Navajo Rug Auction – by Richard Lind, member-at-large
In Albuquerque we have the Las Aran᷈as Spinning and Weaving Guild. I'm told Las Aran᷈as means "the spiders", but I don't know Spanish yet, so don't take my word for it. Las Aran᷈as is involved with many events and has many activities, like CPGH.
On Friday, November 11th, Las Aran᷈as members and a few folks from Santa Fe and Taos went in a chartered coach bus to The Rug Auction of Crownpoint (NM), held monthly by the Navajo Weavers Association since 1991. The event was started in 1964 by Trader Lavonne Palmer, when Navajo rugs weren't selling and the number of weavers in the Navajo Nation had declined to about 1000. The first rug that was auctioned off in 1964 sold for three dollars. Five years later, one hundred rugs were sold at the Auction at an average of thirty dollars. By 1991, the Auction was selling 300 to 600 rugs per month. Demand has gone up and so have the prices. The auctioneer gets a fee, the Association gets a fee, and the rest of the bid price goes to the weaver. There is no middleman. This is important, because economic opportunities in the Navajo Nation are few and uncertain.
We met in a Target parking lot near I-25 in Albuquerque at 1:45 PM. The bus came by on schedule and off we went, headed west on I-40. At the little railroad town of Thoreau (pronounced Tharoo), we turned north on New Mexico Highway 371, which took us to Crownpoint. The auction was held in the gymnasium of the grade school, which is a relatively new building. We got there about 4 PM, and when we stepped inside, there were the weavers all lined up in the central corridor, waiting to check in their rugs. As the rugs were checked in, they were sorted by size and placed on four six-foot square tables for our inspection. We had plenty of time to look at the rugs because the bidding wasn't to start until 7 PM. So, when the cafeteria opened up, I got a Navajo taco, a hearty meal. Then, I checked out the vendors along the walls in the back of the gym. The nicest display was by Dora Antonio, who was selling traditional Acoma handmade pottery. Most of it was black on white, and there were a few pieces of red ware. I spent some time talking with Dora's son Jack about Acoma history. He was careful to point out that they were Puebloan, not Navajo Jack said the Acoma People were descended from the people of Chaco Canyon, and therefore were of more ancient lineage in New Mexico. I bought a pot from Dora, and she explained the significance of every element of the design, which didn't stick. Perhaps I can learn more about it at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center here.
Before the auction began I wrote down the numbers of eight small rugs that interested me. When it was time to start, we went through some preliminaries while the rugs were carried up to tables in the back of the stage. At least half of us were first-timers, which was good, but unfortunately, the Association couldn't handle credit card transactions that day, which dampened sales.
Early in the auction, one of the rugs that interested me was brought up to the auctioneer. It was 29 by 37-inches in medium gray and dark red with black, white and a darker gray geometric designs by Rosita Segay of Whippoorwill, Arizona. Bids opened at $300, and I soon got it. In less than half an hour, the rug that I was most interested in came up. It was 21 by 31-inches with borders of black and dark brown. In a field of light brown were five women looking over their right shoulders, and two corn stalks in a row. Each woman had a different colored skirt and blouse. This rug was by Lorene Barber of Burnham Arizona.
The auctioneer wanted to start the bidding at $800. Nobody bid. In situations like that, the auctioneer would call out, "No sale," and send the rug to the back of the stage. So when the auctioneer reduced the starting bid to $750, up went my number card and I got the rug.
There were a lot of "no sales" and the auction was over by 9 PM. Rugs sold for $50 to $3,200, depending on size and quality. The smallest rugs were about 8 inches square and the biggest were blanket sized.
We lined up to pay for and collect our rugs from the Association, and then we got on the bus for a pleasant ride home. It was a lot of fun. Next time -- and there will be a next time -- I'll go with lots of money.