Cataloging the Dan Fisher rug

Rio Grande weaving
Dan Fisher rug, 1939

For cataloging training, Tawney and I brought the Dan Fisher rug, one of the Rio Grande weavings, down to the conference table from its location in a storage room. Wearing cotton gloves, we slowly unrolled the weaving onto a plastic sheet. As we examined the textile with care and detail, we filled out the Inventory / Object Information sheet, one of which is completed for every object in the museum collections.

After measuring and photographing the rug, we made a long visual inspection, noting dye colors, bands and stripes and the ticking pattern at the edges of most of the stripes. Alternating the weft colors along a single pass through the warp threads makes a ticking pattern, as seen in the below image.

Ticking pattern (gray into yellow-gold and gray into rust) and small area of damage in blue area

We studied the condition of the rug, noting and photographing areas of minor damage and small areas of losses due to moth damage. One method used to combat moths and other insects is to freeze the textile for several days. This rug has been through the freezing process. Making record of the condition of the rug as it exists today allows confirmation of any changes during future inspections. Visible in the image at the right is a small area of damage within the blue stripe where the warp threads have broken, or sprung, leaving the weft yarns loose. When we had finished our notations about the artist, medium, condition, etc, we carefully rolled the rug, keeping it wrinkle-free, and carried it back to its storage home.

Cloth label with inscription, sewn to the back of the rug

This is one of the few Rio Grande textiles in the Luther Bean collection for which we have information on the weaver. (Unknown weavers are typical of Rio Grande textiles in museum collections.) An inscription in faded type on the cloth label sewn onto the back of the piece includes: San Luis, Colo. / Dan Fisher / Rug / July 1939.

Detail of the dye colors and ticking pattern in the stripes at each end of the rug

Later research uncovered the fact that Dan Fisher learned to weave during the Works Progress Administration project to revive the weaving craft held from 1935 to 1940 in San Luis, CO. He may have produced this rug as part of his work in the weaving classes. Fisher identified this piece as a rug. Visual inspection confirmed this use, as the yarns on the top surface of the rug are well flattened but the yarns on the underside of the rug are still quite plump.

Looms and Textiles

As part of my visit to the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM) I wandered through the galleries, looking for exhibits that included artifacts similar to our collections at the Luther Bean Museum and specifically textiles. One gallery included both Rio Grande and Navajo textiles and also a small scale Navajo upright loom. Another gallery included a European horizontal loom and Rio Grande textiles. A loom holds warp threads in tension so that weft yarns may be woven through them. Textiles woven on these two looms have differing characteristics.

Navajo upright loom at the Millicent Rogers Museum

Navajo upright (vertical) looms have no moving parts and can be quite wide because the warp threads are strung on a horizontal pole that is mounted between two upright support poles or even between two trees. The loom can easily be taken apart and moved.

At the MRM, Navajo Chief          blankets behind the loom

 

The weaver sits, weaving the weft yarns from bottom to top through the vertical warps. The weaver then moves over and weaves the next area, using a tapestry stitch to weave the new weft yarns adjacent to the last area woven. The tapestry stitch results in what are known as “lazy lines” within the textile, as sections of textile are woven adjacent to each other to make the entire width of the textile.

As seen in the Chief blankets behind the loom in the image to the right, Navajo textiles typically have the warps running in the short dimension and the wefts running in the long dimension.

 

European style horizontal loom, Circa 1800,             at the Millicent Rogers Museum

Early European style horizontal looms were set into massive frames of hewn timbers, probably to accommodate the vibration and movement of the harnesses during weaving, and they are not easily moved. These looms are of a fixed width and produce fairly narrow textiles. The textile can be made wider by using one of two techniques, double width or two widths seamed together, as discussed in the Rio Grande Textiles Weaving Details blog entry. The textiles can be quite long, because the warps can be wound around the warp beam and unfurled as the weaving continues to grow in length. The weaver sits at the loom and continues to weave in the same position for the entire textile length, as the woven portion of the textile winds around the takeup beam.

European style horizontal loom, Circa 1800, at the Millicent Rogers Museum

These looms often have treadles (foot pedals) on which the weaver steps to raise a portion of the warp threads, called shedding (usually every other warp thread). The weaver then passes the shuttle (which holds the weft yarn) horizontally through the shed from end to end. Textiles woven on European style looms typically have the warps running in the long dimension and the wefts running in the short dimension.