THE PROPERTY OF A SOUTH AFRICAN WOMAN
Post Lot Text
For similar examples see Christie's, May 23, 1994, lot 115 and Blomberg, 1988, p. 56-57.
Since early historic times, groups of various Plains Indians visited New Mexico and conducted trade with the local population. They undoubtedly obtained numbers of the highly prized blankets from Navajo, Pueblo Indian and Hispanic looms. In A History of New Mexican - Plains Indian Relations, Charles L. Kenner reports that New Mexican traders also ventured forth onto the Plains and that toward the end of the 19th century, "Lt. John Bourke, one of the Southwest's first amateur anthropologists, questioned an ancient native of San Juan Pueblo about his youthful travels. Eyes moist with nostalgia, the old pueblo recalled that in addition to the routine excursions to the Comanches and Kiowas [on the Southern Plains], he had gone far to the north and bartered with the Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Crows, Utes, and Shoshones."
Numerous historic photographs and two significant paintings illustrate Navajo blankets in use by Plains Indians. In the 1830s, the celebrated artist, Karl Bodmer, painted the Piegan Blackfoot, Kiasax (The Awkward Bear) wearing what is undoubtedly a first phase chief's blanket. Secondly, a remarkable 1847 watercolor by Lt. James Abert portrays each of several Cheyenne women in a Scalp Dance at Bent's Fort wearing a banded Navajo blanket.
Navajo blankets were high on the long list of material goods demanded by Plains Indians throughout the 19th century -- and one of the most expensive, even at the time. It can be convincingly argued that along with firearms, they considered the "chief's blankets" in particular as the most desirable of commodities. The qualities and beauty of the blankets are immediately recognizable. They are pliant, decidedly versatile, and quite impermeable. Furthermore, the patterns of contrasting bands dramatically adorn the wearer. A fine Navajo blanket served the owner well for a long period of time as a fashionable and durable garment.
Benson L. Lanford
November 30, 2002