One of the largest and most complete collections of Navajo rugs was amassed by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. While building the iconic Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst told his architect to design “cool, spacious buildings with tile floors where I can display my large collection of Indian rugs.” These Indian rugs, 19th and early 20th Century Navajo and Pueblo textiles, are some of the fine examples in existence.
For Hearst as well as the contemporary collector, Navajo rugs are appealing for their historical merit as well as classic geometric design. Prices vary, making the rugs excellent for both beginning and seasoned collectors; a small piece by an inexperienced weaver may sell in the $200-300 range with a larger textile by a celebrated weaver selling for as much as $20,000.
Interestingly, these rugs were highly sought after at the time of their production. Due to the time-consuming process, weavers might take up to 400 hours to complete a single piece, charging as much as $50. For a 19th century American cavalry officer, that would be most of their yearly salary.
Navajo textiles vary greatly in scale, material, and pattern. This is due to a number of factors: transportation technology, region or location, tourism, and Western enculturation being some of the most impactful. For instance, while weaving technology has been part of the Navajos and Pueblo Indians cultural heritage for hundreds of years, it was the Spanish that introduced sheep to the Southwest. This revolutionized production and quality. Some of the rarest and most popular textiles are the Germantown examples. Colorful three and four ply yarn was imported by Santa Fe railroad from Germantown, Pennsylvania instead of being produced by local flocks. The yarn was costly and less warm, but desirable for the bright and vibrant colors as it intensified intricate “eye-dazzling” designs.
Whether furnishing a magnificent Julia Morgan estate or a Mid-Century modern ranch house, they rugs imbue traditional and historic sensibilities, while retaining classic relevancy, appealing to high profile celebrity collectors and new enthusiasts alike.