The Saddest Day: Crownpoint Rug Auction in Jeopardy

2014-08-09 18.23.26
Yesterday was one of the saddest days of my life.  The venerable Crownpoint Rug Auction was abruptly cancelled amid severe financial problems. Weavers have reported difficulties with returned checks for the last few months and this reached a crisis level in July as check cashing establishments throughout the area are refusing to accept any checks written by the auction association.  Some people who were holding returned checks have reported that they’ve been able to collect the money in the last week, but the damage has already been done.

What’s Happened to the Crownpoint Rug Auction?

It isn’t clear what’s happened to the money that buyers have paid for rugs, but the Crownpoint chapter government has reportedly stepped in and will determine the future of the auction in the current location.  The auction is an important venue that was established in 1968 and allows weavers to sell their work almost directly to buyers who came to Crownpoint from all over the world.  In its heyday, the auction could last until after midnight as 300+ rugs were sold.  Although the number of  rugs and weavers has diminished over the years, weavers still drive well over 100 miles each way to sell their weavings there and in a typical month, 150 rugs are sold at prices set by the weaver.   The auction provides crucial competition in a marketplace where the supply is concentrated in “border towns” like Gallup, NM and Flagstaff, AZ, tending to drive prices down.

What Will Happen Next?

There are many weavers and other local business people who are beginning to organize to either save the Crownpoint Rug Auction or establish a new venue.  The next four to six weeks are probably crucial and I’ll provide you with updates on the situation as it develops.  I’m encouraged by the stature and quality of the people who are stepping forward to help. I’m hoping that the saddest day will be followed by a much better tomorrow for the weavers and for those of us who support their work.

Crownpoint cancellation

Weavers sell their work directly to buyers after the cancellation of this month’s Crownpoint Rug auction

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker

Let’s Go To The Crownpoint Rug Auction!

Scenes from the Crownpont Rug Auction

Scenes from a typical auction at Crownpoint

Tempe, AZ  I just got home from a class in Window Rock, but I think that the weavers bringing their rugs to the Crownpoint Rug Auction could probably use all the support that they can get this month.  That’s right, I’m going to Crownpoint tomorrow.  One look at the picture collage above will show you why.  Since I can’t support the weavers all by myself, it would be great to see you there too.  If you can’t make it, I’ll take a lot of pictures so that you can plan your own trip sometime soon.  After all, this is a mission from Spider Woman.

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker



Rug of the Day: Burnham Pictorial by Ursula Begay

Burnham Pictorial by Ursula Begay

A charming Burnham Pictorial by Ursula Begay. Hover your mouse over the picture for a closer view.

Ursula Begay with her rug

Ursula Begay holds her weaving at the Crownoint Rug Auction. Click on the picture for a larger view.

Tempe, AZ Today’s entry is more a tapestry grade weaving than a rug.  The weaver, Ursula Begay is still in her twenties and her 60 plus weft count weaving’s theme could be described as “Love: Navajo Style”.  Young love is beginning between the couples at the right and left of the design and seems to be in full bloom for the center couple, although Ursula said that she didn’t have room for the heart between them so you’ll have to decide between the romantic and the practical interpretation.  Ursula (pictured at left with her weaving) is the daughter of weaver Sandy Begay.  The Burnham pattern is associated with the area of the Bisti Badlands where fourth generation trader Bruce Burnham’s grandfather originally traded and the incorporation of pictorial elements into more conventional Navajo weaving pattern geometries is deeply ingrained in the weaving of that area dating back into the 1890’s.  Ursula’s sense of color and design is distinctive and popular with buyers at the Crownpoint Rug Auction, where her designs are often sold.  Ursula also sometimes consigns her work to R.B. Burnham and Co. auctions.

Ursula’s weaving is about 18″x24″ and features both commercial and handspun yarns.  Ursula and her family are adept spinners and frequently combine their handspun yarns with commercial wools.  Their spinning is so well executed that is difficult to tell which is which.  They also frequently dye their yarns with aniline and vegetal dyes to achieve the colors that they are looking for in a particular design.  Trader Jackson Clarke II specializes in Burnham pictorials and you can see several more examples of this design at his Toh-Atin Gallery site.  The pictures were taken on September 14, 2007 with a Canon Powershot G7 camera.

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker

Crownpoint, December 2010

Wayne, Delbert and young volunteer

A young volunteer studies the auctioneering techniques of Wayne Connell (center) and Delbert Autry (right)

Crownpoint, NM This month’s Crownpoint Rug Auction was well attended by buyers and weavers.  While not all of the rugs were sold, an estimated 75% of them did.  The Spider Rock Girls had a booth in the crowded hallway outside the auction and reported that they sold everything that they brought, but most went for their reserve price.  That result was fairly typical for the evening.  There was a gratifying show of first time auction attendees and I overheard several say they were planning return visits, which is a good “leading indicator” for the coming year.

Notable pieces in the auction were the Ganado Red and Klagetoh Red rugs by Frances Burghorn (whose name I hope I’ve spelled correctly), a weaver whose work I hadn’t seen at Crownpoint before.  Frances’ work has the quality that you’d expect to find at higher end trading posts, but is coming into the auction venue as traders have slowed their buying and are offering less when they do buy.  You can see Frances’ rugs below.  Both sold at around the $1000-$1500 mark, a bargain for the quality of the weaving.

Klagetoh Red by Frances Burghorn

Klagetoh Red by Frances Burghorn

Ganado Red by Frances Burghorn

Ganado Red weaving by Frances Burghorn

In all, auction manager Christina Ellsworth estimated that there were about 200 rugs in the auction, which ended at around 9:15 PM.   I was able to purchase three rugs for the Mercantile: Alice Van Winkle Thompson’s Ram’s Head Moki design which is pictured below (Mercantile price: $630), one of Nellie Glasses handspun rugs (Mercantile price: $390) and a small Rena Robertson Faces piece (Mercantile price: $350).  I’ll get those listed later today or tomorrow morning.   The next Crownpoint auction will be on  Friday, January 14th.  Previews start at 4 PM and the bidding begins around 7 PM.  The auction accepts cash, personal checks drawn on U.S. banks and travelers checks.  I’ve in included a few more pictures from the auction in the gallery below.

I’m going to take advantage of the near 80 degree weather to get some rug washing done, so I’ll let you enjoy the pictures and see you later.

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker

September Auction at Crownpoint Features Unique, High Quality Work

Rena Robertson Summer Faces

Rena Robertson's Summer Ceremonial Faces rug.

Tempe, AZ September’s Crownpoint Rug Auction was relatively small  (130 rugs) and was attended by about 45 buyers.   There are quite a few auctions at this time of year and they continue up to December with one of the major events being held at Hubbell Trading Post this coming weekend on September 18th.   Many of the weavers who did bring their work to Crownpoint in this month are doing very high quality weaving and some of it is very unique.  I am a real fan of Rena Robertson’s asymmetric pictorials and I was lucky enough to get two of her pieces.  One of them was a stunning Blue Canyon that is already sold, but the other is pictured above.  It’s one of her Faces series and is a montage of the summer nights in Diné Bikeyah (the Navajo homeland).  I also purchased two of Nellie Glasses’ pieces, a handspun small Two Grey Hills by Gilbert Begay and an immaculate and finely woven striped piece by Gloria Begay.   Gilbert and Gloria live in Crownpoint, but Rena and Nellie had each driven over 200 miles to the auction and were planning to return home that night.

I had a great time acquainting travel writer Neala Schwartzberg with the auction.  Neala covers offbeat travel destinations for New Mexico magazine and and she really gets into what she’s covering, or at least she did with the rug auction.  She talked with several of the weavers, some of the buyers and she even quoted me accurately! Maybe I can get her over to the Sheep is Life Celebration in Tsaile for another article (they do an auction too, Neala).  Neala’s got some great advice on previewing before you bid and she’s included some excellent pictures in the article that she wrote about the auction for .  It’s one of their features on things to do that are off the beaten path or in this case, 25 miles north of I-40.

A couple of detail sections of Rena’s rug appear below.  The rug is woven with both Brown Sheep and Burnham’s Trading Post yarns and measures 19.25″ x 27″.

Summer Ceremonial Faces Detail 1

One of the Mittens in Rena's weaving

Summer Ceremonial Faces Detail 2

A detail of the Face motif in Rena Robertson's rug

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker