Courtesy Ernest Amoroso/NMAI
Elizabeth Begay (Diné, b. 1969), miniature pictorial rug, ca. 1985. Sawmill Chapter, Navajo Nation, near Sawmill, Arizona. Wool, 14 x 11 cm. Purchased in 1986 by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board from the Indian Craft Shop in Washington, D.C. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5960

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: For Halloween, a Spooktacular Navajo Rug

Anya Montiel

The following is a blog originally posted at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Over the years, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) purchased several pieces for its Headquarters Collection from the Indian Craft Shop, a retail store that opened in 1938 within the new Department of the Interior Building in Washington, D.C. Created at the request of Secretary Harold Ickes and still located in the original salesrooms decorated with murals painted by Allan Houser (1914–94, Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache) and Gerald Nailor (1917–52, Diné), the Indian Craft Shop continues to promote the work of American Indian and Alaska Native artists.

On March 18, 1986, the IACB purchased 11 pieces from the Indian Craft Shop, including this miniature Halloween rug by Elizabeth Begay (Diné). Measuring smaller than 6 by 5 inches, the rug shows a trick-or-treating scene. Baskets in hand, children dressed as a ghost, witch, and pumpkin-man approach a house and hogan to ask for candy. Along with haystacks in front of the hogan, Begay wove a black cat and jack-o’-lantern perched on the fence in the foreground and framed the entire composition with a brown serrated border.

Begay lives near Sawmill, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, where she and her mother, Nellie Tsosie, specialize in miniature, pictorial, classic revival, and third-phase chief's rugs. This weaving is both a miniature and a pictorial rug. Since the mid-to-late 19th century, Navajo weavers have depicted animals, people, landscapes, reservation scenes, and images from popular culture in their work. Known as pictorial rugs, these weavings quickly became popular among collectors and tourists, but that should not overshadow the weavers’ creativity and pleasure in innovation expressed through the form. As scholar Susan Brown McGreevy explains, “Navajo pictorial weavings provide a visual record of continuity and change in Navajo life, and an affirmation of Navajo imagination, humor, and artistic vision.”

At the same time that it purchased Elizabeth Begay's Halloween rug, the IACB bought a Christmas-themed rug by her mother. Framed with a gray border, Nellie Tsosie's rug depicts a couple, standing on boxes, trimming a large tree outside their house, with presents placed in a row underneath the tree.

“The pictorial tradition is born out of narrative," Navajo weaver Marlowe Katoney says. "It both records and demonstrates the confluences of Western influence on Navajo tradition.” These pictorial rugs, and others by Begay and Tsosie in the IACB Collection, are wonderful illustrations of that cultural interplay.

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum.

See the original blog post here.

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