One of the most intriguing and enigmatic creations from the Navajo loom is the so-called “Child’s Blanket.” A misnomer, a myth, a collector’s fantasy, a utilitarian object or maybe really what it is, a child’s blanket? Will we ever be able to answer that question? And does it really matter? Why are we even asking that question in the first place? Well, maybe our European, Cartesian mind has to categorize and classify to make sense of things? So where do we start? We cannot really ask the Native weavers. They will either tell us what they think we want to hear or they’ll make up a story to make fools of us!
So we are on our own, while they’re laughing! Descartes said, “I think therefore I am,” so let’s think: it looks like a sarape, it often feels like one, but it is the size of double saddle blanket, therefore it is …a child’s blanket! Really. Monsieur Descartes, you’re not serious!
Maybe we should think more the eastern way, like Dogen Zenji, the, “Up is Down” and, “Yes is No” opposites to find an experiential path beyond dualities….really?? What the…?
OK back up, let’s keep it simple here. What an Anglo-European white dude collector folk calls a child’s blanket is really a beautiful textile created by a laughing joking trickster of a Navajo woman who doesn’t give a hoot what you call it as long as you pay for it. Seriously, like first, second and third phase ”Chief’s Blankets” are collector’s denominations, so is the Child’s Blanket.
It appears that these weavings, generally about 30” by 50” may have been used as child’s garment early on as well as a saddle blanket. Charles Avery Amsden described one as, “light and fine with elaborate pattern” and the other as, “loose and heavy with the simplest of patterns.” George Wharton James tells of finding in the dirt and muck of a horse corral what he thought was a gunny sack that turned out to be, after many cleanings, a rare, fine, beautiful tightly woven bayeta textile that had been used and abused for many decades under a saddle! (pictured below)
Any classification is subjective. The first example of a, “classic child’s blanket” in Joshua Baer’s beautiful catalog, “Collecting the Navajo Child’s Blanket” is the same first example of a,“Navajo Sarape” in Joe Ben Wheat’s book, “Blanket Weaving in the Southwest.” So really maybe, “what’s up is down” and, “what is, is not!”
Certainly the truth has to reside somewhere in between all this.
Even though no one has ever found an historic photograph of a child donning one of these weavings, it is conceivable they were used as such at an early time and no doubt many were used under a saddle. But it is also impossible to deny that a lot of them were woven as trade or curio items for army officers, government agents and tourists to take back to that infamous, “Indian Room”
So what are they?
In the words of Joshua Baer again, “Navajo blankets are objects of fascination!” It cannot be said better. Collectors and art lovers can appreciate and enjoy these fascinating weavings challenging them with visual illusions of background/foreground, appearing/disappearing, positive/negative! Dogen again. When one comes across a Navajo textile, time should be taken to look and to really see. The lucky one who has a blanket hanging on a wall can understand why so many Abstract Expressionist artists were amazed by them.
Charles Avery Amsden “Navajo Weaving”
Joshua Baer “Collecting the Navajo Child’s Blanket”
George Wharton James “Indian Blankets and Their Makers”
Joe Ben Wheat “Blanket Weaving of the Southwest”