They Wove for Horses: Diné Saddle Blankets
March 25, 2012 through August 18, 2013
A Navajo Indian and His Mount
A Navajo Indian and His Mount, Wyatt Davis, ca. July 1939, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), negative number 132451
Reverse of Double-Sided Saddle Blanket
Two-faced weave and diagonal-twill weave single saddle blanket, 1900–1915 Cotton warp, handspun wool weft and commercial dyes Mrs. Phillip Stewart Collection, courtesy of John and Linda Comstock and the Abigail Van Vleck Charitable Trust (9517/12) Diné who examined this two-faced saddle blanket drew different interpretations from the designs on each side. Most identified the tripes as a rainbow against the white background. The other side as variously interpreted. The middle motifs might be male and emale, life lines or numerical symbols. The straight stems were viewed as childhood and old age intersected by the circular shape of adulthood. Excerpt from Weaving a World: Textiles and the Navajo Way of Seeing by Roseann S. Willink and Paul G. Zolbrod (Museum of New Mexico Press, 1997)
They Wove for Horses: Diné Saddle Blankets opens at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on March 25, 2012 (on long-term view). The exhibition highlights both the textile-weaving proficiency of Diné weavers who produced complex saddle blankets for all occasions and the design skills of Diné silversmiths who created dazzling headstalls of silver and turquoise.
The saddle blankets on exhibit date from 1860 to 2002 and are arranged by weaving methods: tapestry weave; two-faced double weave; and twill weaves of diagonal, diamond, and herringbone patterns. By using a variety of warp and weft yarns—natural wool, cotton, angora mohair, unraveled bayeta, and Germantown—weavers added individuality to the everyday and fanciful tapestries they created for horses.
Horse trappings on exhibit reveal the great pride that Diné horsemen took in their horses and how they adorned them for ceremonial and social events. The Diné first learned how to manufacture saddles and bridles from neighboring cultures and their proficiency quickly surpassed that of their mentors. That devotion resonates still, as the horse remains a viable living force in Diné life today.
Empty Center Style Double Saddle Blanket
Tapestry-weave double saddle blanket, Empty Center style, 1920–40 Handspun natural wool warp and weft Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett Collection, courtesy of John and Linda Comstock and the Abigail Van Vleck Charitable Trust (45301/12)