During the late 1800’s, a period of severe depression on the Navajo reservation, its textile industry experienced dramatic changes that severely influenced its production. The commercialization of the handmade craft steered the demand from a mostly local and native market to a wider, national and “foreign/Anglo” one that required increased production. To meet that demand and in keeping in the buying of lower grade blankets by the pound, the traders inadvertently contributed to the deterioration of the art of weaving.
The Navajo weavers were glad to satisfy this new demand and increase their income. The traders were buying all the blankets the weavers brought in, independent of the quality. What ensued was the lowest point for the craft. The coarse wool was not properly washed, if at all, nor was the wool degreased or burrs, dirt, dust and odors removed. To top it off, this poorly cared for wool would not take the dye properly either. To speed up the process even more, traders supplied their weavers with cheap cotton cords to use as makeshift warps that would deteriorate rapidly.
What could have been easily foreseen soon came to fore, and the more discerning buyers refused to buy these inferior textiles. A few traders realized the danger of this practice and started to require quality products and workmanship.
One who even went a step further is the legendary J.B. Moore of the famed Crystal Trading Post. Contrary to the amiable, engaging and colorful J.L. Hubell, whose life is well documented, John Bradford Moore seems to have been a more reserved, business-like but also an energetic, innovative and visionary fellow.
Little is known of his personal life. Of Irish descent, he may have been born in Texas in June 1855, but spent most of his early life in Sheridan, Wyoming where he met and married a young lady, Marion Cooney, from England in 1887. Their daughter Eunice was born in 1894. There is no record of J.B. Moore’s activities in Sheridan, but he must have been somewhat successful as apparently he was elected its mayor in the early 1890’s.
He moved to the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico in 1896 and bought half interest in the trading post situated on Washington Pass on the west side of the Chuska Mountains. Later on he bought out his partner Joe Reitz for full ownership of the trading post and was from then on the sole owner.
Life as an Indian Trader in this remote mountainous region of the reservation can be harsh and lonely during the winter at 8,000 feet. To carry on his business year-round and satisfy his local clientele, J.B. Moore bought and freighted in enough supplies for several months when snow would prevent any transportation. In his own words “…it is also our mission here to buy any and everything the Navajo has to sell…(wool, pelts, farm products, surplus of his flocks, cattle and horses)… And, it is also our purpose to sell him in turn, all the supplies, groceries, dry goods, clothing, wagons, harness and saddles, everything in fact he has need for and the money to buy with …”
He did establish a good relationship with the local Navajo population and slowly, with perseverance and determination he was able to convince his weavers, rooted in tradition, to produce nicer, finer but unconventional textiles. To help them achieve excellence Moore and his wife would oversee the cleaning of the fleeces and would even ship the best wool back east to mills for industrial cleaning and dyeing that he would give to his best weavers. His influence was also significant with the designs he introduced. Still somewhat traditional early on, with striped borders and fields of interlocking serrated diamonds reminiscent of classic serapes, he soon conceived more complex, multiple elaborate borders of frets, hooks, wavy lines and other figurative elements surrounding a central field of bold interlocking and connected crosses, diamonds, octagons and other alien figures evocative of oriental rugs becoming very popular.
These readymade designs were very helpful to the skilled but less creative, original weavers, “not all good weavers are good designers.” But J.B. Moore was quick to acknowledge his gifted, ingenious and inventive women and he gave credit to several of them for some of the most recognizable Crystal style designs. He and maybe more so these Navajo women weavers, have had a monumental influence on the emergence of some of the most known regional styles such as Two Grey Hills, Teec Nos Pos and Storm Pattern.
Conception, innovation, newness and acquisition of the material are to a degree the easiest half of the equation, and J.B. Moore was equally talented and shrewd at the other half, finding or even creating a new market, in another word: “selling!”
His mail order catalogues may not have been the first ones, but still they were highly successful profitable for him and his weavers. After the publication of the second catalogue in 1911, Moore and his wife abruptly left, without a trace, in the fall of that year for what some sources claimed was due to a scandal he was not to be blame for??? Riiiight! So is life on the rez. No matter what, as Marian Rodee said, J.B. Moore “…was instrumental to changing Navajo weaving from blanket to rug.”