In the very early days, going way back, the Navajo people learned weaving
probably from the Pueblo people, over on the Rio Grande. They had
never woven before they met up with the Pueblo people. Well, being
so adaptable and doing things so well, as they do, they picked up this
weaving art and turned it into something uniquely their own, and wonderful.
But in the early days, anyway--and by "the early days," I'm meaning the
early or mid-1800s maybe--they were weaving for a utilitarian purpose.
That is, they were weaving wearing garments. And they did that for
a long time, and very well. But at some point or another, they figured
out that they could sell those wearing garments to Anglo people for a
big price, and then they could go out and buy a machine-made woolen wearing
garment, in the early days made by the Pendleton Woolen Mills, or there
were two or three other woolen mills that were producing these Indian
trade blankets. Very serviceable, very durable, and very cheap.
So weaving became something other than what it started out as--that is,
a utilitarian kind of wearing garment. I will never forget hearing
from some of the real old-time Navajo people about that, and about their
complete inability to grasp what happened when they would sell these wearing
garments to the Anglo people. They said the Anglo people would take
them and do a thing that they never could understand. They said
they would throw them on the floor and walk all over them! And I
think they had a big joke about that for a long time. Of course
they became rugs, and we all know what happened...
Jack, Evelyn & Snick Lee:
Evelyn: Once in a great while we'd buy some Hopi weaving, and you know the men make all of that in the kivas--not rugs, but the Hopi robes, wedding robes, and the sashes that the kachinas wear, and that sort of thing.
Snick: See, the Navajos learned to weave from the Hopis.
Cole: I didn't know that.
Jack: The Hopis had sort of a.... I guess it was wild cotton.
Evelyn: They grew it.
Jack: They grew it themselves, and they made those....
Evelyn: They wove with cotton where the Navajos wove with wool. But the Navajos had sheep for the wool.... the Spaniards brought the wool to the Navajos, but they learned to weave from the Hopis.
Snick: See, the Pueblo ancestry wove at Mesa Verde, with cotton. ... The Navajos learned all of their crafts from other tribes. See, they learned baskets--not all Navajos make baskets, but the Navajo medicine baskets they learned to do from the Paiutes on the San Juan River up in Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain area. And they learned to make pottery from the Hopis, they learned to weave from the Hopis.
Jack: They learned to weave from the Spaniard wool....
Evelyn: Well, the Spaniards furnished the first wool, but the Hopis taught 'em to weave. But the beyata rugs, of which there are very few--there's one at Hubbell's--were the Spanish cloaks that they unraveled and wove into a rug. And they're either dark blue or dark red. Had you heard of the beyata before? Well, there's one at the museum at Hubbell's. It's the only one I ever saw. It's a dark blue one.
Snick: The beyata was a Spanish cape, the soldiers cape. And they would unravel that and....
Jack: They were all handmade.
Evelyn: Those cloaks were hand knitted, and they unraveled
easily. And that was what they made the first rugs from.
I think he was born in 1868--Grandpa Joe was. And he was at the
height of his career at that great opportunistic time, when all of these
early traders were trying to figure out ways to--what were the goods of
trade? The obvious one, the Navajos had the hottest commodity in
America. In the West, before the white man ever showed up, the Comanches
wanted their blankets, the Utes wanted their blankets, the Mexicans wanted
their blankets. That weaving art was the obvious most sought-after
thing, whether you were an army soldier, or whether you were....
We found some of the greatest old wearing blankets in some of the Spanish
land grant estates along the Rio Grande. Some of the earliest and
best ones that have been found have come from there. All of these
guys, whether it was my Grandpa Joe, or whether it was Cotton in Gallup,
or Moore at Crystal, or Hubbell--they were all just trying to figure out
ways that these people could best make a living....This all really happened
fast. They turned this whole thing into a trade. I'll tell
you, the Navajos are such enterprising, hard-working people. They
don't need the government to do anything for them. I think the greatest
hour of the Navajos, and these people that worked with them, was those
years from when they were released from Fort Sumner and given a few head
of sheep and lots of bayeta trade cloth. And that's what those earliest
and best blankets are.... You know, the ravelled stuff, those are
the pieces that are.... so sought-after.
Back in the old days when I was growing up it was expected that the women are weavers. Like I said, it was the way of our economy. You can't have anything or expect to have anything unless you knew how to weave. If you had sheep, you gotta know how to weave. You can't be selling sheep or sheepskin all the time. But of course a nice blanket will always bring a higher price than just selling your sheep or selling wool or selling sheepskin. And so Mom was the weaver. She taught my sisters how to weave. and so weaving, we've always seen. In each hogan, there is always a weaver. This is a part of life. It was always done year-round, because you never know when the trip to the trading post will be made. It seems like there's always a rug there. When I go down to visit my mother in Tuba City, there seems to be always a rug on the loom there, half woven or almost completed, or in the process of beginning.
Underhill: Some of the traders have described showing the Navajo women different designs, and from their perspective, influencing how the rugs were made. I've also heard from a Navajo woman that there is no design until you start, and that the rug takes on its own life. How would you describe that process?
Begay: Well, the weaver never uses any type of a measuring device, because of her strong belief in the mythology stories. We believe we learn--the Navajo people, the Navajo weaver--believes she learned how to weave from this spiritual person. Now, when we got into the education system, I read a book, and I was told by people in the education world, that the Navajos were not weavers at all, and that they had learned this art from the Pueblo Indians. And so one day I went home and I told my grandmother, I said "We were told that we learned this art of weaving, this culture, from the Pueblo Indians. Kiisí ·anii bitsí ë··dÈÈí, from the Pueblos." And she told me (chuckles), anything that she disagrees with, or anything that my grandfather disagrees with, he or she will correct you, sit you down right then and there and correct you, and tell their version.
Because of the strong belief in the mythology story, my grandmother sat me down there, and she told me that a long time ago in the mythology stories it is told where we learned the art of weaving. It was not from the Pueblo Indians. She says that like many Indian tribes, the earth is our mother, and the sky is our father, and everything that exists, like I said before, is related to us--crawling creatures, the winged beings, the four-legged creatures, the plants, the trees, the mountains, the valleys, the waters, the air, the darkness, the light, the sun, the moon. They're all related to us. "And so one day," she says, "the sun came up, our father the sun came up."
Back in the mythology world there was only holy beings existed on earth, and one day the sun spoke. And the sun spoke and he says, "Why is it that I travel many miles, many distances each day, and I give you the light and I give you the warmth, but when I set in the west, I spend my lonely nights by myself? I need somebody to be with me, be my companion, to spend my nights with." And so the holy people came together. Now, before these holy people came together, there among them was this spiritual woman. They called the spiritual woman Changing Woman. ...Before she became a woman, she was called White Shell Woman. Now, there was a white mountain. In the Navajo mythology or the cultural teachings, you have four sacred mountains: the white shell in the east, the turquoise mountain in the south, the abalone in the west, and the obsidian, the jet, in the north. And the Reservation is within these four sacred mountains.
During that time in the mythology world, in the beginning, they saw to the east a mountain, this white shell mountain, and there were many mountains around it. One particular mountain had a cloud hovering on top. And so the holy people got up in the morning and they heard a child cry, and they didn't understand where.... It appears that the crying of this child was coming from this mountain that had this particular cloud hovering on top, floating on top. So the holy people went there, and sure enough, they found a child there. Seems to be abandoned. They looked around, they didn't find anybody around. The spirits spoke to them, and it was a gift to the holy people. They picked up the child and they took it back down to where they lived. Because the child did not belong to anybody, it didn't have a mother or father, the holy people helped each other and they raised the child until she reached the age of puberty, and a puberty ceremony was done for the child, this little girl, this young girl. At the end of the four-day ceremony, the conclusion of the ceremony, she became a woman, so they changed her name from White Shell Woman to Changing Woman. Now it appeared when the sun spoke to them, that the sun requested a companion. The holy people thought spiritually, "Oh, this is why the child was sent to us. It was meant to be this way, that we send this woman, who's now called Changing Woman, to be with the sun."
So the Changing Woman was sent to the west to be with the sun. There, they had a spiritual union. From this spiritual union it resulted in the birth of two boys, twins, one called Monster Slayer, the other called Child Born of the Water. But they had one main reason for being born, these two boys. The reason was that they will travel on Navajo land and they will kill off all the monsters that should not exist in today's world. There were many monsters, enemies, that preyed on the people, the Navajo. And their job was to do away with all these bad creatures. One day they were doing their job, and they were walking down this valley and they heard somebody singing, a beautiful voice coming from afar. And they looked in that direction, but they didn't see anybody, so they began to follow the sound. And the closer they got, the singing became louder and louder, but they still couldn't see anybody, until they came upon a hole in the ground. They looked down there, and sure enough, there was somebody down there. There was a woman, and the woman was weaving a rug.
The boys quietly knelt down, and they looked down there, and they watched. The woman was happy, that's why she was singing. She was happy because she just had a little piece to go to complete her weaving on the rug. The boys watched. The woman completed her weaving, she took the rug off the loom, and she walked in that direction. And the direction that she walked away, a line followed her.
"So, my grandson," my grandmother says, "When you look at a spider web somewhere, in your home or someplace, look closely, and if you don't see a spider there, you'll see a line, the direction that the spider departed. That's why when you make a rug, in one corner of the weave, there should be a line that comes out to the end of the rug, we call the spirit line. That is to pay tribute, to honor the Spider Woman that we learned how to weave from. It was not the Pueblo Indians we learned how to weave from, it was the Spider Woman. Therefore, the line should always exist in an enclosed--(draws a square with his hands) [In] a rug with a border, there should be a line that comes out. When you leave this line out, that means that you will leave your mind open to think of new designs. If you don't leave the line in there, you close the rug, then you've enclosed your mind, and you will have a hard time thinking of new designs. New techniques, new designs will be gone. And so this is the reason why the line should be there." So it is the Spider Woman, this is the spiritual woman that we learned how to weave from.
Now, being that the belief among the weavers is that we learned from
the spiritual woman, she don't need no measuring device. She, beforehand,
understands what kind of a rug she will begin to weave, and she will begin
to weave--run the wool back and forth, the strands of yarn and the wool,
back and forth, and she begins to weave. What they have, the intricate
designs, all these, they are usually identical. From this side,
if this rug was one piece here, it would be the same as it is over here.
I can never understand how my mother does that. She weaves from
the bottom all the way to the top. When she completes the weave,
a rug something like this (gestures toward rug on the wall behind him)
with a very intricate design, I fold it in half when she completes it,
and it's exactly half and half. And sometimes I will get a straight
pin, and maybe put a straight pin right here (again gestures toward rug
behind him), and maybe another one right in the middle of this diamond
here, and another one maybe right in the middle of this grey area here,
fold it, half and half. Then I turn it around, when I turn it around,
it's exactly where I placed it on the other side. Now how does that
happen? For the weaver, it's the power of the spiritual woman, the
Spider Woman, that makes it happen. This is the way they think when
they're weaving. The only measuring thing that I see when my mom
is weaving, is she'll be weaving and she'd use her hands. "Oh, it's
about three [hand spans] there, three there," and she'd go back and forth,
and that's her only measuring device, is her hand. But it's not
determined. When I wanted to draw a rug, I get out a ruler or a
yardstick, get out a piece of paper, and I measure it out. This
is the way a lot of people understand. They think that the Indian
people do this. But the weaver just begins to weave. How does
it happen? By the power of the spirit of the Spider Woman.
My folks was runnin' the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post when I was born.... Our family's been in the trading post business and the ranching business practically all their lives.... I started out in this, working for my dad in a store that was called Progressive Mercantile Company. That was a little wholesale supply store at Kirtland, New Mexico. They furnished financial backing and merchandise to quite a few of the stores on that part of the reservation....
We sold them to the different places. Our biggest place we sold to was Fred Harvey. They had all the parks there. We sold them lots of rugs there. And we sold a lot to the other national parks. There was Rocky Mountain Transportation in Denver, which they had the concessions for all those parks up there that we sold to them. We sold mostly to dealers. And then we'd go on what we'd call a rug trip, and we'd go up in the Black Hills and sell to those parks--we had somebody that we sold 'em to wherever.
I went on rug trips when I was in high school. I would go with Uncle Shel, with an uncle of mine, and we'd go up through Denver, up through the Black Hills and there. Then we'd go over to Albuquerk [Albuquerque], to where they did the buying for Fred Harvey's stores, and we'd go to Gallup and sell 'em there. That was in the thirties when they started.
Cole: Were other traders doing that also?
Russell Foutz: We were probably the biggest. Progressive on this side was probably the biggest distributors of that. And C.N. Cotton in Gallup. And they even went back East to the department stores, and put 'em in at the World's Fairs. They went there and sold. They were probably the biggest distributors, yes.
Then there's also Charles Ilfeld. They handled probably more rugs
than anybody. They would buy them and they was getting them distributed
in the East. A lot of the rugs were at the World's Fair in Chicago.
The World's Fair they had was having Indian dancers and sand painters
and silversmiths go back, so there got to be quite a market for Indian
goods back there, on account of these displays that they had at the World's
Mr. Evans was one of the early [buyers from Fred Harvey].... a
thin, bald-headish man, and I would guess, I'd say Scandinavian of some
kind. But he was foreign. He worked in Albuquerque.
I remember the first stack of rugs I took over. Russell sent me
over, I was fourteen years old. They were in the back of the station
wagon, and I took 'em in there, and I can remember him having an old broom
handle that had been cut off and the nail was pointing out. And
every rug you'd throw to him--I don't care the quality or the price of
it--he would jab that in it and pull it apart to see if it had a cotton
warp. And Fred Harvey at that time would not buy anything with a
cotton warp in it. So immediately, if it had a cotton warp, he'd
say, "Oh! when will these weavers learn?!" and we'd fold it back up, and
of course carry it right back out.
I learned very early on to never take a rug or never take pinons or anything
like that, because once you started, you'd ruin the customer, because
he always wanted to pay you in that method. I worked for a while
for a company out of Grand Junction that sold clothing, and they had a
salesman that went down there and took a huge amount of rugs and traded
for merchandise, and they'd almost bankrupt that company, because rugs
were hard to sell. Rugs is a specialty, and you have to really know
what you're doin', and it isn't a game for the amateur. But once
you started taking trade from the Indian trader, from that moment on,
it was always trade. He would never have any cash to spend.
This cousin of mine, Claude Powell, he was the son of my father's sister.
He was an old-time trader and been around it all the time. He used
to go out and sell Harry Goulding rugs when he was working for us.
And he said he'd go there to Goulding and they would be talking about
rugs, and Goulding had an Indian woman hid out just a few, a little place
from the store. And when a car would come, and they'd come in and
wanted to buy rugs, he would say, "I just don't have very many rugs here.
And I don't have much money to buy rugs with, but here comes a woman that
looks like she's got a rug right now. Maybe you'd like to buy a
rug directly from the weaver." And so she would come in and she
would sell her rug, he would interpret it for her, and he would sell the
rug to the tourists." After they left, he would give this woman
another rug, and she'd go out, away from the store, and wait for another
tourist to come by so she could come in with the rug she "wove herself"
to sell to the tourists.
We paid cash for everything. And what I would do, I would take it out of the sack, look at it, say "howdy," put it up on the counter, and put the cash right beside it. And I'd tell them this was my offer, this is what I could do, and they'd either take it--and mostly they would take it--and we just bought literally tons, I think. I don't know anybody that's bought and sold any more Navajo rugs than we did there at Navajo Shopping Center, and then collectively, the group that kind of spun off from there has done since.
The big volume was--we bought Gallup throws, which is a cotton warp tourist
rug--we bought those for $2.00 to $2.50. We bought single saddle
blankets for $5.00, double saddle blankets for $10.00. And it was
just really unusual to have a rug come in that we would pay....
And you have to understand, we were buying them, so we were obviously
paying as much or more than anybody else, because we had the volume coming.
And thank heavens for the market that we'd created to keep the money rolling.
But $250 would be about the outside for the best piece that came in.
When I first went to Dinnebito, I had an office as big as this office,
and you would sit there and you would fill it up, stacked up this high,
all around the wall here--maybe not quite full--of saddle blankets.
They made double saddle blankets. There's a single saddle blanket
over there on the wall. And, you know, you was payin' like--this
is in the sixties--you was payin' like $10 or $12 or $6 or $8 for a saddle
blanket, you know. And then you saw people like Rose Dan that brought
in the finest saddle blanket you ever saw. You'd been around a while,
and you realized, "Hey, this lady can make a rug! She doesn't need
to make a $10 saddle blanket, she's gonna get more for it." So then
I went to places.... all over the country, and I took hundreds of pictures
of rugs. So then I went back to people like Rose Dan.
And I said, "Hey, make this--make this rug." And I picked out the
good ones. They was hundreds of 'em. I said, "Well, make this rug."...
from saddle blankets to a rug, a floor rug, this size, three by five rug
or somethin' like that. And then they went from a $10 saddle blanket
to a $100 rug, just (snaps fingers) like this. They already knew
how to do it...
Slocum Klah's [phonetic spelling] whole family wove rugs. Daisy and Irene, and the old lady. They had three daughters, Slocum Klah's daughters wove beautiful rugs. Lots of Goats' wife. And Capitaninelli's wife. Ray Lee's wife. Goodness! Little Salt Water's wife. Oh, there were lots of 'em. I mean, there's too many to name, really. But they all could weave a beautiful rug, and they did a beautiful job, and they expected to get paid for it, and they did....
In those days, why, some of the best rugs were probably three or four
hundred dollars--but that was lots of money in those days, when they were
used to living on a hundred dollars twice a year, you know, for wool and
mohair, and lambs in the fall. But sometimes it'd take 'em a full
year to weave it, or a year-and-a-half sometimes. They were the
best. I mean, you can say what you want to, but they were the best
rug weavers in the country. Now, there were a few over on the other
side at Two Grey Hills, along in there, that made that all natural colored
rug that sold good in certain areas. But I'd pick a Teec Nos Pos
over them anytime, because I liked the color and I liked the design.
So we did, we bought lots and lots of rugs in those days. In fact,
there was very seldom a day didn't go by that we didn't buy a rug of some
I guess we sold a lot of rugs. What you did is, you bought the rugs and then these rug dealers came around and a lot of times they'd trade you jewelry from Gallup for the rugs. I mean, we have in our house, just stacked up--stacks of 'em, with rugs. These guys, they came around. We didn't go out and sell 'em, we just traded 'em to rug dealers and things like that. Alvey Turney, out of Gallup, we'd trade jewelry, which we sold to the Navajos for the rugs. You could probably get buried in more rugs than you could sell, so you were tryin' to move those rugs. And in Kayenta you had tourists comin' around, so that was an added bonus. That probably took over, we probably sold more to tourists than we did wholesale. We still wholesale a lot of rugs. Jackson Clark--he's passed away now--but he was a big rug dealer out of Durango, Colorado, had the Toleptin Gallery. And how he got into the rug business was he was the Pepsi Cola dealer. He was the Pepsi Cola distributor, and people would say, "Can't pay you now, but how about $500 worth of rugs?" He was interested in it...we traded rugs for Pepsi, traded rugs for down payment on your car. The rugs were something you were always trying to move. Like I said, you could buy more than you could sell, so you had a lot of rugs.
Underhill: And what did you look for in a rug?
Blair: You looked for how straight it is, the design, the
artistic quality, the technical quality, and then you look to see how
cute she is (laughs)--the lady that made it. That's what my dad....
My mom would be looking through the rug pile, and she'd say, "Goll, how
much did you pay for this?! Why did you pay so much for it?!"
My dad would say, "She was really cute." (laughter)
How do I know a great rug? Gosh, I'd just take a look at the weaver,
and if she was a great lady, I'd say it was a great rug. (chuckles)
No, I'm just kidding about that. Great rug.... So many times I will
be showing somebody some rugs, and let's say there's several couples there,
and somebody will say, "Well, how do you tell a good rug?" And I'll
say, "Just a minute, and I'll show you." And I'll keep throwing
the rugs, and then I'll reach over and throw just what I would call an
extremely good rug. And usually speaking, the women, and even some
of the men in the audience there, or in the group, will go, "Oh!"
And I'll say, "That's how you tell a good rug"...because as they have
looked at it, the beauty of that piece just comes out, and it brings that
response or reaction that we do when we see a piece that's just "Wow!"
It's a beautiful piece. ...
We've sold rugs to Mrs.Wrigley. And Mrs.McCormack was a big buyer
of Indian arts and crafts. And one day I was here decorating this
window. This window here, I was changing stuff in it, and some man
come in and wanted to know something about rugs, if I'd show him a rug.
"[Do you] know about rugs?" And I said, "Yeah. Do you know
anything [about] decoratin' a window? If you'll help me with this
window, I'll show you rugs. Do you know anything about it?"
He said, "Yeah, but it's been a long time." So he helped me finish
the window, and then we got back to look at rugs, and then he introduced
himself. He was chairman of the board of Sears and Roebuck, Mr.Miller.
Then he went on to be quite a collector of old high-priced rugs...
The weavers wove the snakes in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the Navajo superstitions concerns snakes. A few of the weavers began to have sick spells, and they just knew that's why-they wove a snake in a rug, and that's what made them sick. They never got sick just from gettin' sick, it was always some cause that they had done, that they had caused themselves to get ill. And so we were fortunate in the beginning to get our rugs that had the snakes in them before they quit weavin' snakes. I did have one of the women make a snake in a rug before Christmas, and I told her, "It's $3,000 if you make it without the snake. It would be $4,000 if you want the snakes in there." She said, "I'll put the snakes in," so she did, but they weren't very big snakes. She put snakes at the top of the rug, at the opening. But another one was sitting here, and she said, "Ooo, I won't weave a snake." (chuckles) That's just one of their taboos, and you can't blame them for feelin' that way. I kind of feel that way myself. (laughter)
Cole: When you were paying that kind of money, sort of on
Kennedy: Oh, those weavers could have any amount of credit they wanted, when they were trading with us... one tells about where we paid her enough to go buy a pickup. But most of those that did the weaving were well-off Navajos anyway. They had a lot of sheep, and they had cows....But they had unlimited credit at the trading post. They usually didn't owe too much on their rugs. They kept their bills paid pretty well. But like I say, Troy told one of them if she'd weave a certain rug, it was very complicated-it's in one of those books-and he told her if she'd weave it-she was wanting a mobile home to live in-and he said, "Well, if you weave this rug, it'll buy you a mobile home, we'll pay you enough." She got diabetes, Anna May Tanner, and she became very ill. She couldn't work on the rug anymore, so her mother and sister took the loom with the rug and finished it. So we paid them for the rug.
Anna May got well enough to weave, she started that rug again, and she said, "I am going to finish this rug before I die." Troy died while she was still working on the rug. She worked on that rug, and oh, it was beautiful. She was on a dialysis machine and everything with her diabetes, and her kids said, "I know Mom is going to finish that rug before she dies, and then she'll die." She finished the rug, and Troy was gone, but I bought the rug from her, and she lived about two months longer. She finished the rug. She lived with her daughter. She never bought her mobile home, but she got enough that she could have made a good payment on a mobile home. [She] was so proud of that rug. She didn't like her mother and sister to finish itshe was going to finish it herself, 'cause Troy had told her to.
She had such respect for Troy. They'd sit in the living room after
he got ill, and he would be on his oxygen and they'd bring a rug in and
they'd sit in the living room, gossiping and dealing over the rug.
Instead of selling it to Donny, they'd rather sell it to Troy. He
was a big teaser, and he teased a lot, and they liked to come in and see
him. They were upset when I moved from the old house, nearly all
the Indians, because they'd been in that house so much. And they
said, "We can't believe you're gonna sell that house and move, after Troy
lived here all these years." And I said, "Well, Troy's gone now,
I have to live by myself, and it's up to me." But now they come
here, and they like it. (laughs)
I think when I ran this store, as I got a little older, I had one great advantage, and that's we bought so many arts and crafts. Russell had a great love of arts and crafts, and he knew 'em well. He, at that time, I think, had decided that if he was going to be real good at arts and crafts, that you had to establish outlets. And consequently, he was out working hard to establish those outlets--Fred Harvey. Russell worked with Fred Harvey, and he worked with accounts a great deal, building up the type of thing they wanted, and he would listen to 'em and go back to the weavers and work with them to try to find marketable things that would be more marketable the next season, and come up with new ideas. In doing that, he was instrumental in bringing Germantown wool back to the Reservation.
Now, a lot of people were critical of that at the time, because they said, "Well, aren't handspun rugs better?" Well, they were, if the weaver could handle it. But a lot of times a weaver would spin all of her wool, do her hand dying with her homemade coloring, and come in, and the end product was very unsalable. Now, a lot of weavers could handle--let's say half the weavers could handle it well, but the others had a hard time between dying and coloring and keeping a rug straight and the pattern going, to where when they got through with six months' work, they'd bring it in, and you'd rather not buy it, because you didn't know where you'd go to sell it. And it was really a hard thing.
By bringing the commercial wool back in, we could take a weaver like that, and she could double her output, control her coloring, and I think to a lot of those weavers, we tripled and [quadrupled] the money they were getting in a year's time. So I think when you look at one side of it, you might argue the point, if you're a purist and said, "Well, gee, handspun wool's the best," but looking at the overall marketability of the rugs, not just that, but the quality that came out on your four-ply yarns were just almost as good as your handspun. But we certainly put more money in the hand of the maker.
Cole: So Germantown....
Foutz: Is a commercial yarn rug, or a four-ply yarn.
The original, where the Germantown word comes from is the very, very early
four-ply yarn that was used back in the early, early 1900's in the Germantown
rugs, came from Germantown, Pennsylvania. And so it was always referred
to as Germantown. We bought a lot of our wool from New Richmond,
Ohio, from Crescent and Klassen [phonetic spelling] Woolen Mills, back
in the early days here. Russell worked very hard about establishing
great wool connections. And when I say wool connections, [I'm talking]
about the processing of good wool for the weavers. And he was always
looking for new markets. And he worked with them to where he refined
it. He wasn't just taking the colors, but he wanted certain colors
that would be marketable. He worked with 'em long enough, and he
was able to buy enough of it, that they would listen to him, and dye the
colors that he needed, to where he came up with colors that were very,
very good for, let's say, Shiprock yei'iis--beautiful greys, beautiful
beiges--and consequently the market just absolutely opened up, and we
were able to sell a lot more of 'em, because they were more attractive
to the average buyer, and we were able again to put more money in the
weaver's hand. And that's very important when you're here, looking
at the source. You don't think of just the market out there, you've
got to think of the supplier, too, or the maker. And I think Russell
was very conscious of that, and we were, and I was taught that.
Well, after the war... I come across a--I had a beautiful Germantown rug that I exhibited at the Gallup Ceremonial, and somebody bought. And some woman come up to me and she says, "I know who wove that rug," and she named the man that had wove it. I always admired his rug. And these Germantown rugs, they were in demand and they brought lots of money. So I went to [Chimayo sp?] and I saw these Chimayo people weaving these rugs out in Chimayo. So I got the address of these people that was where they got their four-ply yarn from. And I ordered the four-ply yarn and brought it, stocked it, to Teec Nos Pos. And I had some rugs wove out of it. Then I even had one of the weavers split it, this German[town yarn], and weave it into one-ply. The one-ply that they-- I couldn't tell the difference, and so I didn't think the experts could tell the difference.
So I had one of the better weavers weave one of the rugs out of the commercial one-ply, and put it in the Gallup Ceremonial. And I just put it in the Gallup Ceremonial--"I don't know what category this rug should go in. You can put it whatever category that it goes in."
So they put it in the category of the hand-spun Navajo weavings and give it the blue prize of hand-ply weaves... And not only that, it got the Indian Traders Association prize. I said, "[Judge], it was bad enough that you put a blue ribbon as homespun on a factory-made rug, but it was even worse when you gave the Traders Association prize money on it." ...I had a lot of fun out of it.
So I thought, "Well, if the judges can't even tell the difference in these rugs, and these old rugs are worth a lot of money, why wouldn't the new rugs be worth just as much money as the old ones whether they were commercial or not?" So whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, but it's the only thing, ...I introduced the commercial four-ply wool on the reservation that all the rugs are made out of now, except maybe one percent maybe.
We have as good a weavers as we've ever had in the time of weaving.
We really do have some good weavers. But they're getting old....
I think that the weaving is going to be far and between in the future,
because there's only a few traders like Bill Foutz who work at it, and
Kathy Foutz who owns Teec Nos Pos Trading Post. And Bruce Burnham
.... Bruce really works hard at it. He's married to a Navajo.
The women spin yarns especially for him to sell. He has some of
the weavers just doing nothing but spinning yarn for him, and he sells
it back to the weavers. But there's no need for them to weave now,
they can make money other ways. A long time ago, that was their
way of getting some money, and they didn't travel off the reservation.
Now, the young kids, they come into town and they're clerks, and you notice
all the stores, there's always Indians working. They get the majority
of the jobs, so there's really no need, except as a hobby... there's no
need now for them to try making a living at it, except the old ones
that are getting old. And they still love their money from those
rugs. And when they weave a good rug, they get good pay for it,
they really do.
John W.: Earl was.... Most of those guys were fairly conservative, except the younger one--he was a wild one. Earl had some of everything that he ever bought in the years he was at Lukachukai. One year a fellow who was traveling the reservation and picking up rugs for me and selling jewelry, came in and said, "Earl has a bunch of piñons." I had been shipping quantities of piñons for years. I had an outlet in New York that took millions of pounds. So we arranged to go out there with him in February or March--cold, miserable day, the snow was blowing. We weighed Earl's piñons, and I gave him a check for 'em and told him I'd have a truck pick 'em up in a few days.
We were havin' coffee in his kitchen, and I said, "Earl, where are all your rugs?" I was just probing. He said, "Well, you saw the stack in there by the flour in the wareroom." I said, "That's your dogs. Where are your rugs?"
After a while he got a key off the kitchen wall and we went out and opened up a pumphouse in the back yard and it was stacked solid with Navajo rugs--years and years of supply. It was a pumphouse as large as this room here. So we set an orange crate out in the back yard, put on our mackinaws, put an adding machine on the orange crate. He'd pull a rug out. "How much, Earl?" "Sixteen or fourteen or eighteen," whatever it was. He had his code on there, "H.O." We would kid him, "Earl, last time, 'H.O.' was fourteen. How come it's sixteen now?" (laughter) Finally he said, "I think I've sold enough stuff today," and the adding machine said $7,000 plus, and I was wondering what I was gonna use for money.
So I arranged to have a wholesale truck pick the rugs up a few days later. But there was a shortage of rugs at the time, and I let word out there in Gallup that I had these rugs, and within a week's time, Kirk Brothers and Woodard and Mercantile took the whole works. So in December that year, Earl was in Gallup and he told my friend, "You and John come out again. I'll have the coffee ready." So we went out and weighed rugs again, and it took three trips to clean him out before we got all the rugs out of that. I wish now--today you'd have a field day with those rugs, 'cause a lot of marvelous old designs.
But Earl.... One time my friend wanted some wedding baskets, which all the medicine men used, you know. And he said, "Earl, I've gotta have a few wedding baskets." And Earl said, "I don't know whether I can let you have any or not." But they went out to one of the barns, and he must have had 2,000 in there! (laughter) But he was that way. He saved a lot. And Walter is just like him.
I think of the time.... I used to get a lot of rugs from Russell Foutz when I had the wholesale house, and Russell liked to lead the parade with those traders up there. He said, "I've gotta have a new Cadillac." So I told the Cadillac dealer in Gallup, "I've got the rugs, and as I sell 'em, I'll just send the checks to you every month if you want to give him a Cadillac." So Russell got a Cadillac. So the next time I saw Walter Kennedy, he said, "Goddamn it, I want a Cadillac!" I said, "Well, what have you got, Walter?" We went in his vault, and he had all these shoe boxes of the dead pawn of every year he'd been there, twenty-some years. So I looked and I said, "Well, we can make a deal." So I'd get a box and look at it. "Oh, I can't let that go!" The next one, "I can't let that go!" I said, "Walter, for godsake, you wanted a Cadillac. Stop right here." And that ended the deal! (laughter) .
In 1963, I could buy a rug that would fill the floor of this house--I'm talking something that would have been a twelve by eighteen or something like that. They were only $350-$500 dollars in those days. Today, to buy a rug like that, they could run anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000--a big rug. So things have changed. And little rugs, I know weavers that get $2,500 for a small tapestry rug, $4,000, $5,000. Nobody ever dreamed that rugs were gonna cost that much in those days. And it's a demand, as long as the public will pay that for a rug, for a nice work, the demand will be there. And I know weavers that have quit weaving because they say, "I can't get the price I used to get for my rug. I'm not going to make any." But a lot of other younger weavers step up and fill that demand there--maybe not for the price that their grandma got, or their mom got, but they're still weaving.
I guess like today, I told you I had to buy two rugs that turned into four. I throw 'em down on the floor, look at 'em a little bit, talk to the weaver a little bit about what she thinks she wants, and make my offer. I got turned down once today. I bought six rugs and one went to town. The one that went to town was really a nice rug, but it had an eagle in the middle of it, and to me it'd be a hard rug to sell. Some people might like eagles on their rug, but it was such a big rug that it would have to hang on the wall to do it any justice. It was really made to be a floor rug. We were just a hundred dollars off. I could have bought it for $1,500. I think I offered $1,400 on it. It was one of those things where it's a judgement call, and I didn't know if I really wanted it that bad or not. But the other rugs I bought, I like, and I'll be real happy with.
Like I said, I've bought so many rugs that I can throw a rug out and
look at it and kind of tell if it's off center, if the sides are crooked,
color changes or other things that happen with rugs. It doesn't
take me long to look at a rug and figure what I can get for it.
And I try to pay as much as I can for a rug. I don't try to beat
somebody to death on the price. I want to be fair. If I can
do it, I do it. And I've had a lot of ladies go to town and bring
their rugs back when they didn't get the offer that I offered them here....
I buy a lot of rugs. I buy rugs from weavers here.... You
buy rugs, and then you buy rugs that are, "Oh, gosh, this is really nice.
This is something I'd like to own." But you can't own all the nice
rugs that you see comin' down the trail, because you'd have to be a millionaire
to do it. So you could just say, "That's mine, that's mine."
But I do buy a lot of nice rugs that really make me feel good inside when
I buy 'em. And I hope I make the weaver feel good too, when she
Weavings and rugs was my first love. I started my first collection before I was married. Now the main things I put back was I was real interested in sand painting rugs. So the rugs that I saved mainly was the rugs that was woven from the red sheep. The reddish sheep was the color, by the time they carded it out, was the color of the sand. I knew this color could never be reproduced, because the reddish sheep was going out of existence. I did collect some sand paintings of that. I think probably the most valuable rugs probably that's on the market is this Hosteen Klah's sand painting rugs, which ended up at the Wheelwright Museum. He is probably the most famous of all the weavers, and he was a man with no children, and his nephews and nieces have turned out to be some of the best weavers on the reservation. They were guided by him. Daisy Tauglechee was his youngest niece. Mrs. Sam, her rugs are collectable. They're the finest sand paintings. And Mrs. Jim, they're all descendants of Hosteen Klah. Hosteen Klah had a rug half finished when he died, and these three nieces finished it. I think that rug is still owned by the Newcomb family. And Daisy went on to be the most famous of all the Two Grey Hill weavers. She's noted for her tapestries. If you owned a Hosteen Klah, I'm sure they're valued in the $50,000 and upward class. So it was not only the women, but the men also have played a very important part in the history of the weaving of the Navajo Tribe.
We worked on a very interesting project with Ruth Tiller and Roseann Lee who are sisters to Sam Tiller, that I've talked to you about, from Two Grey Hills. One day, Rose was coming in here with these very small tapestries. And the tapestry was selling from $2,000 to $3,000 for this size of rug. And it was counting close to 100-110 weft to an inch. And Rose was frustrated because I had three of her rugs that I hadn't been able to sell, and she came in with a fourth, and I said, "Rose, I can't give you a lot of money for it, because I've already got three, and I can't sell 'em at the price I've been selling." So I just told her what I could pay for it, and I said, "Rose, try somewhere else. If you can sell it for more, fine." And she came back in late in the afternoon and sold me the rug and had come down about $1,500 in price. I think we probably gave her around $2,000. I'd been paying her $3,500 to $4,000 for that rug.
She said, "What can I do?" I said, "Well, Rose, no one's done a great big tapestry or a large tapestry. Why don't you do a large tapestry?" And she said, "Well, what do you mean 'large'?" And I said, "Four by six or four by seven." And so she said, "I'll think about it." Well, she came in a little while later and she was laughing and happy--and this was about two weeks later. She said, "I've talked to my sister, and we're gonna start a large tapestry." Well, this went on, and she came in about a month later, and she said, "Now, Ed, this rug's gonna be on the loom for some time. You're gonna have to lend me money kind of as we go along, because this is gonna take quite a while." And at that time I didn't realize how long it was going to take.
So when the rug was somewhat along, I guess it had been on the [loom] about nine months, Bill Bob and his wife came over from Cristof's, the store in Santa Fe, and they had heard about the rug and wanted to do some picture-taking of it, so I took Bill Bob, and we went out to Roseann Lee's mother's place where the rug was on the loom. And I have never seen anything like it in my life, in that it was about seven foot wide. And that means the loom was wider than that, and it was on substantial metal pipes about this big around, the bottom and the top of it, and they had about twelve big tie-downs, chain tie-downs, pulling that pipe down to where that warp was so tight it was more like a harp--you could almost play it, but it was so fine.
Well, the girls would sit side-by-side weaving on that rug. And so you could not see if they had somewhat an inconsistency that their sister didn't have, about every hour they'd change seats, so they would weave on both sides, so there would be no disparity or no difference. Along in that rug, Roseann Lee found that they had made a mistake, and she backed up about three months' work, undoing, unraveling, getting down to that mistake to take it out. The mistake was so small--and I am fussy--but I said, "Roseann, it's not worth taking out." It wasn't that big a thing, I couldn't hardly detect it, but it bothered her, and so she took it out.
The girls worked on that fairly steadily--and this was a Two Grey Hill tapestry that counted over a hundred weft to the inch, and they worked, I don't know, for about a year-and-a-half on that. They had what I would call a family disagreement, and the two sisters weren't getting along at all, and so they did not weave on that rug for about four or five months. One day their mother came into the store and I said, "Ruth, I'm worried about that rug. It's pulled so tight, that when you release those tie-downs, is it going to just accordion and come together like an accordion?" And she got that twinkle in her eye, and her eyebrow went up and she says, "Ed, you know me well. Anything I had anything to do with is not going to be anywhere [near] that. You don't have to worry about that rug, it's going to be perfect."
Now, I forgot to tell you why I was worrying about that rug. Up to that time, they had been getting money from me on it, and I said it had been about a year-and-a-half. Well, as I checked one day on what they'd picked up so far, they'd picked up about $4,000-$5,000 in cash on that rug. Well, that was a lot of money for me on any rug. I just wasn't used to something this large, this length of time. That rug took them four years to complete. Now, they didn't weave totally all the time on that, but I remember finally, as we got a call, I got a call... and Roseann Lee--and I could hear the excitement in her voice--said, "We've completed the rug." And I said, "Well, fine, I'll be down here. Why don't you bring it down?"
Well, her and her sister, Barbara Ornelas [phonetic spelling], came down with the rug to Phoenix. Well, they were just ecstatic. They were bubbly and bouncing and they were so excited about the rug. And we rolled the rug out in my room, and I don't know that I've ever had quite anything like that take me, in that it was absolutely perfect, and yet it was almost six by nine--perfect Two Grey Hills. The pattern was so intricate and busy, because she lays her pattern out on graph paper. And so it's not just a rug, it is the most intricate thing you've ever seen. Here was this gorgeous masterpiece, and she rolled it out, and she said, "What do you think?" And I really couldn't.... I just sat and I just absolutely looked at the rug and took it in for some time, because I really couldn't answer for a while. And finally I said, "Rose, I have never seen anything like it." And she said, "What do you think we can sell it for?" I said, "I don't know. Rose, I think probably $20,000-$28,000, something up in there, is wholesale on that, or we can sell it for. But before I tell you that, I need to get a reading from somebody that might know. I'll go up to Dan Garland and take it to a couple of places and kind of get feedback on what they feel like they could sell it retail for." Roseann said, "That's great."
And then she looked at me and she basically said an interesting thing that I so understood. She said, "Ed, you're family, you're like my brother. Do you know, I don't want something to happen. If you buy that rug from me, and you pay me $30,000 or whatever you pay me, and I hear afterward that you've got a lot more money out of it, I don't know that I would ever be able to forgive you or feel the same about you." Well, I thought for a minute, and I totally understood that. I said, "Rose, I understand that. I totally do. Maybe we just better work out something that's a little unique or different on this rug." So we decided to partnership the rug. Her and her sister would [each] own a third; I, because of the money and it was up to $15,000, $16,000 by that time that I had in it, would own a third of it; and we'd partnership it with her and her sister being able to overrule me on anything they wanted to, because they had two-thirds of the rug. That fit okay with them, and so that's what we decided to do.
I took it out to Dan Garland and let him take a look at it. He had never seen anything like it, and we decided maybe the rug would be worth around $30,000-$38,000. Well, Rose came back and I told her that, and at that time it was in August, and she said, "How about letting me take the rug to the Santa Fe Market and see what we can do with it?" So her and Barbara Ornelas took a booth over at the Santa Fe Market and took it over there to the show. It's a judged show, and it's a big show. Well, the next day she called and she was laughing and she said, "Turn on your TV tonight, we're gonna be on TV." And I said, "What do you mean you're gonna be on TV?!" She said, "We won the Best of Class, which is the best rug over here. Then they put all the best of the classes together and we took the Best of Show."
That was really an accomplishment for a Navajo rug to beat out the pottery and the jewelry and everything else, and they were gonna be on TV. And they were in the headlines of the paper and everything else.
Well, the next day, they'd picked up the rug from the judging where it's on show that night, and the next morning they get to pick 'em up and then they go back to their booth to sell things. Well, they picked up the rug the next morning about six o'clock, they walked back to their booth, and at seven o'clock this couple came by and asked a couple of questions. And then Mr. Marcus from Neiman-Marcus came by and he and his family furnished the money for the ribbons, and they usually end up buying the best of class over there, because they furnish the ribbon and they also buy it. And he came by and looked at the rug, and he said, "Well, I'll be by later in the afternoon and make you an offer."
Well, this couple came by and wanted to know something about the rug a short time later, asked a few questions about it, and asked Rose what she was asking for it. Rose, not knowing quite what to say, said $60,000. They took a look at each other and kind of said, "What do you think?" and they said, "Okay, we'll take it." So they went ahead and bought the rug at $60,000. I guess Mr. Marcus came by some time later, about two hours later, to see if he could buy the rug, and Roseann Lee was elated when she could say, "Well, I'm sorry, but it's already sold."
They went to Texas, and about, oh, I'd say four days later, her and Barbara Ornelas show up at this counter out here, and they were again bubbly and dancing and laughing. They said, "We've gotta tell you about it, but we've gotta do it in the back." So I brought 'em back into this room and I said, "Well?! What happened?" I can remember Roseann Lee took her purse and dumped it up like this, and $60,000 in 100-dollar bills come spilling out, right down here, all over the floor. And I said, "Rose! Sixty thousand dollars in cash?!" And she said, "Ed, when he asked me how I wanted the money, I forgot what you told me, and the only thing I could think about was cash. He kinda got a funny look on his face, but he said, 'Well, fine, give me a little time. This afternoon I guess I can have your cash for you.'" So I guess he'd had to go to his bank (laughs) and withdraw $60,000 in 100-dollar bills, but here it was, and they spilled it out here.
[That was] probably one of the funnest things I've been involved with,
because they were just so special, and it was such a special thing for
them and their whole family to work with, and Rose, I guess that was maybe
five or six years, and she was killed in a car wreck--Roseann Lee was
killed in a car wreck with one of her grandsons not long ago on [Highway]
66. Barbara Ornelas still is very close to the Heard Museum.
I think her husband's a pharmacist in Tucson. And she has sold several
tapestries since then, but never quite that rug, which was to me one of
the most perfect rugs I've ever seen woven.
I've just been spellbound by the Navajo weavers. These great weavers: you give them a challenge and an assurance that their efforts will be rewarded, and they go on that fast to get that picture in their mind's eye as to what they're gonna weave. And when they get that lock onto that image that's going to come through them, and start at it and achieve it, I've just been in awe all of my life of that great talent. So I have many, many really good weaver friends, and a number in the livestock business, too. That's the wonderful thing about my business as I look back on it, is this rapport with people. On the one hand, I experience the great zeal of the creation of the piece and have a part in that, and then to take that piece to the collector that's going to embrace it, and the things that those people do. You know, the common denominator between our friendship is the creation with the person that's making it. And then embracing it. The person that ends up owning the piece of course wants to know as much about that piece as he or she can, so when you can be that bridge.... But the icing on the cake is you get to know the way the people who collect, have enough money to collect, and how'd they earn that money and what do they do. So this friendship starts just with the media that you trade in.
I think the greatest bridge of understanding that the Native Americans, one and all, can teach each of us is their reverence for everything around them, their reverence for their Mother Earth, and all of the things and all of the creatures that are in it. And then of course what I think we can all do to best help them.... I think the greatest successes among the American Indians are the artists themselves. And I think when we as outsiders look at what they create, I think it's one of America's last real things where you can buy something that people have made by hand and created from themselves. I think the greatest compliment that we can give these artists is ownership of their items for ourselves. It's wonderful to look at 'em and say, "Oh, that's beautiful, and that's wonderful." But it's another thing to give it its ultimate compliment, and that's ownership of it. I've really tried all of my life and all of my career to talk people into collecting American Indian art. And each facet of it, I don't care--a Navajo rug, I tell people all the time, there's no other art from anywhere in the world, that can come into your space and bring a better feeling and a better warmth than a great Navajo rug in a room.