Consultant visit by Mark and Linda Winter: on the Rio Grande Textiles

As part of Mark and Linda Winter’s consultant visit, we viewed the Luther Bean Museum’s (LBM) collection of Rio Grande textiles. I was particularly interested in the approximate periods, the type of wool used, and the nature of the dyes. Most of the textiles appear to be from the period of about 1870 to 1890. Wools included pure churro, merino-mix, and merino-contaminated churro. One may include mohair. The variety in the handspun wool showed differences in spinning methods, skill, and wool. Two of the textiles had been felted, from washing in hot water with agitation; possibly this happened more recently, in a washing machine.

Rio Grande Blanket, Collection of the LBM

There is no way to tell where the Rio Grande blankets may have been woven from looking at them because similar weavings were done all up and down the Rio Grande, so we could not identify artisans or regions. Most of the textiles incorporated natural, undyed wool colors, while many of the wool dyes were likely aniline. Some showed fading and running. Early aniline dyes were quite fugitive, fading easily. And probably due to the lack of water in this region, some wool was not thoroughly washed after dying, which could result in running of the dyes.

Cleaning tag on textile, Collection of the LBM

Mark showed us where some textiles had been cut down from their original lengths. He showed us original and later knots in the warp ends. He also showed us that one piece had sprung warps. The warps were under too much tension and broke, springing back to where they no longer were under tension, leaving loose sections of weft. We even found a probable dry cleaners tag on one of the textiles.

Mark identified our best pieces, selecting each for different reasons: purity of the wool, weaving skill, technical difficulty and excellence of a design, attention to detail in seaming, and the original nature of a piece, including one that he described as “loom-fresh” or having little wear

Consultant visit by Mark and Linda Winter: on the Luther Bean Museum Southwest Textile Collection

After meeting Mark and Linda Winter while attending Mark’s lectures “Taos Trade through Textiles” as part of the 2018 NMAM Conference, I hoped to have them consult on the Luther Bean Museum’s collection of Rio Grande and Navajo textiles. I emailed Mark and Linda and they responded that they would be happy to come view our collection! We arranged the visit for Thursday January 3, 2019 and wished for good winter weather.

Mark and Linda Winter at the Luther Bean Museum

Mark and Linda drove up from outside Taos, NM. Mark gave us a brief history of Rio Grande textiles and then we began viewing the textiles. Because there were 25 textiles in all, each view was necessarily brief. We viewed and discussed 10 textiles before breaking for lunch, and then viewed the remaining 15 textiles. We finished up late in the afternoon and gave Mark and Linda a short tour of the museum after which they headed back to New Mexico. It was a whirlwind of a day but we did gather a lot of information on our collection.

Mark and Linda brought an early Rio Grande blanket from their own collection to show us, as well as a number of books and articles that are good reference materials. They also kindly donated two books to the museum.

We deeply thank Mark and Linda Winter and are very grateful for their willingness to come to the Luther Bean Museum and provide their knowledge and insight on the pieces in our collection of Rio Grande and Navajo textiles.

 

Taos Trade through Textiles, Part II

Lecture by Mark Winter and Chris Ferguson on Pueblo and Navajo Textiles, at the 2018 NMAM Conference, Taos, NM

Immediately following their lecture on Saltillo and Rio Grande blankets, Mark Winter and Chris Ferguson did a second lecture on Pueblo and Navajo textiles. The Luther Bean Museum is home to six Navajo textiles so I was interested to see this lecture and the textile examples that Mark would provide.
Early Pueblo Indians initially used a backstrap loom but around 700 A.D. they converted to a vertical loom using a continuous warp. They farmed cotton for weaving and, after the Spanish introduced sheep to the region, switched to wool. Pueblos produced a woven square cloth called a manta, worn as a shawl or dress. Around 1600, the Navajo picked up weaving skills and adopted the Pueblo upright loom, typically weaving textiles that were wider than they were long. They became very skilled weavers, producing highly prized and expensive textiles, so tightly woven that they had a waterproof quality.

1st Phase Chief’s Blanket,
courtesy of Mark and Linda Winter

By 1805 the Navajo were already weaving “Chief’s” blankets in the style referred to as 1st Phase. These had two brown and three white bands at the top and bottom, and two sets of double indigo bands at the center.

 

 

 

2nd Phase Chief’s Blanket,
courtesy of Mark and Linda Winter

 

Navajos valued the red color seen in Mexican serapes, flannels, and other cloth. In raids, they carried off all of the red cloth (bayeta) they found, raveled the yarns, and wove it into their textiles. Traders and trappers carried red cloth for bargaining. This bayeta appears in the 2nd Phase Chief’s blankets of circa 1855 to 1865. Initially these blankets had twelve sets of red bars within the brown and indigo bands.

Modified 2nd Phase blankets, such as the one modeled by Chris Ferguson in the photograph on the left, incorporated more and more red and were so valued that one blanket was worth ten buffalo robes.

 

 

3rd Phase Chief’s Blanket, courtesy of Mark and Linda Winter

 

In 3rd Phase Chief’s blankets, red bayeta in the design included nine spots or diamonds and additional red stripes within the indigo bands. Variations of this phase have intricate designs. Mark Winter models the blanket in the photograph on the right.

Designs were conceived as they would appear on the wearer and were held in the mind of the weaver as they were translated into the woven textile.

 

4th Phase Chief’s Blanket, courtesy of Mark and Linda Winter

By 1865 to 1875, the diamonds had grown so large that they had coalesced in the 4th Phase Chief’s blankets. In variants of this phase the diamonds became crosses, and after 1860, aniline (synthetic) dyes were incorporated as well.

In addition to the Chief’s blankets, other Navajo textiles included: serapes (blankets) with red bayeta, and indigo stripes on a large field of natural white, and Navajo versions of Mexican Saltillos with intricate designs on large red fields. Navajo blankets were in high demand after the 1821 opening of the Santa Fe Trail, and remained so later, with the coming of the trains in the 1880s, for the tourist trade.

Object Conservation and Handling Workshop

I attended the Object Conservation and Handling Workshop at the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM) in Taos, New Mexico. The workshop was led by Dr. Caroline Jean Fernald, Executive Director of the museum and Carmela Quinto, Curator of Collections. Rather than sit in a conference room, we moved through the different galleries, as they were relevant to aspects of the lecture.

“Donut” and foam sheet under fragile pottery at the MRM

Pottery is breakable, so the museum uses “donuts” made from insulation foam or Styrofoam, lined with clear plastic. The foam donuts are cut to length, the ends are hot-glued together, and the donut is painted to match the pot that it will be holding. Some pots can sit on their sides in such donuts. Other pottery sits on heavy plastic or thin foam sheets that are cut to size. Pots can slide with the vibrations from foot traffic, but the plastic has enough friction with the base of the pot so that the pots remain in place. Staff regularly checks the pots to make sure they are secure. Pottery is dusted with canned air.

The museum has hardwood floors throughout. Any hard flooring material is much better than carpet, which can harbor pests. Textiles are vulnerable to moths. A pest control service sprays specifically for moths once per month. If evidence of moth activity is found, both sides of the textile are vacuumed and the textile is frozen to kill pests.

Curator’s cart at the MRM

The museum is gradually changing to all LED lights. Prints and photographic works are framed with UV-coated museum glass. The glass in the gallery windows is UV protected. Matted or framed prints and photographs are taken apart to determine if archival materials have been used. If not, they are re-matted with acid-free materials and re-framed. For jewelry, moisture can be a problem, so our dry climate helps. The glass cases are not completely airtight because some airflow is necessary. Unfortunately, even the small openings allow bugs and critters to enter the cases. Lizard excretions can damage metals. Retablos and Bultos are displayed in glass-fronted cases. They are dusted with a feather duster, or a soft cloth if needed.

Cultural sensitivity has become part of museum ethics in recent decades. The MRM is the first museum to make policy that protects culturally sensitive artifacts. Accordingly, the MRM no longer displays burial pots or sensitive items from communities such as the Penitentes. The museum collections of these types of items are housed in a vault.

Gloves to handle objects at the workshop

When handling objects, it is best to wear nitrile or cotton gloves to protect yourself and to protect the objects. This is especially important when handling textiles, since it is unknown what chemicals may be embedded. Textiles may have been sprayed for pests or cleaned with chemicals. It is helpful to wear a lab coat or apron to protect clothing and to use a full particulate mask when cleaning objects.

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.

Centinela Traditional Arts, Chimayo Weavers

Centinela Traditional Arts, Chimayo, NM

When I pulled into the driveway of Centinela Traditional Arts in Chimayo, NM, it was a relief after slaloming within a string of cars along a winding ribbon of two-lane black-top lined too close for comfort by gates and houses. Google maps did not indicate many landmarks along this road and it was by chance that I saw the sign and that there was no oncoming car at the moment I needed to turn left into the driveway or overshoot.

 

Spinning “prepared roving” wool onto a spinning wheel

I met Lisa Trujillo and her daughter Emily. They showed me around the shop and showed me newly shorn churro wool, wool that was “in the grease” (ready to be washed), and “prepared roving” (wool that has been washed and is ready to be spun) and Emily demonstrated the spinning of prepared roving wool on a spinning wheel.

 

 

Lisa took me out to the farm out back where the family keeps a small herd of churro sheep. They use this wool for all of their traditional weaving.

Churro sheep at the Centinela Traditional Arts farm

Churro was the original breed of sheep brought by the Spanish to this region in the 16th century, the wool from which has been used for weaving since that time. The sheep are of varied colors, accounting for the natural white (cream) and the range of natural colors in the wool of grays and browns to almost black. The fine undercoat is used for weft wool which makes the surface of a weaving. The coarse outer coat is strong and used for the warps (structure) of a weaving. I have seen photographs of this breed, always with symmetrical horns. But these sheep had horns of every size, pointing in all directions, making them very cute to look at.

 

Irvin Trujillo took me through a brief history of Rio Grande weaving, showing me examples from the textiles hanging on the walls. His is the seventh generation family of weavers who have passed their craft and dye recipes down to each succeeding generation. He showed me photographs of wedding blankets, woven and gifted within his family, which are Rio Grande textiles that are mostly natural white. He took me through the weaving room where three enormous looms, each with weavings in progress, are set up so they almost touch corner to corner along three walls of the room.

Outdoor dye shed

Last we looked through the outdoor dye shed where the family dyes all of the wool they use in traditional weavings using only natural dyes. Lining one wall were very large stock pots holding a variety of natural dyestuff materials and skeins of wool bathing in the dyes.

 

 

Chamisa dye bath

Some of the dyeing in process included chamisa (the blooms from rabbit brush which produce yellows) and indigo (blues). The intensity of the dye depends partly on how long the wool remains in the bath, from overnight to several days. Irvin showed me some of the dyestuff materials: cochineal (insects that produce a brilliant red), lumps of indigo (processed from the native Mexican plants), and brazilwood (pieces of heartwood that make reddish tans to golden yellows). Upon removal from the dye bath, the wool dries, and then is rinsed until the water runs clear.

Natural-dyed churro wool

In their shop hung many skeins of churro wool, natural-dyed in a myriad of colors, waiting to be used in weavings.

Taos Trade through Textiles, Part I

Lecture by Mark Winter and Chris Ferguson on Saltillo and Rio Grande Textiles, at the 2018 NMAM Conference, Taos, NM

Mexican Saltillo sarape

When I arrived a bit early to the “Taos Trade through Textiles” lectures, part of the 2018 NMAM Conference in Taos, NM, Mark Winter and his co-lecturer Chris Ferguson were busy arranging textiles on large tables, bringing each from a luggage cart loaded with textiles. They must have brought about fifty textiles to the conference.

From the opening moment of the lecture, I raced to try to keep up my note-taking and picture-taking with all that Mark was telling us about the textiles. The first lecture was on Saltillo and Rio Grande textiles, the second on Navajo textiles. He held up a sample textile for each major point and from time to time Chris would model a textile to demonstrate how it would have been worn. To my untrained eye, these were beautiful, pristine textiles, and Mark offered them to the audience to touch.

Mexican Saltillo sarape, ca. 1750

The first blanket shown at the lecture was a circa 1750 Mexican Saltillo sarape. The intricately woven Saltillo sarapes took a skilled weaver many months to weave and often used costly dyestuffs in the wool colors. They were very expensive, not much traded, and mostly worn by wealthy Mexicans. This sarape used a lot of cochineal red, a very expensive dye made from insects native to Mexico.

Taos was a geographic and cultural crossroads and the site of annual trade fairs. Taos was the northern end of the Camino Real route which went as far south as Mexico City and sites of other trade fairs. When the Spanish first arrived to the new world, they introduced the small and hardy churro sheep to “New Spain”. The wool from this breed, long, silky and not greasy, took dyes very well and was perfect for weaving. It quickly became the weaving material of choice.

Mark Winter adjusting the Rio Grande “brazilwood” dyed, banded blanket modeled by Chris Ferguson

The next group of weavings were the Rio Grande blankets. Some of the types of textiles produced included: sabanilla (loosely woven sheeting, sack cloth), jerga (loosely woven in stripes or plaids used for floor coverings and for saddle bags-the burlap of its day), colchas (embroidered sabanilla used for bed covers), sarapes and frasadas (ponchos and camp/utility blankets), indigo blankets, and the classic banded and striped blankets. We were shown examples of all of these types of textiles as Mark lectured on the history and evolution of the designs and dyestuffs.

Interestingly, Merino sheep were introduced in the mid 1800’s because they were better meat producers. However, their inferior wool (for weaving purposes) eventually contaminated the churro sheep, so that by the late 1800’s the quality of wool available for weaving had markedly deteriorated.

Colchas Exhibition

I visited the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area Center in Alcalde, NM (outside of Española, NM), to view the 5th Biennial NNM Spanish Colonial Colcha Embroidery Exhibit.

Embroidery on Sabanilla cloth (photograph is from the Colcha Exhibit flyer)

A Colcha is a type of Rio Grande textile in which decorative embroidery has been added to Sabanilla cloth. Sabanilla is a utilitarian coarsely woven textile, with yarns handspun from natural white wool, and was made primarily for sheeting. These embroidered textiles were often used as bed coverings.

Colcha Embroidery, Ca. 1865 – 1885, on loan from Mark and Linda Winter

I met Leland Chapin, co-curator of the exhibit, who showed me around the exhibit, the bulk of which was of contemporary Colcha embroidery work, still made in the traditional manner.  The exhibit did include four old large Colcha textiles, dating from circa 1865 to 1885, on loan from Mark and Linda Winter. The Colcha embroidery sometimes takes the form of patterns which cover a portion of the Sabanilla cloth, as in the above floral example.

Detail of Colcha Embroidery, Ca. 1865 – 1885, on loan from Mark and Linda Winter

Colcha embroidery may also completely cover the surface of the cloth, as in the example to the right. This is a detail of a large Colcha that was embroidered with the images of eight saints. In this piece, the texture of the embroidery yarns becomes the surface of the cloth.

 

 

 

Skeins of natural-dyed churro wool

A table at the rear of the exhibit held skeins of handspun, natural hand-dyed wool in a variety of colors, together with samples of some of the natural plants and minerals from which the dyes are made. The Luther Bean Museum does not own any Colcha textiles, but since these are a form of Rio Grande weaving, a future addition of this type would add to the variety of our Rio Grande textile collection.

Textile Display Methods

As part of my visit with Carmela Quinto, Curator of Collections at the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM) in Taos, NM, we looked at some of the methods used to display textiles. After ascertaining that the textile is suitable for mounting or hanging, an appropriate display location is chosen to avoid exposing the textile to UV light or other possible damage.

Accession number on textile at MRM

While textiles may be temporarily identified with an acid-free paper tag, the permanent means of identification is to sew a strip of cotton muslin with the accession number marked in permanent ink onto the back of the textile. Archival markers are available for this purpose.

Weft-faced textiles such as Rio Grande textiles, are hung with the warp threads in the vertical position to give the best support to the textile.

 

Velcro strip attached to back of textile at MRM

One method to hang textiles for display uses Velcro strips. A strip of Velcro is sewn onto a slightly larger strip of cotton twill or muslin, which in turn is sewn onto the back of the textile at its vertical top end. Small textiles may have two short strips. Larger textiles have one strip that is the width of the textile. Very large or heavy textiles may have a number of strips, each the width of the textile, and at varying distances along the vertical dimension. The other side of the Velcro is attached to sealed or varnished wood strips that are affixed to the display wall.

Sleeve attached to the back of textile at MRM

Another method to hang textiles for display uses sleeves. Cotton muslin is cut to the width of the textile and sewn into a hollow sleeve. The sleeve is then sewn onto the back of the textile at its vertical top end, leaving the sleeve ends open. The sleeve can then accommodate either a flat metal bar or a varnished wooden dowel.

 

 

Textiles hung with flat metal bars at MRM

At left, flat metal bars work well with the spacers which are used to create an airspace between the textile and the display wall. Below, a wood dowel  through the sleeve, with eye screws at each end, works well for hanging a textile from the ceiling.

Textile hung with wood dowel at MRM