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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.)
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