Navajo Weavings in John Ford Westerns: The Visual Rhetoric of Presenting Savagery and Civilization

Navajo Weavings in John Ford Westerns: The Visual Rhetoric of Presenting Savagery and Civilization

Thomas Patin, Jennifer McLerran
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2018010105
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This article describes how although placed in the periphery or backgrounds of many scenes, Navajo weavings are central to the presentation of the spectacle of wilderness, savagery, warfare, heroism, and salvation in many of John Ford's westerns. In this article, the authors examine specific examples of visual rhetoric in two of Ford's westerns: Stagecoach and The Searchers. They articulate how Navajo weavings constitute a strategic component of set designs and have consequences for viewers' expectations and understandings of these films. These weavings are key elements of a powerful visual rhetoric in Ford's films.
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Stagecoach (1939)

At the beginning of Stagecoach we see two men riding across the desert at full gallop to deliver news to a cavalry fort about a hostile uprising (Figure 1). As they ride past a line of cavalry tents outside the fort we see one person, presumably native, wearing a Pendleton trade blanket. Pendletons and other blankets produced by Euro-Americans are important to the history of the west. Indians traded pelts and hides for these mass manufactured goods. Hudson Bay blankets, manufactured in England, for example, were popular items on the northern plains and in Canada. With widened settlement and exploration of North America, demand for trade blankets increased and several U.S. woolen mills began production of goods specifically for trade with Native Americans. In 1896 the first U.S. mill devoted exclusively to trade blanket production, Pendleton Woolen Mills, opened in Pendleton, Oregon. Pendleton executives sent designers to reservations to develop patterns that reflected Native design preferences and developed a line of blankets uniquely styled to indigenous peoples’ tastes. Obtained through local trading posts, Pendleton blankets quickly became the wearing blanket of choice on reservations. They have been especially popular on the Navajo Reservation where trading posts have flourished. Acquired in exchange for raw wool and jewelry and weaving of local hand manufacture, Pendleton blankets became valued objects that not only kept their owners warm but signified their status and served as highly valued presents in tribal gift-giving practices. They eventually displaced Navajo weavings, which became increasingly desirable objects of non-Native home decor that were more valuable to their makers as commodities for off-reservation markets than as objects of everyday use (Figure 2).

Figure 1.

Stagecoach: Pendleton blanket on figure on the right

Figure 2.

Pendleton blanket ad ca. 1900


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