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A rare bayeta blanket comprised of horizontal white, brown, blue and red stripes | Donald Ellis Gallery

Bayeta First Phase Chief's Blanket

Arizona or New Mexico

ca. 1840

lac-dyed ravelled bayeta yarn, indigo-dyed handspun Churro fleece, un-dyed brown and white handspun Churro fleece

height: 58"
width: 68"

Inventory # S3881


acquired by the Diker Collection, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


Descended through the family of Johan Tjentland, later known as John Chantland, the owner of a dry goods store in Mayville, Dakota Territory, who traded goods for the blanket in the 1870’s.


Donald Ellis Gallery catalogue, 2012, pl. 35

Related Examples

National Museum of the American Indian, No. 11/8280]- See: Bonar, Eulalie. Woven by the Grandmothers. Tucson: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996, pg. 114, pl. 14National Museum of the American Indian, No. 8/8038-See: Wheat, Joe Ben and Hedlund, Ann Lane. Blanket Weaving in The Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003, pl. 51

The Chantland Blanket: A Navajo Masterpiece

by Joshua Baer
©2012 by Joshua Baer & Company, Santa Fe

Navajo chief’s blankets fall into four categories: first phases, second phases, third phases, and variants. First phases have horizontally striped fields with no foreground designs. Second phases have horizontally striped fields with rectangular foreground designs, usually in the form of rectangular bars or concentric squares. Third phases have horizontally striped fields with diamond-shaped foreground designs that appear to float above their stripes. Variants either combine second and third phase designs or appropriate diagonal designs from Navajo dress halves, mantas, or serapes.
With a few exceptions, most first phases date 1860 or earlier. A handful of second phases were woven during the 1840s, but most second phases date from the 1850s or 1860s. A handful of third phases and variants were woven during the 1850s, but most third phases and variants date from the 1860s or 1870s.

There are approximately sixty Navajo first phase chief’s blankets in museum and private collections. Approximately fifty of those first phases have blue, brown, and white stripes, which qualifies them as Ute Style First Phases. Nine of those first phases exhibit the same blue, brown and white striped pattern as Ute Style first phases, with the addition of thin red stripes woven between their brown and blue stripes. First phases with red stripes are known either as “Bayeta First Phases” or, less often, as “Navajo Style First Phases.”

The term “bayeta” refers to bolts of machine-woven red flannel. Bayeta also refers to red yarns raveled from bolts of red flannel. By 1830, Navajo weavers were accomplished at dying handspun yarns with indigo but lacked the ability to dye handspun yarns with cochineal, which produced a deep red color in woolen yarns. The weavers’ only sources of red yarns were the yarns they raveled from bolts of red flannel imported either from England or Spain. Known among the Navajo and the Spanish as “baize” or “bayeta,” and among Anglo- Americans as “red stroud” or “red trade cloth,” red flannel was used for garment insulation by Anglo- American and Spanish-American settlers. Winter coats, dresses, pants, and petticoats were often lined with a layer of red flannel.
Bolts of bayeta were produced by woolen mills in England and in Spain.

In both countries, mills wove un-dyed white woolen fabrics on mechanical looms and then submerged those fabrics in vats of red dye. This process, known as piece-dying, was the most common European way of dying silk or woolen fabric. Dying in the wool—prior to spinning the dyed wool into yarn—or dying in the yarn were more labor intensive and time-consuming than dying in the fabric.
Spanish bayeta was dyed with cochineal, a dye made from the dried and powdered larvae of Dactylopius coccus, a wingless lady bug which fed on Nopalea cochenillefera, the nopal cactus common to Mexico and Central America. Almost all of the cochineal used by the Spanish woolen mills was imported from Mexico. Between 1600 and 1700, cochineal was Spain’s second-most valuable import from Mexico. Spain’s most valuable import was silver.

English bayeta was dyed either with cochineal, with lac-dye, or with mixtures of cochineal and lac-dye. Lac-dye was the resinous secretion of Kerria lacca, a scale insect or mealy bug common to northern India, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Since ancient times, dried and powdered lac-dye had been used as a skin cosmetic, as a fabric dye, and as an ingredient in shellac, the compound used to varnish rifles, violins, and wooden trays. (The verb “to lacquer” means “to apply shellac.”) England began importing lac-dye from India during the 1600s.

After 1757, when India became a British Colony, industrial quantities of lac-dye were imported by English woolen mills. After the American Revolution, English mills started exporting red flannel to North America. After the Mexican Revolution in 1821, Spain’s loss of its monopoly on Mexican cochineal curtailed the production of Spanish bayeta, which made Spanish bayeta more expensive. Between 1825 and 1850, lac-dyed English red flannel became the more popular bayeta in the United States and Canada.

By 1830, Navajo weavers were producing poncho serapes with red backgrounds and blue and white foreground elements. The red fields of these poncho serapes were woven entirely out of red yarns raveled from bolts of English bayeta. Many of these poncho serapes were either sold or traded to Spanish settlers in the upper Rio Grande Valley, who preferred the poncho serape’s intricate designs to the simple stripes of the chief’s blanket. Because Spanish settlers referred to red flannel as bayeta, Navajo poncho serapes came to be known either as “bayeta ponchos” or  as “bayeta serapes.”

By 1840, the Navajo had been weaving and selling blankets for one hundred and fifty years. While Navajo weavers had a practical understanding of how to weave a desirable blanket, they also understood the market for their blankets. Given the prestige and value associated with first phase chief’s blankets and bayeta serapes, it was only a matter of time before a Navajo weaver decided to add thin stripes of red bayeta to a first phase chief’s blanket. While it is impossible to say when the first bayeta first phase was woven, the nine known examples suggest that the innovation occurred between 1830 and 1850. The fact that the majority of Navajo poncho serapes containing quantities of lac-dyed bayeta were woven between 1830 and 1850 supports this theory.

In 1848, following the end of the Mexican American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, sovereignty over Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California passed from the Republic of Mexico to the United States. In 1850, Congress authorized an expedition to map the rivers in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories, including the Zuni, Little Colorado, and Colorado Rivers. Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves of the Army Corps of Engineers was named commander of the expedition. Sitgreaves was assigned fifty Army infantryman, along with a support crew of artists, naturalists, porters, and topographers. Included in the support crew was Samuel W. Woodhouse, a naturalist, naval officer, and surgeon associated with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

On August 15, 1851, the Sitgreaves expedition marched south from Santa Fe. On September 1, 1851, the expedition reached Zuni Pueblo, one hundred and forty miles west of what is now the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. On September 24, 1851, after spending three weeks at Zuni Pueblo, the expedition continued west along the Zuni and Little Colorado Rivers until it reached the Colorado River.

During his three weeks at Zuni Pueblo, Samuel Woodhouse bought two Navajo chief’s blankets, a classic bayeta first phase and an early classic second phase. Both chief’s blankets were collected in pristine condition. The bayeta first phase had tightly braided corner tassels, an indication that it had seen little or no use as a garment. In 1851, Zuni Pueblo was an active trading center for all of the tribes in the area. Navajo weavers probably used Zuni Pueblo both as a selling venue for their blankets and as a source for bayeta. The Woodhouse chief’s blankets’ immaculate condition raises the possibility that Woodhouse collected both blankets directly from the Navajo women who wove them.

The two chief’s blankets remained in Woodhouse’s collection until his death in 1922. In 1923, the two blankets were purchased from Woodhouse’s son, S. W. Woodhouse Jr., by the George Heye Foundation in New York City. The blankets are currently in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. The Woodhouse bayeta first phase is the earliest documented first phase chief’s blanket collected by an Anglo-American, and is widely regarded as the crown jewel in the National Museum of the American Indian’s collection of Navajo blankets.

There are nine bayeta first phase chief’s blankets in museum and private collections. In terms of colors, designs, size, and yarns, the Woodhouse Bayeta First Phase resembles the Chantland Bayeta First Phase more closely than any of the other seven examples. Its raveled bayeta is lac-dyed, and its medium blue handspun yarns exhibit a luminous depth of color. Examination of the Woodhouse Bayeta First Phase’s warps reveals three bands of white handspun warp alternated with two bands of dark brown handspun warp. The two bands of dark brown handspun warp appear as dark vertical bands on either side of the white vertical band. The deliberate arrangement of alternating white and dark brown bands of warp is a direct link to the pösaala or Hopi bachelor blanket which originally inspired Navajo women to weave first phase chief’s blankets.

While the Navajo have no words for “art” or for “beauty,” they do have a word for “balance.” In Navajo, hozho refers to a state of being where the natural and the supernatural coexist, similar to what Catholics call “a state of grace.” When a Navajo expresses admiration for a person, place, or thing, he or she will say that that person, place, or thing is “in hozho.” The Navajo phrase sa’ah naaghaii bik’eh hozho—literally, “in-old-age-walking-the-trail-of-balance”—expresses the Navajo ideal of a life that comes to a harmonic resolution while the person is still alive. This idealization of balance appears in classic Navajo blankets. It also appears in the Navajo creation myth.

The Navajo believe that their women learned the art of spinning and upright loom weaving from Na'ashjéii Asdzáá, or Spider Woman. While Spider Woman is regarded as a deity, and as a key figure in the Navajo creation myth, she is also revered as the first Navajo weaver, and as a source of hozho. Through Spider Woman, the origins of Navajo life and the origins of Navajo blankets are intertwined. Life begins with weaving, and weaving is the beginning of life.

The following account of Spider Woman’s role in the Navajo creation myth is adapted from Mythologies—A Polytheistic View of the World, by the Wikimedia Foundation. In the account, the term Dineh refers to the Navajo. In Navajo, Dineh means “the people.”

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