Zapped by Zapotec Rugs

Zapotec rug: Oaxaca Dawn from Novica

Perhaps because of the early darkness and cold outside, I have embarked on quest for color.

I have been wanting a focal piece of art in my living room, and decided to find something that Mason and I could give each other as a holiday gift. Something energetic like the Zapotec rug to the left.

As I mentioned some posts back, my house feels Latin-American or American Indian. The cobalt blue Talavera tile set into the saltillo floor of dining room – not to mention a big New Mexican sun cut into the kitchen tile  – give the open kitchen/dining room a Southwestern flavor, and the south light is as warm and golden as honeyed sopapillas.

The living room doesn’t have great light, nor any Latin touches. Initially, I set it up using things I already owned, figuring to improve on it later. And later is now.

That’s the room on the right — a little drab for my tastes. That rug above the TV chest, a Zapotec with a bird pattern, looks awfully washed out against the ivory walls.

I do have the good fortune to have inherited a genuine, vintage Navajo rug from my step-father, Bill Devine. You can see it on the floor in the foreground.

Teec Nos Navajo rug

“Not Navajo”

Bill was encouraged to buy this rug in the early 1960’s when he was a surveyor for the Nevada highway department.

Bill’s rod man, a Navajo, took Bill to a local trading post and encouraged him to buy some good Navajo weaving. Bill had a tough time selecting the rug. Each time that Bill wood choose something, his rod man – a man of few words – would cross his arms over his chest, shake his head in disapproval and say, “Not Navajo.”

What he meant was that Bill was choosing things that strayed from Navajo weaving tradition.

Two Grey Hills Navajo rug

My rug is definitely Navajo. You can see it on the floor in the foreground. Like many — perhaps most — classic Navajo weavings, it’s not brightly colored.

Prior to the introduction of aniline dyes around the time of the Civil War, Navajos primarily used wool in the colors their sheep grew it: grey, white, brown, black. A few other colors, chiefly red and yellow, were added from plant-based dyes, but these were not very bright.

Ganado Navajo rug

I have included a few classic Navajo rug patterns in this post by way of illustration; most of these pattern types are named for the areas in which they have been traditionally woven: Two Grey Hills, Ganado and Teec Nos are all famous rug patterns and place names. (In my recent internet rug search, I discovered that “Navajo” rugs are being manufactured in Arabia and Hong Kong — a long way from Tuba City!)

A deeply saturated red in a rug — or the inclusion of any color out of the range I mentioned above — should be a tip-off that the rug is “Not Navajo” or at least not historic. (Modern Navajo rugs, and Navajo Yei and sandpainting rugs don’t follow these classic rules.)

Some rather-nice, vibrantly colored rugs are being sold on E-Bay by folks who have described them as Navajo, even though a trained eye will quickly see that they are Zapotec weavings. Zapotec rugs are not rare or expensive, but they are a genuine folk art. Hand woven by Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico, they are part of a weaving tradition that reaches back more than 500 years.

Local Color Wanted

My house already contains a number of brightly-colored Guatemalan textiles and Zapotec rugs — souvenirs of my travels — and this house is the perfect place to indulge my long-time love for American Indian and Southwest art.

A grey Zapotec? Picks up the tones in the Navajo rug nicely, but the room lacks flair.

A blue Zapotec? This would work if I was also seeing the cobalt-colored Talvera tile that’s set into the dining room floor, but you can’t see both at once. And it’s too chilly.

I’m liking this red, but the geometry of the design is a bit too complex. The geometry of the Navajo rug is simple, and I’m thinking this new rug needs to echo that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the sort to adorn my space with Kokopelli figures, which have, to my way of thinking, become about as cliche as Hello Kitty. Nor am I enamored of coyotes wearing kerchiefs. That’s too kitschy for me.

I did want to echo the patterns in my Navajo rug, while warming up the room, which does have wine-red leather furniture.

So I went searching for another Zapotec. But the choices are many, and I had almost as much trouble making a selection as Bill did!

Although my choice didn’t have to pass muster with a critical rod man, I did want my husband to pleased. To help him visualize the choices, I Photoshopped the rugs that I liked, dropping them into the photo of the living room that you see above.

I thought that my readers might be also interested in that process, so I have included a few of the Photoshop images to the left.

The Test of Time

Years ago, I bought about a dozen Zapotec rugs in Tijuana. I still have most of them. They have stood up to years of wear on both floors and walls. (The gray and white bird pattern rug that’s currently on the wall was part of that initial purchase. It’s in good shape, but too understated for that spot.)

Zapotecs come in an amazing range of colors, and I tried quite a few before discovering the right combination of color and pattern. I created a dozen Photoshopped pictures, not just the three you see here!

I highly recommend this photo-visualization process; I have used it with my interior design clients, and it always helps them to get a feel for color.

After revising my focal wall a dozen times, I think I finally found the look that I was seeking: Vibrant, yet harmonious.

What do you think?

The winning rug! Woven by Mexico’s Mario Chavez, it’s also from Novica. They call it “Energy of Life,” and say that “each step in the diamond symbolizes a different stage of life beginning with conception.”



4 thoughts on “Zapped by Zapotec Rugs

  1. I absolutely love this brightly colored rug. It brings so much zing to the room. Are you now its happy owner?

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