The Durango Collection: Weaving in the Southwest, 1860–1880
This exhibition examines the evolution of southwestern textiles made between about 1860 and 1880—a time of tremendous change as American occupation and the eventual coming of the railroad influenced trade, commerce, and the exchange of ideas among various residents of New Mexico and Arizona.
Weaving has been practiced by indigenous peoples of the Southwest for approximately 2,500 years. Long before Spanish contact, ancestral Pueblo people produced elaborate, technically sophisticated textiles. The earliest Pueblo textiles were made of plant fibers including yucca, agave, milkweed, and Indian hemp, as well as of human hair, dog hair, and rabbit fur. They were produced without looms by fingerweaving techniques including looping, twining, and braiding.
The advent of cotton, and its eventual adaptation to cultivation at the high altitudes of the Colorado Plateau, is key to the story of southwestern textile production. By 500 ad cotton had been introduced into the region from Mesoamerica. Around 700 ad, as people learned to grow cotton as a reliable resource, they also learned to weave it on a loom with heddles. People living in what is now the Four Corners region had mastered the art of weaving on upright looms by 1100 ad and produced large, rectangular textiles for use as garments. After Spanish expeditionary forces introduced sheep into the area in 1598, Pueblo weavers adapted readily to the use of wool. By the late seventeenth century Navajos had learned weaving as well.
The Durango Collection of Southwest Textiles
The Museum at the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, is proud to be the home of the Durango Collection, a comprehensive grouping of textiles and related items that represent 800 years of weaving in the Southwest.
The Durango Collection was assembled by Mark Winter, an art dealer and owner of the historic Toadlena Trading Post, and by the late H. Jackson Clark, founder of Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango, Colorado. A portion of the collection was later acquired by Richard and Mary Lyn Ballantine of Durango, who in the late 1990s, along with Mark Winter and his family, donated it to Fort Lewis College.
Founded as a boarding school in 1891, Fort Lewis became a state public school in 1911 with a mandate to provide tuition-free education to Native American students. Today, as a four-year college, the school continues to operate under what it refers to as its “Sacred Trust.” In January 2001, Fort Lewis College opened a new facility at its Center of Southwest Studies to house the Durango Collection. The new museum fulfilled the dreams of two generations of Ballantines: nearly fifty years prior Richard’s parents, Arthur and Morley Ballantine, had provided the lead gift establishing the Center.