In 1863, English weaver Thomas Kay left his work in various textile mills on the east coast of the United States for Oregon, where he eventually opened his own mill. Over the next few decades Pendleton Woolen Mills of Pendleton, Oregon, was handed down to and adapted by family members. The company is still headquartered in Oregon with a mill in Washougal, Washington, and despite forays into fashion, their Native American-inspired blankets and America’s National Park blanket series remain some of their most popular items.
Pendleton Mill blankets were adapted from local and Southwest Native American designs that were sold to the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton and also to the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni nations. Weaving was an important part of Native American culture long before interaction with European explorers. Various woven items artistically expressed religious beliefs, historic events, political agreements, and various ceremonial occasions. Woven textiles, however, were also used for the practical purposes of individual warmth and for trade both within individual Native American communities and with outside groups, including settlers.
By the early 20th century, emerging manufacturers were also marketing blankets for Native Americans. Pendleton was at the forefront of this exchange, and continues to collaborate with Native American designers today. Our Pendleton Diamond Scarf is an excellent example, featuring auspicious symbols that represent the four winds.
Pendleton’s America’s National Parks blanket series began in the 1910s and was inspired by Native American blankets. They featured geometric patterns that evoked the landscape of the country’s most iconic natural areas. Pendleton’s original National Park blankets featured three, four, or five black stripes in each design, which indicated their value to the fur trappers who would trade for them. The National Parks blanket series continues today: At the National Geographic Store, we offer Glacier National Park in Montana; Yellowstone National Park spanning Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
Woven goods were an integral part of the lives of Native American nations, but expressions deviated over different cultural areas and moments. Navajo weavers, for example, learned to distinguish their work from the striped patterns produced by neighboring Pueblo people by skipping over threads in the weft to create angles that produced diamonds. Diamonds became an important motif within Navajo culture, and in the wake of widespread dislocation and other factors that disrupted trade, diamonds remained an important feature of their artistic expression in textile arts. They also continued to prize colors and patterns in textiles that reflected traditional values, as they do today.
Shop the National Geographic Store for cozy home goods like the Pendleton Woolen Mills National Parks Blankets, and warm winter apparel and accessories.