October 17, 2011
Mark your calendar: November 11 and December 9.
Those are the next two dates for Navajo rug auctions at Crownpoint, a dusty village of about 2,000 in northwestern New Mexico. The event, sponsored by the Crownpoint Rug Weavers Association, has been held for 4 decades on the second Friday of every month, giving devotees of Native American arts and crafts a chance to buy direct from the maker.
Granted, there are lots of other places in and around the 27,000 square mile Navajo Reservation to admire weaving, from the Heard Museum in Phoenix to collector textile shops like Garland’s near Sedona and lonely trading posts scattered across the reservation, each one famous for a different rug pattern. The old Hubbell Trading Post, which operated from 1878 to 1930, is now a National Historic Site in the hamlet of Ganado.
But the Crownpoint auction is unforgettable. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. potential buyers inspect the month’s offerings, heaped on tables at the back of an elementary school gym. Craft sellers set up shop in the halls and the cafeteria provides Navajo fry bread tacos. Around 7 p.m. the auctioneers in cowboy hats arrive on stage and the bidding starts, sometime going on for hours. Rugs sell for thousands of dollars, or just a couple of tens, so bidders have to look sharp and know their stuff.
Experts advise potential buyers to fold a rug in half to make sure the pattern is straight, check the tightness of the weave, watch out for puckered corners and uneven colors.
When I was there a number of years ago, I didn’t even buy a rug, just enjoyed the show, then drove on to Canyon de Chelly, one of the most beautiful canyon systems in the Southwest, a holy place for the Navajo and home to Spider Woman—a Navajo deity said to live atop an 800-foot-tall pinnacle in Canyon de Chelly—who taught the people how to weave.