October 2009 Artifact of the Month
Materials: wool, commercial dyes
In the lives of many Native Americans, blankets are an integral part of life and even death. Blankets are not only used for daily protection against the elements, but they are also used in various ceremonies including the celebrations of birth and marriage. Traditionally, Native Americans made their blankets from plant fibers, animal hides, and fur. However, in order to devote more time to creating goods to sell to Euro-Americans, they began to purchase commercially made blankets.
One particular brand of commercially made blankets is produced by Pendleton Mills in Pendleton, Oregon. Pendleton was founded before the turn of the century in order to exclusively produce trade blankets. In the early 1900s, Pendleton sent a textile designer to live with Native Americans to learn their color and design preferences. As a result of this expedition, Pendleton realized that American Indians preferred colorful, borderless, and banded designs which are evocative of early Navajo designs. Due to Pendleton's attention to Native American preferences, while other mills went out of business, they were the only American woolen mill that remained in business.
Although Pendleton blankets are not made by Native Americans, many non-Native people think of them as Native American goods. The Pendleton design has become so universally accepted that blankets made in this style, even those manufactured by other mills, are referred to as Pendleton Blankets.