Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Growing up with Rugs, and the Rug Evolution

Navajo rugs have been part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was young, as a result of my father's love of the trading business, we often had rugs layered three deep on the floor of our home in Bluff, Utah. Although I do not specifically remember the patterns, sizes or who wove the rugs, I certainly remember the warmth they brought to the house. The deep reds of the Ganado patterns, and soft earth tones of the Two Grey Hills weavings have stayed in my memory, even though the rugs have long since been sold or traded to new owners. I also remember the Indian traders of that era telling me that Navajo rugs would no longer be made by the time I reached their age. The implication was that Navajo weaving was a dying art. Fortunately, those predictions have proven inaccurate. In spite of some difficult times, Navajo rug weaving is alive and well.

Twin Rocks Trading Post Rug Area
Twin Rocks Trading Post's Rug Area

My father, William W. "Duke" Simpson, had always wanted to open a trading post in Bluff. His dream was realized when Twin Rocks Trading Post opened in the summer of 1989. By that time, I was aware of the history of Navajo weaving, and had visions of influencing a new regional style. The hope was that the new rug pattern would become known as the Twin Rocks style. Of course I had no idea what that pattern might be, but was confident that anything was possible. I knew of early traders such as Lorenzo Hubbell, C.N. Cotton and J.B. Moore, and how they kept Navajo weaving alive and infused it with new vitality in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was their work that led to what we now view as traditional regional patterns.

After working on the project for a few years, I began to worry that the time for trading posts influencing new styles of Navajo weaving had passed. The trading post era had long since ended, and contemporary traders were generally not as closely affiliated with the weavers as the old traders had been. The new mobility resulting from paved roads and readily available transportation had liberated the weavers. No longer were Ganado Reds woven only near Ganado, Arizona or Two Grey Hills weavings created exclusively near Newcomb, New Mexico. It was now possible to find these patterns being made on virtually any part of the Reservation.

As we pursued our ambition of creating a new regional pattern, it became apparent to us that many of the weavers we saw did not want to weave the same patterns over and over again. The creative floodgates had been opened, the weavers had been exposed to a variety of outside influences and they felt free to create their own personal styles. That, of course, did not bode well for our project. We noticed very quickly, however, that many of these new weavings were very creative, and that this new movement was even better than what we had envisioned. These new patterns were frequently stunning, and generated genuine passion in the patrons who came to the trading post. That passion sometimes manifested itself in the form of very strong feelings that the weavers had abandoned their traditions. We felt, however, that the weavers were forcing people to think about what was happening in contemporary Navajo culture. That seemed like real progress to us. It also seemed that the weavers were following the very strong Navajo traidition of quickly adapting to change; the most enduring Navajo characteristic. Based upon this new understanding, our focus changed from attempting to influence a new regional pattern to being a catalyst for innovation. We now encourage and attempt to facilitate this new creativity in every way possible.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Hubbell, Cotton and Moore were responsible for moving Navajo weaving in new directions; ultimately reviving and reinvigorating the art. It is generally accepted that in doing so these traders saved the craft from extinction. Today, traders such as Bruce Burnham and Mark Winter are following in their footsteps. As a result of their work with, and love of, the Navajo people, the future of Navajo weaving seems secure. We are happy to be part of the process, and hope that the Navajo weaving tradition will outlast our children and grandchildren.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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