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A world in wool

A Mosier man presents his collection of native Southwestern weavings

A private collection of native Southwestern weavings owned by Mosier resident Vaughan Swanson is on display at the Hood River County Historical Museum through Sept. 7.

Thirty weavings are draped from upstairs railings, hung upon racks, and strewn across other museum artifacts.

The weavings vary in size from five-by-10 feet to about 18 inches by two feet, and boast a broad range of colorful patterns and pictorial scenes.

“It’s exciting because Vaughan is so passionate about his collection,” said museum coordinator Connie Nice. “It’s wonderful that he decided to share it with the community.”

Swanson, who also volunteers at the museum, began collecting weavings in 1975. Passing through Tuba City, Ariz., after a hunting trip to Utah, Swanson stopped at a Native American trading post where he purchased his first weaving. He enjoyed it so much that he purchased another in 1978, then visited the Crown Point Weavers Association in New Mexico, where he bought five more.

“I call them ‘weavings’ to give them a general description,” said Swanson. “They’re a lot more than rugs that you’d throw on the floor, but they don’t have the 80 weaves per inch that would make them tapestries, either.”

Swanson took a buying break for many years, content to drape his existing collection around the house. But in 1995 he started traveling and collecting more weavings he found at antique shops and markets. He also made his first visit to weaver Linda Nez in Gap, Ariz.

She created his favorite piece, a 58.5-inch by 60.5-inch pictorial weave called “The Long Walk.”

As Swanson explained, the weave depicts the forced 300-mile march of 7,000 Navajos to New Mexico after the United States Army defeated them on the battlefield.

“This woman is an artist. To take wool and weave it into this picture — that’s what I admire about these things,” he said.

Swanson’s collection bloomed to 55 weavings, but he selected only those with his favorite Southwestern style for the museum display.

“All of them are handwoven, and most I can authenticate to the Navajos,” said Swanson. “I’ve heard that a three-by-four weave takes probably 300 hours to create. I’ve watched the process, and I appreciate the amount of work.”

Swanson prefers the pictorial weaves over those with patterns, simply because they tell a story. He noted that many Navajos are able to discern stories and symbols in the more abstract patterns, but admitted that he lacked the background.

“We normally don’t do art-type exhibits,” said Nice, “but this one is so unique that I think people will appreciate the beauty of the weavings.”

She noted that Swanson even went to the trouble of building a rack on which to show some of the weavings.

“He’s created a really attractive way to display them,” Nice said. “Maybe this will encourage him to display them in other places as well.”

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