The University of Arizona

20th Century Rugs

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Storm Patterns

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“In 1911, trader J.B. Moore published a catalogue showing a Navajo rug with a central rectangle, four zigzag arms radiating to the corners, and bold, isolated geometric motifs along the ends and sides. Stating, ‘This pattern is one of the really legendary designs embodying a portion of the Navajo mythology,’ Moore started his own legend that has yet to be unraveled or understood. No earlier Navajo design resembles this one—in weaving, sandpainting, or any other medium.

“Weavers today differ in their interpretation of the motifs and layout. Some deny knowledge of any symbols and say the stories came from traders. Others suggest that maybe the center symbolizes a Navajo hogan, a lake, or the center of the universe; the corner elements are spoken of variably as the four sacred mountains, the four winds, or the four cardinal directions. The radiating zigzag lines are usually called lightning lines or whirling logs. The individual motifs at both ends are called water bugs or pinon beetles.” —Ann Hedlund

“It’s really hard to pinpoint the true meaning behind any particular rug. For what people know in New Mexico, people in Arizona have a different version. Our stories are similar but each is a little different. There are many ways of interpreting Navajo weaving.” —Barbara Ornelas

Nettie Nez at her loom with a storm pattern rugA
Storm near Dilcon, ArizonaB
  1. Nettie Nez at her loom with a storm pattern rug, Coal Mine Mesa, Arizona.
  2. Storm near Dilcon, Arizona.