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Native American Art

Identifying Navajo Indian Weavings

Navajo Rug Example

The easiest way to protect yourself when considering the purchase of Navajo weavings is to know what determines the genuine article.

Native weavers in Mexico are influenced by the beauty and tradition of Navajo weavers and produce some flattering replicas of Navajo work. Some are so good even many traders cannot tell the difference. And, many traders deal exclusively with Mexican weavings.

You cannot reply on claims of "genuine" either. Many rugs actually bear labels claiming to be genuine Navajo creations when in fact they are not. Many dealers will tell you something is "Indian made" and be perfectly honest, as many weavers in Mexico are Indians as well.

The most basic difference between Navajo and Mexican rugs is the way they each string their loom. Navajo weavers kneel before vertical looms with the warp running vertically. The rug is woven from bottom to top and the warp is never cut, but finished off with a needle. The loom is operated entirely by hand, and the weave beaten down by hand. Mexican looms are strung horizontally and the warp is cut at both ends and then worked back into the weaving. Weaving is done with a shuttle and loom is operated by foot pedals.

You can tell by smell. Navajo rugs are made from the wool of sheep and that wool contains lanolin you can smell. In short, your rug will smell like sheep if it is the genuine article. Mexican rugs are made with commercial yarns with no sheep smell.

The same sheep produce wool that slightly varies in color when woven by Navajo weavers. This streaky look is particularly obvious in gray and brown hues. Mexican dyes are commercial and therefore uniform in color, the yarn used also is commercial so the weavings are lighter and red used is bright in comparison to the deep richness of Navajo reds. Grays will be solid.

The density of the weave tells you a lot. Mexican weaving is loose, while the Navajo weave very tightly. As a rule Navajo weavers also do not fringe their work, instead just tying off the corners. If they do fringe a piece you will be able to see where it was added to the finished weaving. Mexican fringe will appear to be part of the weave.

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