Plains Indian Scouts Wearing Navajo Blankets
It’s rare to find old paintings with Native Americans wearing Navajo blankets, but a friend of mine shared this Bonham’s listing with me. This painting is by Charles Craig and shows a group of scouts out on the plains. An encampment can be seen in the distance. Three of the five horsemen are wearing simple banded blankets. One can see that these blankets have a background in white set over with indigo and brown bands. This painting can be seen in much better detail if you follow this link to Bonhams Auction website. The auction of this painting takes place today, the day I created this blog post.
Navajo Banded Blankets
This is one of the most common types of early Navajo weavings; the simple, banded, utilitarian blanket. These were used till they fell apart, so finding one in good condition is rare. This grouping of banded blankets includes the infamous 1st phase blanket. These blankets were traded, often for horses, to the Plains Indian tribes and as well to travelers that made their way West. They were sought out since the Navajo were the best weavers of the day and their reputation has lasted well into the modern era. My most favorite type of Navajo, or Pueblo blanket, would be the banded style. While I used to also love the vibrant Germantown blankets, my eye would tire of their busyness and gravitate to the banded patterns, which can be as varied as one can imagine.
Here is a very similar blanket that is a part of my collection. This blanket, with a photo below, is made by the Hopi which is known due to its collection history. One can also determine that it is Hopi by its construction. This blanket has no lazy lines and the corners end in a simple tucking in of the selvage cords, instead of a more embellished corner as executed by Navajo weavers. This blanket is a very old one, dating to the early 1860s. Its wool is a wonderful, silky and long fibered churro wool. This gives the blanket a very even and fine surface. I assume that the blankets seen in the Charles Craig painting are Navajo, since the Hopi did not generally make blankets for trade to other tribes or American soldiers. The Navajo, in contrast, were famous way back in the early 1800s for making wonderful blankets for trade to other groups.
Coincidentally, I also have a painting in my gallery by the same artist, Charles Craig. This is a smaller painting, measuring 14.5″ x 12.5″ as framed, and is of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. This painting is signed and dated 1906, well after the fire that destroyed so many of his paintings.