TREASURES OF THE IACB: VICTORIA KEONI, BURNTWATER RUG (1986)

"Burntwater Rug," by Victoria Keoni (Navajo)

TREASURES OF THE IACB

October 17, 2017

Victoria Keoni (Navajo, b. 1960) was born in White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. She was raised in a family of weavers and began creating Navajo (Diné) textiles at the age of 17 under the guidance of her mother Cecelia Nelson. Keoni’s weavings are featured in the collections of the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Heard Museum. She is a recipient of the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award. 

Navajo weaving is tied to a rich and ancient mythological past. The Navajo believe that Spider Woman, one of their most important deities, gave the gift of weaving to all Navajo people. For hundreds of years, weaving has thrived in the American Southwest, especially in the Four Corners area (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado), where the Navajo pastured their sheep. The earliest Navajo weavings were traditional textiles – Chief blankets, shoulder blankets, women’s dress, and children’s blankets. These textiles were woven on vertical upright looms, and warp and weft yarns were finely handspun in natural wool colors, including off-white, black, brown, and grey. Additional yarns colors were limited to native dye plants (alder bark, Navajo tea, Actinia leptoclada, prickly pear cactus, bee plant, etc.)(Beatty 1940), and most reds were respun from unraveled bayeta trade cloth. In the mid-1800s, aniline dyes and Germantown yarns became available to weavers through trade, and the color palette increased significantly.

In the 1970s, an innovative use of decorative color emerged as a new development in the vegetal-dye movement of contemporary Navajo weaving. This style of weaving was called “Burntwater” after the Pine Springs-Burntwater region of the Navajo Reservation, where multi-bordered pastel and earth-tone vegetal-dyed rugs with finely detailed geometric patterns were executed with sophisticated precision and balance (Indian Arts and Crafts Board 1987). Burntwater rugs are characterized for their high quality tapestry-like weave, and command very high prices today. Keoni's rug (33" x 48") is housed in the permanent collection of the Southern Plains Indian Museum, Anadarko, Oklahoma (catalog number A.87.6.2). 

For more information on Burntwater weavings, please click here on the 1987 IACB exhibition catalog. Additional information on Navajo weaving is published in the IACBs consumer education brochure (2017) How to Buy Authentic Navajo (Diné) Weavings.

– Lars Krutak, PhD, Indian Arts and Crafts Board

LITERATURE CITED

Beatty, W.W. 1940. Navajo Native Dyes: Their Preparation and Use. Chilocco: U.S. Office of Indian Affairs.

Indian Arts and Crafts Board. 1987. Burntwater: An Exhibition, May 3-June 3, 1987. Exhibition catalog. Anadarko: Southern Plains Indian Museum.