Watching a re-airing of the PBS show “Chihuly in the Hotspot,” William Morris commented on how his growing collection of Pendleton blankets inspired a series of glasswork incorporating their designs. This artist had worked with artist extraordinaire, Dale Chihuly, for many years, and is now himself a master. It’s a large leap from glass to blankets, but then within a Circle, everything is connected. Dale Chihuly has been collecting "Pendletons" since the 1960's.
For decades the words “Pendleton” and “Indian” have been used synonymously to describe any blanket of similar style. However, Pendleton Woolen Mills has a unique history, based on traditions established for eons. The blanket is perhaps as important as the air we breathe, the water we drink. It is placed around us on our first day, and for many, continues to encircle us on our last. They were made with animal hides and woven from fibrous plants. Blankets were a necessity, an integral part of tradition, and a valuable trade commodity well before European contact.
Wool blankets were traded for years between trappers, explorers and the Indians. By the late 1800’s, large game for hides was scarce. Most of the Tribes were on isolated reservations, on less than productive land. There were few fibrous plants to harvest and weave for warmth. The Land and its bounty were replaced with the Trading Post. This created a vast new market for commercially produced trade blankets. Many mills added lightweight, affordable blankets to their production lines. To increase marketability, mill designers were sent to tribes to learn of popular motifs and colors.
Pendleton was founded in 1896 specifically for this new market, and their quality blankets became preferred. With a good product and a loyal customer base, it’s not surprising they were the only mill still making trade blankets after World War II. Over the years, Pendleton has expanded product lines to include baby blankets, bags and even teddy bears. But more importantly, they have expanded their designs and their designers.
In 1976 Pendleton’s Legendary Blanket series was created. These blankets have been inspired by artwork, legends and traditions from Tribes across the country. Some have common themes, such as Storyteller, Sacred Pipe, and Circle of Life/Elders. Others are in recognition of a specific Tribe. These include the Turtle and People of the Long House blankets recognizing the Iroquois Confederacy. The Chief Eagle blanket pays tribute to Chief Seelatsee of the Yakama Nation. The Sioux Star represents the lovely quilts made by Tribal members, and Blackfoot artistry inspired the popular Celebrate The Horse blanket. Pendleton’s in-house designers created works inspired by Native art, but not inclusive of Native Artists. That would change.
In 1990 Ramona Sakiestewa, of Hopi descent was commissioned for a six blanket series entitled Southwest Trails. At last, the customers so loyal to Pendleton blankets, the American Indians, were finally a part of their creation. The Legendary Blanket series continues to feature renowned artists from the Indian community. These have included Jesse W. Henderson, Chippewa-Cree, Jim Yellowhawk of the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux, TerryLee Whetstone, both an artist and flute player of the Cherokee Nation, and the 2011 edition entitled All Night Meeting by Joseph Chamberlain, Yankton Sioux.
The Circle of artistic inspiration and creation is complete.
Pendleton's Legendary Collectible Blanket Series