Spanish explorers introduced decks of paper playing cards to Apache peoples as early as 1581. By the mid-nineteenth century, Chiricahua and Western Apaches had completely absorbed card games into their own cultures, and were making their own hand-painted cards on horsehide, with designs only loosely based on Spanish models.

Based on Playing Cards of the Apaches: A Study of Cultural Adaptation by Virginia Wayland, Harold Wayland, and Alan Ferg, the Wheelwright’s exhibition explores a unique southwestern folk-art genre, with hand-painted decks from Arizona State Museum and several private collectors.

Pictorial weaving, in which letters, numbers, and representations of animals, trains, and other objects appear, probably began during the 1870s when Navajo weavers received commercially manufactured yarns as government allotments.

Weavers living in the vicinity of Fort Wingate, New Mexico, and the Navajo agency at Fort Defiance, Arizona, not only had access to new, colorful yarns; they also received commissions from government and military personnel interested in obtaining souvenirs or commemorating special events. Weavers witnessed incredible changes brought by American newcomers to their territory, and worked their impressions into their textiles.

During the 1980s, interest in pictorial textiles revived as traders and weavers sought new outlets and new markets for Navajo arts and crafts. The Wheelwright began building its collection of pictorials during the early 1990s as part of its mission to collect, document, and exhibit contemporary Navajo folk arts and other expressions.

Navajo Pictorial Textiles features twentieth-century weaving from the Wheelwright’s permanent collections. Both exhibitions ran through November 2, 2008.

Pictorial textile. Navajo. ca. 1970. Handspun wool. Length 41”; width 27”. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Photo by Addison Doty
Forty cards of a complete Monte pack. ca. 1870. Private collection. Photo by Addison Doty
Five of Coins. Apache. ca. 1875. Paint on rawhide. Length 3.5”; width 2.25”. Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, 2006-113-1l. Photo by Addison Doty
Sota of Coins. Probably Yuma. ca. 1900. Ink on rawhide. Length 3.75”; width 2.75”. Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, E-1823-j. Photo by Addison Doty
Ace of Coins. Probably Yuma. ca. 1900. Ink on rawhide. Length 3.75”; width 2.75”. Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, E-1823-a. Photo by Addison Doty