Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction - June 2017

Beautiful Storm Pattern Navajo Rug

I had not been that interested in Navajo rugs until I recently saw one at the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post that opened my eyes. I knew about the Crownpoint Rug Auction from reading Tony Hillerman's mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Lt. Leaphorn of the Navajo Nation Police. (I highly recommend these wonderful books if you have any interest in the southwest or its native peoples, or just want a well crafted mystery novel.) The rug auction seemed like a excellent opportunity to see lots of rugs and get an idea about the market value. Also a good way to pick up a couple of rugs for myself.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Crownpoint is a community on the Navajo Reservation in western New Mexico. You turn north off I-40 at Thoreau (pronounced "threw" by the natives, I'm told), between Gallup & Grants, and drive about 30 miles north to the town. The auction is held in the elementary school gymnasium, which is a multi-purpose room with a stage at one end, basketball hoops at the other end, and even a kitchen to serve the kids lunch.

The auction is held in the multipurpose gymnasium. Food vendors have set up outside.
The parking lot fills early, but there is plenty of parking across the street. 

The auction is now run by the Navajo Weavers' Association of Crownpoint. Detailed information on the auction and Navajo rugs can be found on their website, but I'll touch the highlights in this post. The auction is held once a month, usually on the second Friday. "Rugs" is the accepted term for various Navajo weavings regardless if it's intended to lay on someones floor or hang from the wall or even wrap around one's shoulders. There were a few art pieces and one wrap offered this evening.

Prospective buyers examining rugs. This is early before the crush.
You register as a bidder with the ladies at the table on stage.

They begin accepting rugs from the weavers at 4pm on the day of the auction. Once checked-in the rugs are placed on tables, roughly sorted by size. Prospective buyers can begin examining the rugs once they are placed on display. I got there about 5pm. Next time I'll aim for 5:30. If you wish to bid on any rugs, you register with the table set on the stage to get a bidder's number. Those ladies, and everyone I talked to, were very friendly and welcoming.

Each rug has a tag with a serial number, the weaver's name, and where they're from. I had in mind specific locations in my home for two rugs. I'd measured those spots, brought a tape measure, and small notebook along. As I found rugs that I liked, I measured them, copied the serial number and a brief description in my notes. I was surprised to find this was such a social occasion between the prospective buyers as we commented on the rugs and moved them about. There were people from as far away as Washington state and Florida. Seems a number of folks had planned their vacations to include the auction. Many of us were there for the first time, but there were also those who had attended many auctions here.

Native artisans selling their work.

The weavers' association also rents space to native artisans to display and sell their wares. There were many tables of jewelry, pottery, and other crafts.

Rugs awaiting buyers. You can see the identifying tag tied to the corner of each rug.

At 6:30pm they take the rugs backstage and prepare for the auction. This is a good time to visit the kitchen to purchase a Navajo taco, or fry-bread, and a soda. Yummy! There were also food vendors set up outside the gym, but I didn't try those this time.

The auction began at 7pm with general announcements, and an opening prayer, in both English and Navajo. The auctioneers were two gentlemen from Mountainair, NM in full western attire. The auctioneers were excellent, they've obviously been calling this auction for some years. They were not only very entertaining, but made sure those who won a rug felt good about their purchase.

Auction of one of the larger rugs in progress.

As fate would have it, since this was my first auction, the very first rug offered for bidding was one on my list. It was a striking "storm" pattern in red, gray, black, and white. I bid, and had to raise my bid a time or two (don't really recall too many details as it was happening so fast) and won the rug! The beautiful rug I won is shown at the top of this post.

Rugs were sized from about a foot square to maybe 5' x 8' (as I wasn't buying a larger rug, I didn't actually measure any of those.) There were also a few rug-on-loom items. These are miniature, incomplete rugs still in a small loom. The looms were typically constructed using a sculptural "tree" to represent historical, full-size, weaving looms. I didn't have the presence of mind to photograph any of those. Here is an example from Garland's.

Selling prices depended upon size and quality of the weaving. There were a few that featured home-spun yarn and those were more expensive, as were the few attributed to Two Grey Hills. A few of the smallest rugs sold for less than $100, others up to several hundred for typical rugs. One exquisite small rug sold for $1850, if I recall correctly. Medium sized rugs sold for around $500 to $1200. The larger rugs sold for around $1000 to $2000. There was one small circular rug, which is uncommon - I don't recall its selling price. Not all the rugs sold. I'd guess about 10 out of the 50 or 60 rugs offered did not get a bid that met the minimum.

Auction in full swing.

I was still looking for a medium-small rug to hang over my entertainment center. I bid on several, but dropped out as the price went too high. I finally did win a bird pictorial rug, also known as a Tree of Life, as it pictures a corn stalk "tree" with many colorful birds perched and flying. These rugs are more difficult to create as the loom does not lend itself naturally to rounded designs.

My Tree of Life, bird pictorial, rug.

Once a purchaser has won a rug or rugs and no longer wishes to bid on others, they can turn in their bidding card, pay at a table set to the side of the stage even while the auction is ongoing. Once you pay, you can collect your rug(s). The auction accepts cash, checks or credit cards. There is a 4% processing charge if you use a credit card, so I was glad I had my check book (and drivers license). The weavers get a check issued by the association immediately after the auction.

This night the auction ended about 9:30pm. One of the regular attendees had told me there were fewer rugs than usual this time. I stayed to the end and so ended up in a line at the table where you pay. Consequently, I didn't get out until 10pm.

Many, including myself, felt this was the most beautiful rug offered in the auction.
Curtis, who lives in Albuquerque won the rug and proudly held it up for a photo.

I didn't want to drive back home after the auction even though it is less than a 3 hour drive. So I  stayed in the Coal Mine Campground at the foot of Mount Taylor, which was only about an hour from Crownpoint. The next day I took a scenic route home via the Pueblo Pintado ruins. I haven't decided if this will be a blog post or if I'll just link to a gallery of photos. I will update this post once I decide.

Thanks for reading my rug auction tale. I hope you enjoyed reading about the auction and I strongly encourage you to attend one Friday. Not only are there beautiful Navajo rugs to admire, but the whole event was entertaining and great fun!


  1. Bill Thanks for the post.
    The rugs are beautiful.Seems like a lost art.

    1. Thanks, Frank. It nearly was a lost art. The skills used to be handed down from mother to daughter. The traditional techniques are now being taught in community colleges on the Rez - thank goodness!

  2. Hey Bosque Bill,
    I'm really enjoying your blog. The photos, information, & places you visit. Great rug! I'd bid on that one too. Keep 'em coming!

    1. Thanks, Donna. It's good to hear from you. Glad you are enjoying the blog.

  3. Most interesting and entertaining!! I'm definitely going to go when I get settled in NM. I would love one of the little On-the-Loom rugs..

    1. I was focused on my specific rug goals so didn't pay much attention to the loom-rugs before the auction. They're very cool, but all my horizontal space is filled with pueblo pottery, so don't know where I'd display one.

  4. Wonderful to see this artwork appreciated! Thank you for the post!


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