Friday, July 17, 2009

Navajo Rug

Moving the Navajo rug around again, studying it and thinking about it, I started wandering around on the Internet last night, looking for photos of something similar. That gave me a headache and I gave it up for the time being, but won’t rule out wading in again.

I saw a rug one time with a similar pattern in the small museum near Buffalo Bill’s grave on Lookout Mountain, overlooking Denver, but other than that haven’t spent much time looking at Navajo rugs.

It’s not that I care about what the old rug’s worth, if anything; it’s just that I’d like to know more about it. It’s wonderfully woven and in fairly good shape considering the fact it’s been bouncing around from Myers house to Myers house since the 1920s or 1930s and hasn’t been given the care some might think it deserves.

There are a couple of small stains and the side cords have come loose in places but I really don’t expect to do anything about that. I like it the way it is. I like to think of a Navajo weaver in or near a hogan somewhere in Dinetah producing this from wool shorn with clippers like those I’ve got out in the garage somewhere, then carded, washed, spun and colored.

My guess is that it was woven in the 1920s by a woman who helped support her family by producing such items for sale to tourists and others, including salesmen like my Uncle Bob Dunlap, who wandered through the region. But of course I don’t know that for sure.

Uncle Bob, actually my grandmother’s uncle, was a roamer and a rambler --- Iowa, the Dakotas, California, the desert Southwest --- and no one ever figured out exactly what he did for a living --- lawyer, real estate speculator, traveling salesman and goodness only knows what else..

Tried marriage briefly when he was 40-something and she was older; didn’t like; didn’t try it again. Died flat broke at 77 in Los Angeles in 1950. Whoever was looking out for him started sending out letters suggesting his family (consisting by then of six nieces and nephews including Grandma and her Wyoming brothers) might chip in to bury him when he died. No one did that I know of.

Bob was one of eight children and exactly half of them --- Samantha as a teenager, Melinda at 26, John W. at 35 and my great-grandmother, Susan Elizabeth (Dunlap) Dent at 39 --- died of tuberculosis. Bob father, Franklin Dunlap --- after whom I am named indirectly via my great-uncle, Frank Dent, and his namesake, my dad --- was one of five children. All save Eugene, who died of typhoid near Jackson, Miss., while serving in the Union army during the Civil War, died of tuberculosis, too. It took an awful toll. “Ran in the family,” my dad said, stating the obvious.

Uncle Bob seems to have had an affinity for the Four Corners country and was always bringing or shipping something from there to his favorite niece, my grandmother, and grandniece, my aunt Flora, in Iowa. The rug and a small handmade riding crop encircled by a carved snake are about all that survive although I remember other things, long gone.

Interesting to think about the fact the weaver, Uncle Bob and everyone else other than me who ever claimed the rug have long since crossed that great divide. But the old Navajo rug is still going strong and I certainly hope will outlive me, too.

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