Farmington Museum receives donation of 450 Navajo weavings

Institution's collection now ranks among nation's best

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The weavings were donated by the estate of the late collector Bob Culpepper.
  • Some of the weavings date from the 1920s, but most are contemporary.
  • Some of the weavings will be kept for the permanent collection while others will be sold.

FARMINGTON — The quality and quantity of the Navajo weavings collection at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park has been enhanced considerably by the recent donation of 450 pieces from the estate of late collector Bob Culpepper.

Museum officials were unpacking and cataloging the collection Aug. 6. The weavings, which come in a variety of sizes and styles, will be reunited with the 48 weavings in the museum's collection that the Culpepper family donated to the institution in 2015.

"It's the most comprehensive, contemporary Navajo weavings collection I've ever seen — easily," Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey said, summarizing the collection.

Only part of the new group of weavings is destined for the museum's permanent collection. City officials have said the best weavings will be kept, while the rest will be sold to benefit the museum and one of its satellite operations, the Museum of Navajo Art & Culture in downtown Farmington, a facility the Culpepper family helped make possible with their donation of the building.

Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey displays a donated Two Grey Hills weaving Aug. 6 at the museum.

"I think I am most impressed by the variety represented in this collection," Wilsey said, explaining that the addition of the new weavings will help his museum fill in several holes in its collection, including pieces that represent the Chinle, Wide Ruins and Pine Springs styles.

"I believe now we have every major style represented in Navajo weavings," he said. "That's tremendous. We've had some of those styles on our list for probably 15 years."

Wilsey said the addition of the new pieces has elevated the Farmington Museum's collection to perhaps one of the finest in the nation.

"There are not many museums that have this kind of collection," he said. "And so many of these will be so treasured and on display at the museum downtown the Culpeppers (enabled)."

This Chinle-style rug, distinguished by its diamond patterns, is part of a collection of 450 Navajo weavings donated to the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park by the Bob Culpepper estate.

Jackson Clark, owner of the Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango, Colorado, who appraised the collection for the museum, said the collection serves as a legacy of sorts for Bob Culpepper, who patronized many of the region's more-accomplished weavers.

"This man bought a lot of school clothes and made a lot of car payments and supported a lot of people," Clark said, smiling. "He encouraged the weavers to work. It's an important art form."

Jackson Clark

The opportunity to examine and evaluate each piece in the collection was one Clark said he was eager to take advantage of, noting that approximately 20 percent of the pieces in the donated group are large weavings, which are relatively rare.

"It was really a pleasure to go through them and relive the experience of discovering each one," he said, explaining how uncommon it is for a collection of this size to change hands. "In fact, this is the largest collection I've ever gone through. There aren't many people who own 500 rugs."

Wilsey described the experience of sorting through the collection as almost overwhelming. He said through his initial examination of the weavings, he was able to identify between 60 and 70 pieces the museum would keep for its permanent collection, although that number might increase as he has the chance to study the weavings more closely.

Part of a collection of 425 Navajo weavings from the estate of Bob Culpepper is arranged on a table at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park on Aug. 6.

Wilsey said those pieces will be put on display at the Museum of Navajo Art & Culture, most likely before the end of the year. He envisions the museum soon being able to put together at least one — if not several — traveling exhibitions of its Navajo weavings collection that are likely to draw the attention of museums around the country and the world.

Appraiser Jackson Clark displays a large Teec Nos Pos rug that features various pictorial elements Aug. 6 at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Some of the weavings date to the 1920s, but most of the collection is contemporary, city officials said.

As for the weavings that will be sold, Wilsey emphasized they, too, will play a role in improving the institution he oversees.

"The proceeds will be put back into the collection or to support the museum long term," he said. "The gift will perpetuate the museum."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at

Robert Culpepper poses for a portrait in his home on Tuesday, August 21, 2012, in Farmington.