrew Nagen shepherded Navajo weavings
into the hands of collectors from 1976 to 2005


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Art patrons are generally not privy to the artist or the artist's inside/out process. This process is private, personal, and often sacred. When in the role of consumers, we are initially beckoned by the outside/in view that is usually based on personal taste; and then slowly begins the magical process of internalization.I have tried to become part of both aspects of the art experience, endeavoring to learn both facets, inside/out and outside/in.

Navajo Rug

Navajo Rug
woven at Crystal, New Mexico

The subject at hand is Navajo weavings: the rugs, blankets, and tapestries woven by creative Navajo women and the occasional Navajo male weaver. As cultural outsiders (non-Navajos) we learn about "the" Navajo art form from books, deductive reasoning and observation. These methods keep us from getting very close to the essence, but, as "outsiders", this is as close as we can get.

Navajo weavings are statements defining the artist's relationship to her natural surroundings and her personal standards relative to geometry, color, proportion and spiritual relation to the Earth. One cannot view early Navajo weavings without recognizing the suggestion of regional rock formations and deep space. These visual observations or perceptions, combined with natural dyed wool whose color source is derived from plant, animal or mineral pigments, results in a tapestry of relationship and relatedness revealing an appropriate holistic cultural statement in "art" form.

When viewing or considering contemporary weavings, this wholeness remains as part of the experience but the purer original cultural insight, awareness and presence is less prevalent or profound and affords less emotional impact because of the nature of contemporary designing, thinking and materials. Generally, objects should be judged relative to their date of origin and the circumstances surrounding and affecting the artist. We cannot fairly compare a weaving dating 1890 to one produced in 1990. This truth can be clearly described by the descriptive and insightful terms "pre-electric and post-electric" Navajos. As soon as electricity became available on the Navajo reservation, subsequent to the railroad, life radically changed and so did the art forms. Radio, television, telephone and magazines brought non-cultural related values, issues and sense of place. Consider whether cola-drinking, bluejean-wearing, automobile-driving, contemporary-thinking Navajo women could ever continue the original primary essential cultural inside/out process.

It matters little what you pay for your Navajo weaving as long as your purchase is of the best quality in whatever price range your comfort level allows. Be open for a little room to stretch your budget and spend a little more today confidently knowing that by extending your budget you will acquire the best possible enduring work of art that will please you for years to come.

The Fox in Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince says,

"It is only with the heart that one sees rightly,
  what is essential is invisible to the eye."

This insight, I assure you, is in the being of the weaver. My friend Alan says, "Accept [an artist's] work on an intuitive level." Maybe if you like the object, you'll really like the person who made it.

Thoughts from Andrew Nagen. He appraised, bought and sold old Navajo rugs and blankets in Corrales, New Mexico from 1976 until his death in August 2005.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 15

Related Pages

A Chronology of Fiber Art & Textiles in NM article
A Brief Social History of Navajo Weaving article
Contemporary Navajo Folk Art article
Glossary of Indian Art Terms article

Textiles as Art article
The Thread of New Mexico article
Vallero Star Blankets article
Navajo Sandpaintings article

Collector’s Resources


Cowboys & Indians Antiques | 505-255-4054
The Navajo Rug, LLC 535 Los Ranchos Road NW | 505-897-5005

Santa Fe

Joan Caballero Appraisals PO Box 822, Santa Fe, NM | 505-982-8148
Chimayo Trading & Mercantile | 505-351-4566
GrimmerRoche rem 422 West San Francisco | 982-8669
Laura Center Navajo Rug Restoration PO Box 8455 | 505-982-5663
Morning Star Gallery | 505.982.8187
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture | 505-476-1250
Seppanen & Daughters Fine Textiles, Inc | 505.424.7470
Sherwoods Spirit of America | 505-988-1776


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