Arago: American Folk Art Series Issue: Navajo Art

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American Folk Art Series Issue: Navajo Art

Navajo Indian blankets are featured on a block of four commemorative stamps issued September 4, 1986, at Window Rock, Arizona. The stamps are part of the Folk Art Series, which includes stamps depicting quilts, duck decoys, and a number of other craft items. The Navajo stamps were designed by Washington, D.C., graphic artist Derry Noyes. Ms. Noyes based her artwork on actual Navajo blankets, three of which are housed in the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. The fourth blanket is owned by the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables, Florida.

With 190,000 members residing in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, the Navajo nation is the largest Native American tribe in the United States. Most Navajo rely on agriculture for their livelihood, but the production of blankets, silver jewelry, and other crafts is an essential element of the tribal economy.

Blanket weaving has been integral part of the Navajo culture for centuries. According to tribal legend, one of the Holy People—Spider Woman—taught the people to weave blankets as tangible images of the mystical universe around them. To the early tribes, blankets were far more than a means of keeping warm. Each blanket was believed to possess distinct spiritual characteristics and to reflect the owner's identity.

Today the Navajo still use simple looms to transform single strands of yarn into blankets, rugs, and sashes in a great variety of designs. Although modern dyes are sometimes used to create blankets suited to modern tastes, many native weavers continue to produce blankets in the traditional manner, using native dyes of muted colors to fashion complex designs.


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