Man's Wearing Blanket, or Phase Three Chief's Blanket, 1880–1890
Wool and cotton
78 1/2 × 65 in. (199.4 × 165.1 cm)
The McDannald Collection, gift of Arthur T. McDannald
Habits of Mind
- COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Describe the importance of weaving in the Navajo culture.
Weave designs in paper and in fabric.
Connecting to the Work of Art
This blanket represents the third and final stage in the development of Navajo chief’s blankets. The blanket is finely woven in bright red, blue, black, and white. The design relies on a central diamond shape, partially repeated as triangles on the sides, top, and bottom, and overlying horizontal stripes. These blankets were not made for chiefs, but since they are so finely woven, they are associated with the power and affluence of chiefs.
The blanket’s pattern varies considerably, depending on how it is viewed. When seen displayed flat on a wall, as in a museum, the composition focuses on the balanced arrangement of triangles, diamonds, and horizontal stripes. When the blanket is worn, the design responds to the body. The central diamond falls in the middle of a wearer’s back, and the edges of the blanket wrap around to the front so that the triangles in the middle of the edges join to make a second diamond of the same shape and position. Thus the symmetry of the design is completed by wearing the garment.
The Navajo peoples of the Southwest have been weaving cotton and animal fibers for over 1000 years.¹ By circa A.D. 800, the development of a true loom led to the production of large carrying and storage bags and wearing blankets whose principal decorative pattern was based on the horizontal stripe. Weaving with wool began when the Spaniards introduced sheep-raising in New Mexico about 1600.
The Navajos came to the Southwest as hunters and raiders between 1400 and 1500. During the seventeenth century, they learned weaving from the neighboring Pueblo farmers. In the Navajo culture, weaving became established as a women’s art, because women were engaged in more sedentary, home-based occupations. When the Navajo began to raise sheep as a source of food, they probably began using the wool for weaving. In the mid 1800s the Navajo began to use commercial yarns, acquired through trade, in order to obtain certain favorite colors, notably red. Throughout this period, blankets were important as the Navajo expanded their trade with the Pueblos, Utes, Apaches, Comanches, and Spaniards.
The Navajo tradition of blanket-weaving survived the nineteenth-century conflicts with the United States government, the removal of the Navajo from their native lands, and their return to a small reservation in their homeland in 1868. There they reconstructed their way of life, built up their sheep herds, and continued their weaving traditions.
- Kate Peck Kent, Navajo Weaving: Three Centuries of Change (Santa Fee: School of American Research Press, 1985).
• Describe the colors, lines, shapes, materials in the Navajo blanket.
• Imagine wearing the blanket. How would the patterns change?
• Research information about Navajo textiles. What was the source of the materials? How were the looms constructed? Who wove the textiles? What do the patterns mean?
• Invite a weaver from the community to come to the class and demonstrate weaving on a loom.
• Create weavings with paper and fiber in a variety of patterns and colors that emulate designs in Navajo blankets.
(see Art Lesson: Weaving Patterns)
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.