Charley Castles' infatuation with Navajo rugs took root as a child watching stories about the Wild West on television in the 1950s, and it’s an appreciation he still holds deeply today.
Castles will host the art exhibit, “Navajo Textiles: From the collection of Charley Castles,” at the Kings Art Center through Oct. 16.
“To me, it’s not really a collection. A collection is something where you put it up and keep it. Some of these, I’ve had a long time and some I haven’t,” said Castles, a Hanford resident.
All but two of the rugs on exhibit will be for sale. One gets the impression that finding, selling and trading the increasingly rare historical rugs is more exciting for Castles than merely collecting them and putting them into storage, as some art collectors do.
In his 20s, Castles joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and competed throughout the West. He would spend more time in Colorado and Arizona after earning his MBA at Fresno State and marrying his wife, Valerie. It was during this time that his appreciation for Native American art and culture really blossomed and became his passion.
“I didn’t start studying and buying rugs until early 2000, and it just sort of took off. My wife Valerie likes to say I finally understand the joy of shopping,” he said.
The collection is diverse in age and style; it includes Contemporary (post 1940) and Historic (pre 1940) pieces. Five of the weavings are more than 100 years old. The style name of a rug designates the area within the Navajo reservation where the rug was made. Rugs are hand-woven from wool, though some later rugs may incorporate other materials such as silk.
Castles said he’s especially proud to show rugs from the Bitsti, or Badlands, region that were woven between 1920 and 1930. They are the rarest of the regional rugs and are known for the numerous borders that surround a center field, and for decorative circles. This is impressive due to the high skill it takes to weave circles, Castles points out.
The rugs are especially rare due to the harsh area of the San Juan Basin of northwest New Mexico where the rugs, and the people who made them, originate from.
“It’s terrible country,” Castles said with a chuckle. “And there weren’t that many people there.”
For the most part, the rugs were made by the members of only eight extended families.
The Navajo Nation was once comprised of 27,000 square miles throughout Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, resulting in many variations and regional styles of rug weaving throughout its vast expanse.
The rugs were woven to be practical, serving as everything from saddle rugs to blankets and jackets, ranging greatly in color, detail and weave tightness. Some are simple, with horizontal stripes in minimal color from natural dyes, though some are deeply ornate, telling complete stories or showing mapped-out landscapes.
Large blankets made for chiefs could sometimes take up to a year to weave and were extremely valuable.
One such Navajo Ute First Phase blanket, which had been “sitting on the back of a chair,” according to its former owner, recently sold for $1.5 million dollars, as featured on “Antiques Roadshow.”
The Kings Art Center is open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 3 p.m. on weekends. Guests are asked to wear a face covering and maintain a social distance of six feet if not fully vaccinated.