How high will they go? Navajo rug auction returns to Farmington Museum
Variety of styles, sizes and colors featured at event
FARMINGTON — More than 200 weavings — a bumper crop, by standards of recent years — will be up for purchase by the highest bidder Saturday when the annual Navajo Rug Benefit Auction returns to the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.
Museum staff members and volunteers inventoried the weavings this afternoon in preparation for Saturday's auction, which raises money for the Farmington Museum Foundation. Museum director Bart Wilsey said more weavings were submitted this year than at any time in the last few years, meaning there will be a wide selection for collectors — both serious and casual — to consider.
"We've pretty much got every major style — and a whole bunch of minor ones," Wilsey said, laughing.
The weavings also range in size, color and age, with some of them dating back more than 100 years. The largest weaving in the auction, a storm pattern rug with a ribbon border by Thelma Jones from the Shiprock Trading Post, is 6 feet by 9 feet, 2 inches. Other weavings are as small as a few square feet.
"You rarely see them this size anymore," Wilsey said of the Jones rug.
There are also twill, sandpainting and raised outline weavings, among other varieties. Wilsey said the latter is a style that has gained favor in the last 15 years or so.
"It's almost like a Braille rug," he said, running his fingers across the textured surface.
Many of those styles used to be synonymous with certain regions of the Navajo Nation. But Wilsey said that has changed in recent decades as Navajo weavers — like members of society at large — have become more mobile and take their influences and approaches with them to new areas, blurring once-distinct lines.
Wilsey said that is neither a positive or negative thing when it comes to Navajo rugs.
"I think it's just what it is," he said. "Times change. It's just a sign of the times."
The rug auction at the museum was started nearly 20 years ago, and though it hasn't been held continuously over that time, it has proven to be one of the institution's more popular and enduring events, attracting a crowd of local residents as well as buyers from hundreds of miles away. Wilsey recalled one year when a collector from Grand Junction, Colorado, showed up and purchased $12,000 worth of rugs.
While the bidding for some of the more notable rugs can be heated and reach into the thousands of dollars, there are many affordable weavings included in the show. A portion of the proceeds from the sales goes to the Farmington Museum Foundation, while the balance goes to the artist or trading post that submitted the weaving.
"It goes to help pay for our exhibits and our programs we have at the museum," Wilsey said, explaining how the foundation uses the money the auction will raise. "The foundation was one of the major sponsors of our "Shipwreck!" exhibit. They help us do a lot of good stuff for the museum."
The auction begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at the museum, 3041 E. Main St. Admission is free, and even those who are not interested in purchasing a weaving are encouraged to attend. A free preview of the weavings will take place at the museum from noon to 3:45 p.m. Call 505-599-1174.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.