Unravelling the Narratives of Nostalgia about Navajo Weavers and Reservation Traders

Kathy M’Closkey
Saturday, Sep. 23, 2pm
Free and open to the public

Weaver and anthropologist Kathy M’Closkey will provide insight into the Navajo textiles currently on display at the Art Center. After the formation of the reservation in 1868, the federal government issued licenses to regulate trade in wool, pelts and textiles that merchants acquired from Navajo woolgrowers and weavers. Extant history claims that dozens of traders “saved” weaving by developing off-reservation markets to meet the demands ostensibly driven by the Arts and Crafts Movement and increasing tourism. However, evidence contained in government and business archives reveals how thousands of weavers sustained the trading post system because wool woven into textiles provided more secure profit margins for traders and regional wholesalers confronted with price fluctuations in the global wool market. Thus it is no coincidence that the Navajo wearing blanket was transformed into a rug during the 1890s, when over one billion pounds of wool were imported duty-free. M’Closkey’s presentation incorporates images extracted from unpublished primary documents, revealing the consequences for Navajos affected by free trade and globalization for more than a century.

Kathy M’Closkey is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at the University of Windsor, Ontario. Awarded her PhD in Anthropology in 1996, by York University, her research has received continuous funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She is also a research affiliate with the Southwest Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, the sponsor of Swept Under the Rug: A Hidden History of Navajo Weaving (UNM Press, 2002, 2008, ranked Essential by Choice). Her forthcoming book Why the Navajo Blanket Became a Rug: Excavating the Lost Heritage of Globalization, repositions weavers and woolgrowers within a globalization framework. A weaver for twenty years, she served as research director for the award-winning PBS documentary Weaving Worlds (2008), directed by Navajo Bennie Klain (www.visionmakermedia.org). She has curated five exhibitions of historic and contemporary textile arts. Kathy is also a research associate with IPinCH, Intellectual Property in Cultural Heritage, located at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC.


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