Transitional Period (~1890)
Now Hanging In:
Stone Cottage @ Val-Kill
The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership
Sooo, What Did The Original Look Like?
Detective Jardine's Case
I do think that it was gifted to Mrs. Roosevelt by Navajo women who sought Roosevelt's help somewhere between the late 1930s and the late 1940s. An alternative theory is that Mrs. Roosevelt picked it up during her travels in the southwest while viewing community houses and reservations. She brings up different trade posts, art shops, and artists in her "My Day" columns that express her affinity for Navajo arts. In addition, she has multiple Navajo "correspondents" which she quotes in her "My Day" columns to educate the public of their affairs, and I wouldn't be surprised if she was gifted a tapestry as a "thank you." Lastly, by the 1950s she refers back to her affinity towards Navajo weavings twice, comparing their style to that of weavings she found in Greece and Yugoslavia, which is why I think she maybe received the rug before this time... My investigation is still in progress.
A Brief Background
1. Do Navajo Rugs Mean Anything?
2. What About This Particular Rug...
During the Transitional Period, Navajo weavings saw new colors, patterns, styles, and audiences. At the turn of the century, aniline blue dye increased in popularity and indigo was used less and less. A horizontal pattern, as shown in this rug, was common for the period. During this period, weavings started to go on the floor or the wall, as opposed to blankets that would be worn. Weave quality went down further and further over the years. Because of the influx of interest from white people in Navajo rugs, more rugs had to be made in less time. As a result, more weavers were forced to use cheaper dyes, less traditional styles, brighter colors, and to use less clean, more coarse wool (for more weight) in order to keep up with demand.
3. None of that made ANY sense. What is Going on At This Time?
I need more. Plz send help.
Fine arts were considered separate from handicrafts at this time. Craft arts were considered to be greatly respected for their attention to detail, however they were not necessarily recognized to show talent or an artistic gift.
I hope that cleared up anything I failed to articulate... now here are some FAST FACTS.
"Diné" is the word that Diné people often use instead of the word, "Navajo." "Diné" and "Navajo," translated literally, mean "The People"
Today, Navajo arts and crafts provide $15 million dollars annually to the tribal economy.
If a rug sold for $500 during mid-1970s, then the weaver did about 388 hours of work and earned $1.30 per hour.
With the rise of demand for Navajo weavings, came an unbelievable rise in theft, burglary and fraud...
On August 8, 1956, Roosevelt quotes "two flagrant cases of exploitation," in which Native artists lost out of their hard work. Roosevelt condemned this treatment of Native artists in her column.
In the 1960s, weavers worked for 15 cents/hour.
Navajo weavers STILL aren't making minimum wage!!
In 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt used her "My Day" column to celebrate a young Navajo man being sent to the World Assembly of Youth in New Delhi, India, to represent Native Americans for the first time in the United Nations.
Eleanor Roosevelt told the world in "My Day" that she liked Navajo Rugs a little better than Greek rugs (My Day, July 12, 1953)
Eleanor Roosevelt was part of Arrow, Inc., which was originally part of The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Arrow, Inc. was dedicated to the protection and enhancement of programs and services to benefit Native families and their rights!
Eleanor in the Arts
Just like many people would have associated women with the craft arts at this time, many would also associate indigenous peoples of the Americas with craft arts at this time. The craft arts have a practical, domestic purpose. It is not surprising that Roosevelt's interest in Native affairs began with her interest in their arts, culture, clothing, domestic culture... but eventually her interests in Native life transgressed from mainly about their aesthetic lifestyle to their welfare, rights, and place in the United States.
The following is a poem sent to Eleanor Roosevelt by one of her Navajo Correspondents and published in her "My Day" column on January 31, 1956:
Where mountains pierce the sky above,
Where valleys green stretch out in space
And weary hearts may find their place.
How came I here, I do not care,
But well I know, 'tis answered prayer.'
With all his love of the Southwest and his happiness in being there the Navajos trouble him, and he has put that problem into a poem, too. I am going to quote it in full because perhaps it gives an understanding of some of the sorrow that we have not been able to wipe out over the years.
'The white man asks:
Oh, Navajo, why the sad and stony face?
Immobile, silent, gazing into empty space,
Is it perhaps the dread that winter comes too soon,
Or white man's smog which dims the once-clear moon?
Has modern times so etched upon your brow, a scorn
Of all the progress here so lately born,
Or do you rue the day you smoked the pipe of peace,
And sealed your word to make the war dance cease?
And Navajo replies:
Why stony face? You ask of me and I will tell,
Yes, face is sad, and heart is sad as well,
I dread not winter's cold, nor white man's smoke,
Nor modern things he bring, nor treaties broke.
You call me Indian, you 'merican, you say,
I here for ages past before you come this way,
I true 'merican, you foreigner to shore,
And now you ask, I tell you one thing more:
You conquer land, now air to breathe, he's not my own,
And freedom of my hunting ground, he's gone.
Perhaps you, too, would have the face of stone,
If all your ancient heritage were gone,
You'd gaze, like me, across the grassy knoll,
Defying powers that be, to ask, also, your soul."
And to finish this month's post, I present you with an excerpt from one of Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" columns. This is June 12, 1941. Here, Roosevelt writes about the "Navajo situation," which was her way to quickly remark upon the massive atrocity that happened to Navajo peoples when their sheep were taken away due to "over-grazing:"
An Excerpt From "My Day" on June 12, 1941:
"WASHINGTON, Wednesday—Yesterday afternoon, a delegation of Navajo Indians came to see me. They brought me a very beautifully woven small rug. It evidently has much symbolic meaning, but since the woman who wove it could not speak English, it was a little difficult for me to understand the full meaning of the pattern.
This group lives on the reservation which covers a more or less desert area in northern Arizona, New Mexico and southern Utah. Their nearest railroad station is Flagstaff, Arizona, some 200 miles away. Their livelihood consists in raising sheep and such minor crops as they can irrigate.
The government experts have decided that they must raise fewer sheep and they see starvation before them. Ten acres of irrigated land is all they can be given. They have no outside market that is within reach, and they have come to Washington to appeal to the Indian Bureau in the Department of the Interior and the Indian Affairs Committee in Congress.
I hope that some solution can be worked out for them, for it was a sad little group, doubly so because they are so bewildered. Not more than fifteen percent of the younger generation learn English, they told me, for while they have schools, they are inadequate. They have a hospital and medical care, but that too is inadequate to cope with their needs.
They are increasing in population and to cut down their food supply seems near starvation. These puzzled and rather helpless real natives of our land, certainly have had a hard time!"
Eleanor Roosevelt, June 12, 1941, My Day