Annual Navajo Rug Auction planned this weekend

Mike Easterling
Richard Benford looks at rugs with Barbara Hill, a Farmington Museum volunteer, and Beverly Benford before the 2015 Navajo Rug Auction at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

FARMINGTON – Most people would agree that a little competition is a good thing — and it’s an especially good thing for the Farmington Museum Foundation, which is presenting its annual Navajo Rug Auction this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

The popular event has been around for approximately 15 years, and the foundation uses the proceeds raised from the event to support the museum’s programs, exhibits and collections. But as much of an artistic and educational endeavor as it is, because of the quality of the rugs, it also can be fun to watch.

“It’s really exciting when you get two people who want the same rug,” said Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey, who has seen years when the auction raised as much as $40,000 or $50,000 for the museum.

A declining local economy has put the brakes on that kind of spending in recent years, but the auction still attracts a mix of serious collectors, new collectors and the merely curious. This year’s event will feature approximately 200 rugs of all sizes, styles and price ranges, and those interested in buying them will have two preview events before the auction to get a look at them.

A Navajo rug pictorial featuring a sheep is pictured during the 2015 Navajo Rug Auction preview at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Wilsey has been around since the event was created and counts it as one of his favorite events on the museum schedule.

“I think we thought it would be a great fundraiser for the museum, which it has been, plus it falls into the niche of something we hold near and dear to our hearts, which is Navajo weavings,” he said, describing the origin of the rug action.

Many of the rugs featured in the auction come from area trading posts, and those are listed at wholesale prices. If the rugs are auctioned for more than the wholesale price, the museum keeps that amount.

“It could be $50, it could be $500,” Wilsey said.

Other rugs come from the artists themselves. Wilsey says the museum charges them a flat 25-percent commission, just as it does any other artist whose work is sold through the museum.

“We do have some that bring in pieces year after year,” he said. “A lot of them are very ceremonial weavings. We get a lot of sand painting weavings. It just depends on what they have available and the timing.”

Wilsey was pleased to note the Toadlena Trading Post has donated one rug to the museum this year, and all the proceeds from its sale will go to the museum.

The size and appearance of the rugs can vary widely. Wilsey said some are made from commercial wool, while others are made from handspun wool. Many come from the Two Grey Hills area, while others come from the Teec Nos Pos area. And they can be just a few feet long to room size. Wilsey said the largest Navajo rug he’s ever seen was part of one of the first auctions the museum foundation sponsored, and that rug was 7 or 8 feet wide and 12 feet long.

“That was just incredible,” he said. “I haven’t seen that since then, but you never know what’s going to come through the door for the auction.”

Wilsey said the auction usually attracts a group of 50 or 60 people each year who come to bid on the items.

“That doesn’t sound like a big number, but if everybody buys one or two or five, it adds up,” he said. “Even if people don’t plan to buy anything, I would recommend coming in during the viewings and checking it out. We try to answer people’s questions and try to make it more educational.”

Though Wilsey has seen individual rugs sell for as much as $6,000 or $7,000, he emphasized the event is designed with everyone in mind — not just those who have the means and desire to collect the rugs.

“This is something for everybody,” he said. “I know there will be some bigger rugs that will go for more money, but this is an opportunity for people who are new to this to be exposed to it. Even if you don’t have the money to buy a rug and you just want to learn more about it, I would highly recommend starting here.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.


If you go

What: The annual Navajo Rug Auction

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, April 16

Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.

Public previews: Noon to 4 p.m. Friday, April 15 and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 16, also at the museum

For more information: Call 505-599-1174