The J.B. Moore Catalogue and the Rich History of Navajo Crystal Style Weavings

Navajo weaving has a long-standing tradition, with its origins dating back many hundreds of years. One of the most significant developments in Navajo weaving history came with the introduction of the J.B. Moore catalogue and the subsequent rise of the Crystal style of weaving. This blog post explores the fascinating history of the J.B. Moore catalogue and the evolution of Navajo Crystal style weavings, which continue to captivate collectors and enthusiasts to this day.

The Origins of Navajo Weaving

Navajo weaving is a centuries-old art form that began around the late 1600s when the Navajo people learned the art of weaving from the Pueblo Indians. The earliest Navajo weavings were primarily utilitarian in nature, created for clothing, blankets, and ceremonial purposes. The use of wool from the Churro sheep, which the Spanish introduced to the region in the 1500s, played a vital role in the development of Navajo weaving techniques.

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The Fascinating History of Navajo Rugs: The different periods of Navajo Weavings

The J.B. Moore Catalogue: A Pioneering Force in the Market

In the early 20th century, J.B. Moore, an entrepreneur and trader, recognized the potential of Navajo weavings as an art form and marketable commodity. Moore, who owned the trading post at Crystal, New Mexico, published the first known catalogue of Navajo rugs in 1903. This groundbreaking catalogue showcased a variety of Navajo weaving styles and patterns, with a particular focus on a unique aesthetic that would eventually become known as the Crystal style.

During this period, Navajo weavers began to incorporate new design elements into their weavings in response to the demand for more decorative and colorful pieces. The central diamond-shaped medallion, which is a hallmark of the Crystal style, was one such design element. The medallion was likely inspired by oriental rugs, which were popular among collectors at the time.

Moore's catalogue was instrumental in popularizing Navajo weavings outside the Southwest region, creating a wider market for these exquisite works of art. His simple paper catalogue with "plate numbers" for each design style were sent throughout the United States, particularly to customers on the East Coast. His marketing efforts introduced the concept of the "Navajo rug" to a broader audience and positioned the art form as a desirable collector's item.

The Birth and Evolution of the Crystal Style

The Crystal style of Navajo weaving emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, influenced by the Crystal Trading Post's location and the preferences of J.B. Moore himself. The style is characterized by its geometric designs, natural earth tones, and the use of undyed wool. The Crystal style is distinguished from other regional styles by its more subtle and understated patterns, often featuring simple, elegant borders and a limited color palette.

Some of the most common design elements found in early Crystal style weavings include:

  1. Geometric motifs: Crystal style weavings often incorporate geometric shapes such as diamonds, triangles, and zigzags, which are arranged symmetrically or asymmetrically.

  2. Earth tones: The use of natural, undyed wool gives Crystal style weavings a distinctive, muted color palette of browns, tans, grays, and creams.

  3. Minimalist borders: Unlike the more elaborate borders found in other regional styles, Crystal style weavings often feature simple, unadorned borders that emphasize the rug's central design.

  4. Vegetal dyes: Some Crystal style weavings use vegetal dyes made from plants, which can produce a range of subtle colors that complement the natural tones of the undyed wool. This is particularly true of modern Crystal weavings as the design has changed over the past century.

The Legacy of J.B. Moore and Crystal Style Weavings

The J.B. Moore catalogue and the rise of the Crystal style played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of Navajo weaving history. Moore's efforts to market Navajo rugs to a broader audience helped elevate these intricate works of art from utilitarian items to highly sought-after collectibles.

Early Crystal weavings are considered the predecessors to the famous Navajo Storm Pattern Design. Even in very early Crystal weavings, you can see hints of design elements that would eventually become essential to the Storm Pattern Design, including a strong central element connected by diagonal stepped lines to elements in each of the four corners. Moore's “Plate IX”, obviously a Storm Pattern but not labeled as such, was first printed between 1903 and 1911.

The modern Crystal style has evolved since the days of J.B. Moore. Beginning in the 1940s, the Crystal rug became known as a banded, vegetal-dyed weaving without a border. Like the Burntwater and Wide Ruins styles, plant dyes give the Crystal its characteristic soft earth tones and pastels. Another defining feature is the presence of bands of alternating wavy lines between the more prominent bands of primary design.

Today, Navajo weavings remain a symbol of cultural heritage and artistry, with the Crystal style standing out as a testament to the Navajo weavers' ability to adapt and innovate. The J.B. Moore catalogue continues to be an essential reference for collectors and enthusiasts across the globe.

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J.B. Moore Crystal, Plate XXIII, circa 1910

J.B. Moore Crystal, Plate XXIV, circa 1920

J.B. Moore Crystal, circa 1910

(notice the early hints of the Storm Pattern design)

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