FARMINGTON — Hanging on racks and walls around Fifth Generation Trading Co. are Navajo rugs of all sizes and styles. In the early days, the rugs were made to be worn or to walk on. As trading posts emerged, the regional styles of weaving took shape.
In Shiprock, the Yei, Ganado and Two Grey Hills styles gained popularity, said Joe E. Tanner, the owner of the Fifth Generation Trading Co., pointing to Shiprock on a small map he placed on the counter in his business. The map showed where each of the styles are traditionally made.
Tanner said some modern weavers choose to focus on their favorite style rather than the traditional style of the region they are from.
Two Grey Hills rugs, which were named for the New Mexico town, are distinct from other styles because of their natural, earth tones. The rugs are woven with white, brown and black undyed wool that has been hand spun.
Barbara Hatch, who works as a clerk for the trading post, learned to weave as a child from her mother and grandmother. The two rugs she wove as a child were both in the Two Grey Hills style. While she eventually decided weaving wasn't her thing, she continues helping her family with the carding and spinning.
She said by blending the whites and the dark browns, weavers can create a lighter brown color. These shades of brown are what she likes about the style. She also likes the smell.
"When (the weavers) bring in the rugs, it's kind of gross, but it smells like a sheep," Hatch said, which reminds her of herding sheep in her childhood.
While the Two Grey Hills uses natural tones, other styles use brighter colors.
The Ganado rugs always feature a red background and usually have black, white and gray designs around a central diamond.
Another rug that is generally made in the Shiprock area is the Sandpainting rug. Sandpaintings depict the spiritual world and are based on the ceremonial sandpaintings. Some of the images commonly seen on the sandpainting rugs are feathers, lizards and whirling logs.
"There are very few people who weave these," Tanner said.
Other rugs, such as the Yeis, allow any color scheme.
Yeis are frequently confused with Yeibichai rugs as both of them feature large, human-figures. Some of these figures are more stylized than others. The difference between the two is the direction these figures are facing. A Yei, which depicts the gods, has the figures facing forward while the Yeibichai, which depicts dancers, has the weavers profile.
Weavers who weave the Yeis or other brightly-colored rugs sometimes buy their wool from places like the Shiprock Trading Co. in Farmington.
"They sometimes come in and buy the wool and bring the rugs back," Bodine Jones, an employee at the trading company, said.
Near the front of the store, beside a jewelry display case, various colors of wool hang waiting to be purchased. Jones estimates that about 60 to 70 percent of the weavers buy the wool now instead of hand spinning it.
On a western wall, a Two Grey Hills rug is displayed.
Jones said the rug, which was woven by Phyllis James of Sanostee, was delivered Thursday morning. In the back room, rugs are hung and piled based on their styles.
"We've been selling a lot of rugs so it must be the season for them right now," Jones said.
On a back room wall, a Burntwater rug hangs. The Burntwaters feature warm colors such as brown and sienna that are accented with pale, milky colors such as lilac or rose.
This particular rug is for sale for $12,000. Jones said prices at the Shiprock Trading Co. range from $100 for small four inch wide and four inch long rugs to $15,000 for larger rugs. However, the size of the rug does not determine the price. Instead, price is often determined by multiple factors including whether the colors are natural or if the wool is hand spun.
As an example, she lifted up a small revival rug by Elvie Vanwinkle.
"They used to call these tapestries because of the weave that is so fine," she said.
The rug has a price tag of $1,500.
At Fifth Generation Trading Co., the price is printed on a tag attached to the corner of the rug and next to the tag there is a picture of the weaver who created the design.
"The more they can relate to the artist, the more likely they are to pay it the ultimate compliment, which is to buy it and take it home," Tanner said.
Every Friday and Saturday, weavers stop by the trading company with their rugs.
"We probably deal with about 100 artists," Tanner said.
Tanner's cousin, Sherry Tanner, said they generally get between five and 12 rugs a weekend.
This last weekend, the company received about a dozen rugs ranging from the colorful Tree of Life rugs to the earthen-toned Two Grey Hills rugs.
"Every weekend's different," Sherry Tanner said.
Sherry Tanner grew up on a trading post in Gallup where her father, J.D. Tanner, bought and sold Navajo weavings. She said she was always impressed by how the Navajo weavers would create the rugs without using a pattern. Sometimes, on larger rugs,the weavers would make some marks on the center of the loom using wool. But most of the time they worked by memory.
"I think it's one of the most difficult things that the Navajo people make," she said.