SLAM Examines 800 Years of Cultural Exchange with Southwestern Native Textiles

    At the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM), Alexander Brier Marr has built upon a very generous gift of southwestern textiles by local collectors, Elissa and Paul Cahn, to tell a unique story.

    In “Southwest Weavings: 800 Years of Artistic Exchange,” Marr interweaves the migration of loom technology and the adaptation of certain types of cotton and wool with the evolving landscape within the United States and Mexico, emphasizing, “how deeply interconnected native artists are to the stories of American history.”

    The exhibition displays garments and rugs created mostly by Diné and Pueblo artists. Known more widely as the Navajo, Diné weavers produced large wearing blankets, smaller saddle blankets, and rugs with “natural wool tones and bursts of dyed colors.”

    Pueblo weavers used upright style looms to craft cotton blankets, a technology which the Diné eventually incorporated into their own work. Spanish colonists and the Industrial Revolution later contributed to an evolution in materials and patterns. Explorers and military personnel were the earliest collectors of these works, along with other native tribes from the Plains and Mountain West.

    In 1904, the St. Louis World’s Fair even featured one of the blankets, now once again on display at SLAM. The museum’s collection of Diné weavings began in 1942 with the purchase of 12 blankets from the Denver Art Museum, but “the Cahn gift really transforms the collection of indigenous textiles from the Americas,” said Marr.

    SLAM will also feature Diné artist Melissa Cody in programming tied to this exhibition. Cody’s contemporary work reflects an interest in reviving the styles featured in the more historic collection now on display.

    “This museum is beginning to engage more systematically with contemporary native art. Within the field of native art studies, there’s been an overwhelming shift and emphasis in the last decade to contemporary work,” Marr explained.

    One recent acquisition from artist Edgar Heap of Birds features prominently in their main exhibit, “Graphic Revolution: American Prints 1960 to Now.”

    “Southwest Weavings: 800 Years of Artistic Exchange” will be free and open to the public through May 5, 2019 in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s main building. For more information, go to

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