Native American chief’s blanket sells for record $1.8m



2015-06-26 10:41:51

A Native American textile broke records at a 19th June sale by John Moran Auctioneers, fetching an astonishing $1.8 million.

This ‘Chantland Blanket’, a First Phase chief’s wearing textile, far outstripped the previous $522,500 record for a Navajo blanket. At $1.8 million, the blanket has achieved the second highest price for any Native American artefact ever realised at auction. The top spot is held by a rare Tlingit helmet, sold for $2.2 million in 2008.

The blanket was acquired by Donald Ellis, the well known dealer with galleries in New York, NY and Dundas, Ontario.

Norwegian immigrant John Chantland settled in the town of Mayville, Dakota Territory, and acquired the blanket in 1870. It has been passed down through his family until this sale by his descendant, the stunned consigner who looked on as the furious bidding rose from the $100,000-$200,000 pre-sale estimate by 800%.

During the mid 1800s, First Phase chief’s blankets were highly prized items, collected by both European settlers, and Native Americans, even before the existence of the United States.

Today, fewer than one hundred First Phase blankets are in existence. This makes them the rarest of the four phases of Navajo blankets. Typically, they incorporate horizontal striped patterns of natural brown, black, ivory and indigo, in hand-spun dyed wool. The later phases branch out into diamond patterns and cross formations.

Only four other First Phase blankets incorporating lac-dyed red stripes, as the Chantland blanket does, are known to exist outside of public collections. This design variant is highly sought after among Navajo textiles.

The Navajo people migrated to the Southwest from western Canada in the 14th or 15th century. According to legend, holy people named Spider Woman and Spider Man taught them to weave and build looms. Anthropologists believe they learnt weaving from the Pueblo Indians, to whom wool was introduced by Spanish occupation during the 1600s. The Navajo adopted wool as well, and became a sheep-herding people.

Jeff Moran, senior vice president at Moran’s, describes the blanket as ‘Navajo art in purest form’, and demonstrative of the best work of the most advanced weavers in North America during the 19th century.

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