Garland's Navajo Rugs - History, Mystery, and Integrity

Sedona Monthly Magazine, Spring 2006, story by Monica Galvan

Enchanting wonder, inspiring beauty, and ancient secrets...

...the Southwest can be a mesmerizing, absorbing territory. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the Southwest is the striking presence of beautiful Navajo rugs, which have become a characteristic mark of the people, culture and landscapes that comprise the Navajo Reservation. Spanning some 16 million acres across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, this reservation is the largest in the country, and it is home to some of the finest artists in the world.

Here in Sedona, it is possible to observe the long-standing art of weaving by exploring Garland's Navajo Rugs. Established in 1976, Garland's now is home to the largest selection of Navajo rugs in the world, and it is easy to understand why this is true. Owners Dan and Tricia Garland's respect for Navajo art and culture, their encouragement of the weavers and the fair cash prices they pay for their art have earned them obvious loyalty from the best Native American artists.

Garland's Navajo Rugs

But a story about Navajo rugs and their weavers is not just about artwork - it is about history, mystery and romance. Such is the story of Garland's Navajo Rugs. The idea to start this business originally began with Dan’s father, Bill Garland, who, Dan will tell you, lured Tricia and him out of Oak Creek Canyon, where Dan worked in the family's apple orchard, to establish a store that would sell nothing but Navajo rugs. The foolproof appeal? A Navajo rug, unlike Indian jewelry, cannot successfully be imitated by a machine, and Garland's would be the first store in the nation to carry only Navajo rugs. Sure, there already were several Indian trading posts, but the main commodity was jewelry, and an assortment of beautiful weavings often was piled in a corner alongside pottery, baskets and kachina dolls. This father-son team, along with their wives Georgiana and Tricia, set out to create a gallery that would offer a large selection of Navajo rugs - all sizes, styles and colors - so that people could find one that perfectly fit their needs.

Bill Garland, Garland's Navajo Rugs
Top Photo: Garland's Navajo Rugs, 2005. This Photo: Bill Garland at Garland's Navajo Rugs (late 1970s)

"In the beginning, there were no weavers coming into the store, so some of the best memories that my dad and I have are of our trips to the reservation," said Dan. “We spent time going into trading posts and buying rugs, learning about them and trying to get a feel for which rugs came from where, and comparing values. Of course, we wanted to buy directly from the weavers, but first we had to discover which rugs were made in what parts of the reservation and what their comparable values were.”

These early trips to the reservation certainly were important learning experiences for Bill and Dan, and many of them turned into memorable adventures. Dan recalled one day when they followed a long dirt road in Chilchinbetoh, at the center of the reservation, so far that they finally realized they were lost. As a truck approached in the distance, they hoped that the driver could direct then to the trading post they so anxiously sought. As it happened, this mysterious truck driver was the trader from the illusive trading post, and he was thrilled to learn that Bill and Dan wanted to look at Navajo rugs. "We turned around and followed the trader to his post, and he opened up a safe that had cement vaults with one little bare-bulb light," explained Dan. "And there were these rugs that the trader had bought from weavers - and nobody had looked at them for two years." As they inspected the trader's rugs, Dan realized not only that these beautiful works of art should be displayed where they could easily be appreciated, he also recognized the important influence that trading post owners had on Navajo designs.

Trading posts on the reservation often supplied goods to the Navajos, who then had a bill. They would get their corn, flour, gasoline - basic goods for their daily needs from the trading post, and in turn they would bring in rugs to repay their debt. Oftentimes, half the price of the rug already was owed to the trading post, but the relationship still was mutually beneficial. In fact, which designs the trader could sell and which rugs he thought would be profitable for the Navajos had a powerful influence on what the weavers created.

"Each trading post had a community of weavers that lived nearby, and each trader carried rugs with unique color schemes and characteristics", explained Dan. "Similarly, the local plant and mineral sources used to create vegetal dyes, the availability of aniline dyes to create brighter colors and the natural colors of sheep wool all shaped designs that now classify the regional styles of Navajo rugs."

After visiting various trading posts and learning about Navajo rugs, Bill, Dan and Tricia set up their business and slowly, weavers discovered the store and walked in with rugs they had woven. "We would try to treat them fairly and give them cash prices - we didn't try to trade them goods like they were used to," said Dan. Like anyone else, weavers needed money to purchase groceries in town and buy clothes for their families, so they appreciated getting cash prices for their art. This policy was the beginning of an important reputation for Garland's - a reputation that would blossom into familial relationships with multiple generations of weavers and establish Garland's as an influential force in the art of Navajo weaving and Native American arts in general.

In 1985, Bill Garland decided to open a new store that sold only Indian jewelry, Garland's Indian Jewelry, which is an astonishing gallery in Oak Creek Canyon. "He always has been a man of new endeavors," said Dan, of his father. While Bill ventured out to learn about Indian jewelry, Dan and Tricia continued to operate the rug store with the help of Steve Mattoon, who has been general manager at Garland's Navajo Rugs since 1981. As the story goes, Susan introduced Steve to Bill, Dan and Tricia, and one morning Steve awoke to a stack of books about Navajo weaving that Bill had left on his doorstep. The rest is history.

"One of the things that impressed me from the very start was their relationship with the weavers," said Steve, "It wasn't just a commercial relationship - it went deeper than that, and I could see it really was something special.”

The reputation of business practices at Garland's spread quickly. Weavers heard about the fair cash prices and kind treatment at the gallery, and soon so many weavers were bringing their rugs down from the reservation that Dan no longer had to make trips to the trading posts. Purchasing directly from the weavers, Dan and Steve were able to turn their friendships with the weavers into a symbiotic relationship. "It's more of a family situation," explained Dan. "If their grandfather dies, they call us and we'll give them some money to help with the funeral. Sometimes it’s a donation, sometimes they need to borrow monev. But it’s been a very good relationship and they always bring in a rug to pay me back. It works both ways.”

One way this generosity and kindheartedness has helped Dan's business is by establishing loyalty between the weavers and the gallery. "It's not uncommon for a weaver to drive five hours one way to sell us a rug, then turn around and drive home" said Steve.

"There are other places between here and the reservation to sell rugs, but they like doing business with us. I think it's because of the mutual respect we've built up over the years." Indeed, Dan, Steve, Sandy Windborne, Tracy Watkins and Daniel Garland Jr. are all very aware of the role they play in encouraging the art of Navajo weaving.

Navajo Weaver Blanche Hale with Dan Garland

In fact, one of the greatest strengths of Garland's Navajo Rugs is its knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff. In addition to the current lineup, former staff members Betty Johnston, Frank La Salvia, Cindy Mattoon and Mike Krajnak have enriched the business with their many years of expertise and dedicated commitment to the promotion of fine Native American art.

Additionally, the weavers appreciate the respect that the staff at Garland's has shown for their  creativity. "They like that we've kept the markup low on the rugs," said Dan. "They can walk around, see their rugs, see how they’re priced and realize that they get the  majority of the price. They don't feel taken advantage of - and appreciating that, they bring us more rugs.”

"It's a little different from the old trading post situation where the weaver was coming in to trade her product for her groceries, " explained Steve. "This is a different environment; our gallery specializes in Navajo rugs. Consequently, the rugs are created differently from the start - they are not just a commodity to trade for flour - they are art.”

Above: Dan Garland and Steve Mattoon with Navajo Weaver, Emma K. Joe. And Dan Garland with Navajo Weaver, Blanche Hale. This Photo: Steve Mattoon with Navajo Weaver, Betty Ann Nez and her husband Jr. Nez.

Any day of the week, visitors can see this interaction between the staff and the weavers at the gallery. The weavers bring their rugs inside wrapped in a sheet or a towel and they're welcomed with a "Yá át tééh," a Navajo greeting literally meaning "it is good." The weaver then sits in a comfortable chair while the staff unrolls the rug, measures it and assesses the fineness of the weave and intricacy of the design. This analysis usually is a collaborative effort on the part of the knowledgeable staff members, who will joke with the weaver while they negotiate the price. "We keep track of each weaver on a separate card that shows all of her weavings, what size they were, how much she was paid and if they're selling," said Dan. "If the weaver wants more money and it's not too unreasonable of an increase, we continue to give her more money as we go. They're very loyal people. If you treat them right, they continue to come back with their rugs. Some of them have been bringing every one of their rugs to us for 30 years. It's very gratifying.”


"Some of them have been bringing every one of their rugs to us for 30 years."

Tracy Watkins, a Garland's employee for 10 years, enjoys the cultural interaction that he has with the Navajos on a daily basis. “It's fascinating and it's more than strictly business. It’s very personal, it's very human'" said Tracy. "There are very few people who can have this kind of experience every day, working with Native American people, getting to know them and enjoying a glimpse into their lives. They're different; still, they're like us and it’s really fascinating.

After 17 years at Garland's, Sandy Windborne feels like she is part of a huge extended family. "They are so generous about including us in their lives, ." she explained. "It's unique because it's not just dealing with the art - it’s dealing with the people.” When Sandy's first grandchild was born, a baby girl, one of the weavers brought her a tiny pair of turquoise earrings as a gift for the newborn. “It really was special to me because it made me feel like we really are friends and that our relationship is important to them, too, " she said. Certainly, each of the employees at Garland's feels a connection with the weavers, knowing they are much more than just a salesperson behind the counter.


"It's unique because it's not just dealing with the art - it’s dealing with the people.”

In the case of Daniel Jr., many of the weavers have known him since he was a baby hanging out with Dan at the store. Now, after working for two years at the gallery, Daniel has a new respect for the art of weaving and he loves interacting with these renowned artists. "Because I've been around this my whole life. I have heard the names of our weavers and seen their rugs," he explained.

"It was really neat when I first started working here because weavers would call and say their names and I'd reply, 'Oh, Sadie Curtis - the famous Sadie Curtis?' To me they were all famous because I'd heard their names and seen their rugs but never really met them. It was really cool for me to meet these people that were kind of celebrities to me.”

In the same way, the staff at Garland's has seen many weavers grow while establishing themselves in the Navajo rug business. It is not uncommon for three generations of weavers to come in at the same time, each with rugs to sell. "We try to encourage weaving," said Dan. "Of course, a girl's first rugs may be crooked or out of balance a little bit, but we always buy them because if we don't, they're not encouraged to keep weaving. Usually, we put their picture with their first rug, and maybe they're just selling for the same price we paid for them, but people love seeing a cute little 10-year-old girl in the picture with her first rug. And they'll buy it and follow her career for years.”

In fact, the staff's encouragement of these artists essentially is what has preserved and promoted the weaving of large-scale Navajo rugs for collectors today. A rug measuring 9 feet by 12 feet takes a weaver approximately one year to create.

"You can imagine that weavers can’t survive for a year without some sort of payments that come in a timely manner, perhaps monthly," explained Dan. Its willingness to work with a weaver throughout the long process of creating a large floor rug has established Garland's as a great source for hard-to-find, large rugs.

Currently, award-winning Navajo weaver Sarah Paul Begay is working on a huge, unprecedented Sandpainting rug with the help of Garland's - a feat that already has taken more than two years. Without the support of the staff, Sarah would never have been able to dedicate the time required to create this masterpiece, which undoubtedly will grace the pages of history books and prestigious museum walls in the future. Considering that Garland's carries the world’s largest selection of Navajo rugs, its role in preserving this precious art form is undeniable and certainly commendable.

"It has given me a purpose in life," said Dan. "I feel like, yes, this is a business and we make a living from it, but I feel like we really are making a difference by buying these weavings and keeping this art alive. We're supporting the art by purchasing it, guiding the artists, helping them, giving them wool, giving them money and encouraging them. We have the largest selection of Navajo rugs in the world, so had we not had that impact on the Navajo rug art form, I'm not sure where it would be today. I don't mean to take too much credit, but it really has been gratifying to work with these people. It's had a good effect both ways, on us and for them.’

Garland's also has had an effect on the way that these weavings are viewed. Whereas once Navajo weavings were used as blankets and then as rugs, Garland's now sells 60 percent of their weavings as wall hangings and 40 percent as floor rugs. In recent years, the Navajos have moved toward making their rugs finer and finer. Each thread is spun to a very fine size so that when it's woven, the rug has more threads per inch - a process that takes the weaver more time, and thus increases the value of the piece. The very fine rugs usually are not used on the floor, they’re used as wall hangings," said Dan. "We provide people with Velcro to hang them on the walls for a very nice presentation, and the weavings are viewed as art, which is something that hasn't always been true. They were viewed as floor rugs and now people are picking up 100- or 130-year-old weavings and looking at them as the beautiful art forms that they are, and these connoisseurs are collecting them for that purpose, not just as utilitarian objects.”

Of course, since their inception, Navajo rugs have been created as artwork. The Navajo weavers have a legend, which tells of Spider Woman, a mythological figure who was the master weaver, teaching the first Navajos how to weave. Today, the Spider Woman ceremony still is performed when a young girl's hands are put into a spider web, and this ceremony is supposed to give the girl the power to create beautiful weavings. Historians believe that Navajos migrated from the Northwest around A.D. 1000-1200 and settled near the San Juan River, in the Four Corners region. A hunting and gathering people, the Navajos are believed to have learned to weave on a vertical loom from their pueblo neighbors, the Zunis. While they first wove using cotton, Spanish colonization circa A.D. 1500 brought sheep and hence, wool, to the Navajos, who began to weave very fine blankets. These blankets were treasured among Spanish colonialists, American cavalrymen and neighboring Indian tribes, who would travel long distances to trade for them. In fact, the term chief blanket comes from the fact that these blankets were so highly prized that  often only the chiefs of other tribes could afford them. In the 1880s, Navajos began to weave rugs to be used on floors and as wall decorations, a result of machine-made wool blankets coming to the Southwest via railroad.

With less of a demand for blankets, Navajos focused on the beautiful rugs that we think of today, but the method of weaving remains the same as centuries ago. Indeed, the continuity between the way the rugs originally were made and the way they still are made today preserves their value. These laborious, time-consuming methods are the reason that Navajo rugs still are so highly prized, and the fact that Navajos have never mechanized the weaving process ensures that these works of art will only increase in value over the years.

Possibly the most impressive aspect of these treasured works of art is the fact that the complex designs on Navajo rugs come completely from the weavers' minds and souls - they are not drawn on paper before they are woven. The ability to visualize complicated geometric patterns that seem to change depending on a person's point of view is nothing short of mathematical genius. To be able to execute these colorful patterns on a huge loom so that the final piece harmoniously flows together is a gift that perhaps only Spider Woman could have bestowed upon the Navajos. No one is more aware of the talent and time required to create a beautiful Navajo rug than Dan Garland, and no one shows more honor and integrity in preserving this timeless art form.

"Dan always is conscious of his role here, which among other things is being able to support these weavers, said Tracy. "He takes that seriously and he never forgets that we wouldn't be here without them.”

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