Native American

Pictorial Rug

Artist: Isabel John (1933-2004)
Culture/People: Diné
Place: Southwest United States
Media: Wool and pigment
Dims: 46 x 80 in. (116.8 x 203 cm.)
Date: c. 1970s
RTC No: NA1155
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


The wonderfully evocative pictorial rug by the renowned Diné weaver Isabel John (b. 1993 –d. 2004) portrays a panoramic scene from John’s life with her family at Many Farms, AZ. Isabel John, who learned to weave from her mother, was a leader in the form of pictorial weaving that became increasingly popularized in the mid to late-twentieth century. Pictorial scenes can depict anything—from holiday greetings to flags, to landscapes and scenes of domestic or cultural life and range in size from miniatures that fit in the palm of your hand to massive, wall-sized weavings.

This particular weaving by John beautifully expresses her dedication to depicting scenes that would do more than delight her collectors, but that function as didactic tools for younger generations to learn about the historical timeline of different Diné weaving styles and depicted lifeways. Here John has created a snapshot of a dance, with family and community gathered outside to participate. Standing or seated, they circle around the dancers with cars, wagons, buildings, and hogan filling the rest of the field. Horses mounted by riders and horses grazing with sheep mark the scene’s outer edges, while a band of snow-capped mountains bridges land and sky.

At nearly four feet tall and six feet wide, one can stand in front of this weaving and imagine simply taking one step forward and entering this landscape yourself. Positioned slightly further back from the action, you might respectfully observe from a distance or perhaps rush forward to greet old family and friends. The timelessness of this moment, even as the cars, trucks, and wagons might, to some, read as very 1970s, do nothing to stop the present-ness of this moment just as John likely intended.

This weaving is one of the larger textiles in the Coe collection. As our open collections are currently configured, these pieces are difficult to access. Our vision is to rework these spaces to accommodate significantly increased access to such work.

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