Send in the Clones Part II: The Pueblo Grande Museum Navajo Rug Auction and Gathering of Weavers

Bessie Yazzie with her 10x12 Storm Pattern rug

Bessie Yazzie wove a 10×12 Storm Pattern rug that will be in this weekend’s Pueblo Grande auction.

If you read yesterday’s article, you understand why I’m going to the Gathering of Weavers: Navajo Weavers Marketplace at the Heard Museum on November 2.  Today, I’m going to extol the virtues of the Pueblo Grand Annual Navajo Rug Auction and then you’ll understand why I can’t pass that event up either.  

What’s the Pueblo Grande Museum Navajo Rug Auction Like?

The Pueblo Grande Museum Navajo Rug Auction benefits the Pueblo Grande Museum, a city of Phoenix museum that curates and interprets an ancient Hohokam site.  It’s a reserve auction, meaning that consignors set the minimum price that they are willing to accept for the item.  Many of the consignors are contemporary weavers but some are owners of vintage rugs and some are traders.  That means that at least some percentage of the offerings will be rugs that are anywhere from 20 years to over 100 years old.  You literally cannot tell what you may see.  You can, however, anticipate what you’re going to hear because the auction is run by R.B. Burnham and Co. Native Auctions.   Fourth generation trader Bruce Burnham and his auction partner trader Hank Blair are a wealth of information on rugs and other Native American art and share both their experience and their stories with the audience, many of whom return to the auction year after year.  

One of the Auction Stars: Bessie Yazzie’s Large Storm Pattern

This year’s Pueblo Grande Navajo Rug Auction features the 10’x12′ Contemporary Storm Pattern rug by Bessie Yazzie that’s pictured above.  It literally dwarfs Bessie when she’s standing next to it.  It’s the kind of rug that you don’t see very often anymore because of the uncertainty involved in doing something that big without a buyer in place.  It used to be that a trader would support a weaver doing a large rug through the weaving process, which could take a couple of years.  Trader Jackson Clark I famously supported weaver Mae Jim through several monumentally large rugs during his career and most traders can tell you fascinating stories about supporting a weaver so that a large or particularly fine piece could reach completion.  Increasingly today, the entire financial burden of undertaking a large weaving falls on the weaver and the weaver’s family, who are involved in an act of faith that the rug will find a buyer.  

The difficulty in selling any rug is compounded by the lack of buying outlets for weavers that are within the Navajo Nation.  Bruce Burnham, Hank Blair and I compiled a list of places within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation where a weaver could sell a rug and we came up with fewer than 20 of them.  This forces a weaver like Bessie out into what the Navajos refer to as “border towns” like Flagstaff, Gallup, Farmington and Durango.  Any economist will tell you that when you concentrate the supply of anything in one place with a fixed number of buyers, you’ll tend to drive the price down.  Traders in these areas simply cannot buy all of the rugs that contemporary weavers produce.   That’s what led Bruce to develop auctions to bring good weaving to buyers in places like Phoenix, Los Angeles and as far away as Indianapolis.   Bessie’s rug, for example, sold at an auction in Flagstaff two weeks ago and the buyer will offer it this week in Phoenix.  Bruce would have carried the rug over to Phoenix regardless, but Bessie needed the  money and didn’t want to wait.  She received a price that was about $30 a square foot, which is about the going rate for a large well woven rug in today’s market, but less than you’d hope given that it took two years to complete.  

Meet the Spider Rock Girls!

The Burnham auctions also educate buyers and as much as possible, Bruce encourages weavers to attend and represent their work and meet the buyers.  Which brings me to another attraction at Pueblo Grande: the Spider Rock Girls.   Emily Malone and her family will be demonstrating weaving and will have several of their rugs offered for sale.  If you have met the girls before, you know that they are one of the hardest working families that you will ever encounter.  They have developed their own rug pattern and Emily, in particular, is always thinking up new and innovative designs.  You’ll see several of the rugs that they offered last year in the photo gallery below.  The gallery will also give you an idea of the kinds of contemporary and vintage pieces that you may see on Saturday.  There is also another picture of Bessie Yazzie with her large rug.   

So to review, the Gathering of Weavers will feature weavers representing their own work that you’ll buy directly and you’ll also have the opportunity to attend talks by experts on weaving.  The Pueblo Grande Annual Navajo Rug Auction will offer a blend of vintage and contemporary weavings gathered by R.B. Burnham and Co. and you’ll have the chance to meet master weavers and longtime traders.  And you’ll see a very, very nice large rug by Bessie Yazzie.  I’ll be at the Gathering of Weavers at 10 AM and I’ll be at Pueblo Grande when the auction starts at noon!  Send. In. The. Clones.   

Hagoshíì (so long for now)

Mary Walker

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