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Color Riot! at the Montclair Art Museum

Textile lovers in the northeast should absolutely add a visit to the Montclair Museum of Art to their holiday break to-do list. Their featured exhibit, Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles closes on January 2, 2022. This exhibit, which originally opened at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, is a breathtaking collection of Navajo (Diné) textiles. It features the work of contemporary artists weaving in traditional techniques alongside work from the period of time known as the Transitional Period (1865 – 1895).

What is the Transitional Period?

The history of this time period is rich, sad, and difficult to sum up briefly. It begins with the end of one of the Navajo people’s darkest moments, their imprisonment in the Bosque Redondo. A treaty was signed in 1868 releasing the Navajo people from their exile and moving them to a reservation on land that had once been their home. This treaty also included provisions for replenishing their sheep stock and funded a decade of annuity goods which included weaving supplies such as commercially spun yarns colored with aniline dyes from a facility in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

During their exile, the weavers wove. They experimented with yarns new to them and while weaving in such close proximity, knowledge was shared among the weavers. Upon their release, these weavers kept weaving, now with an influx of new materials in stunning, vivid colors. There was also a new interest in their textiles from an outside market. This collision spawned an era of unbelievable creativity. Their textiles became an absolute riot of color.

Color Riot Textiles

The textiles in this exhibition show a wide range of styles, techniques, and materials. They show how synthetic dyes opened the door to wild experimentation with color. Yet there are also beautiful examples made with the natural dyes of their land. These textiles are not just for fiber lovers, their compositions are modern and exciting. They are all sophisticated pieces of modern art. Though many textiles created during this period were intended to be sold, weavers were designing their own textiles. They were not yet designing purely to appease the design direction of the traders.

There is so much to learn about these textiles and there is no better way to start learning than to see them in person. Montclair Museum of Art is located in Montclair, New Jersey. The exhibit runs through January 2, 2022. (Pro tip: enter from the downstairs entrance and the first piece of art you will see is a piece from the museum’s permanent collection by Sheila Hicks.) There is also an inspiring catalog of the exhibit available for sale. (Not an affiliate link, we just think the book is a must in any textile library.)

Photo credit: David Hansen

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Kristin Crane

Kristin Crane has designed jacquard designs for the home furnishing and residential jobber market for many years, with mills in the US and in China. Today, she writes about pattern and design trends for Design Pool from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. When not writing about fabric, she can be found weaving in her home studio or hiking along the Rhode Island coast.


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