Editor's note: The Baltimore Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Baltimore Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Woven Rainbows: American Indian Trade Blankets

November 9 - May 14, 2006


(above: Nine Element Arrowhead Robe or Blanket. c. 1920s. Manufacturer: Pendleton Woolen Mills. American. Wool weft, cotton warp. 76-1/4 x 59 inches (193.8 x 150 cm.). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dena S. Katzenberg, Baltimore, BMA 1991.438)


For the first time, The Baltimore Museum of Art will display more than 25 colorful wool trade blankets from its textile collection in Woven Rainbows: American Indian Trade Blankets. On view November 9 through May 14, 2006, these dazzling geometric patterned blankets were produced by American woolen mills for sale and trade to Native Americans between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Inspired by Indian designs, they quickly became objects of prestige for tribal members, preferred over their own weavings. (right: Hanolchadi Robe (Third Phase Navajo Chief's Blanket). c. 1910. Manufacturer: Buell Manufacturing Company. American. Wool wefts, cotton warps. 47 3/4 x 66 1/4 inches (121.3 x 168.3 cm.). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Morton C. Katzenberg, Baltimore, in Loving Memory of his Wife, Dena S. Katzenberg, BMA 2004.75)

At trading posts, Native Americans would trade their own hand-woven blankets, baskets, and other goods for these machine-made blankets produced by non-Indian manufacturers, including such famous woolen mills as Pendleton, Oregon City, and J. Capps & Sons. Native Americans found these commercially produced pieces with their brilliant colors, stylized arrowhead and teepee motifs, and geometric designs to be more colorful and more practical than their own blankets. Yarns were available to factory designers in an amazing variety of hues, from hot pink to chartreuse, and the lighter weight and more flexible drape of the blankets produced on sophisticated Jacquard looms made them more adaptable than native weaves.

Worn in a variety of ways, as robes for men and shawls for women, the blankets were as much articles of clothing as bedding. Universally embraced by Indians throughout America, trade blankets were owned by Nez Pierce Chief Joseph and Apache leader Geronimo.

Their quality, unique patterning, and association with Native Americans also made these blankets popular with Anglo Americans. They became items of dramatic and exotic decoration, as will be illustrated by the transformation of one of the Museum's period rooms into a circa 1920 Arts & Craft-era living room accented with trade blankets and Native American pottery, baskets, and textiles from the BMA's collection.

This exhibition is curated by BMA Curator of Decorative Arts for Textiles Anita Jones.

The exhibition is generously supported by Morton C. Katzenberg in memory of Dena S. Katzenberg, Consultant Curator of Textiles at the BMA from 1969 to 2000. (left: Banded Moqi Robe or Blanket. c. 1913. Manufacturer: J. Capps & Sons, Ltd. Woolen Mills. Wool. 68-1/2 x 55 inches (174.1 x 139.8 cm.). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dena S. Katzenberg, Baltimore, BMA 1991.429.)



GALLERY TALK with BMA Curator of Decorative Arts for Textiles Anita Jones.
November 17, 1 p.m.
Thursday, December 1, 11 a.m.­8 p.m.
All ages
Enjoy free admission to the BMA all day with extended evening hours (5­8 p.m.) featuring flute music by Eagle Warrior, Lakota Sioux and Kiowa Apache tales from storyteller Dovie Thomason, and a celebration in dance by local collaborative Dance Baltimore! Take part in special tours and a make-and-take hands-on workshop for families.



Sunday, November 20, 2 p.m.
Thursday, December 1, 2 p.m.
Thursday, January 26, 2 p.m.
Sunday, January 29, 2 p.m.
Sunday, February 12. 2 p.m.
Thursday, February 16, 2 p.m.
With Museum docent; free with Museum admission.



The BMA Shop features an American Indian corner inspired by Woven Rainbows: American Indian Trade Blankets. Discover Pendleton Trade blankets, American Indian jewelry, Native American games and kits for children, and more. Call The BMA Shop at 410-396-6338 for details.



Ranging from ancient Coptic fragments to innovative late 20th-century Japanese and American fabrics, the BMA's collection of more than 5,000 textiles spans nearly 2,000 years and features objects from American, European, and non-Western cultures. Highlights include excellent examples of early American needlework, a distinguished collection of Baltimore album quilts, significant English and French printed textiles from the 18th through 20th centuries (including designs by Christophe-Philipe Oberkampf, William Morris, and Raoul Dufy), and an excellent group of tapestry-woven Kashmir shawls.
In recent years, the BMA has concentrated on acquiring 20th-century works, with emphasis given to obtaining designs from recognized artists, craftspeople, and design centers, as well as fabrics created for seminal events or iconic buildings. Recent acquisitions include textiles by Owen Jones, Alphonse Mucha, and Jack Lenor Larsen. Ongoing displays of textiles are featured in the BMA's Berman Textile Gallery.


Editor's note: Readers may also find of interest:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Baltimore Museum of Art in Resource Library.

Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art,.

Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.