Montclair Art Museum Presents Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles

UPDATED August 11, 2021 — To better facilitate social distancing, all fall exhibitions, including Color Riot! will open to the public on Sunday, September 12, 2021. The Member Exhibition Preview will be held 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Saturday, September 11, 2021.


[July 7, 2021, Montclair, NJ] – Montclair Art Museum (MAM) today announced the exhibition Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles will open on September 12, 2021, and will run through January 2, 2022. Museum members will be invited to an Exhibition Preview on September 11, 2021.

Change has always been a hallmark of Navajo (Diné) textile design, with weavers’ individualism a running thread. With Diné perspectives and the technical mastery of weavers at the heart of Color Riot!, this exhibition—featuring 70 bold artworks from 1860–1930 and the present—celebrates the courage and vision to experiment.

“The textiles presented in this exhibition are creations of weavers who wove for themselves—they are vibrant and unrestrained in both color and design.”—Co-curator Velma Kee Craig (Diné)

The exhibition at Montclair Art Museum will lead with works from nine highly regarded contemporary weavers, including well-established artists such as D.Y. Begay and Marilou Schultz as well as those of a newer generation, such as Melissa Cody and Venancio Francis Aragon.

The historical textiles are rooted in the experiences of Navajo people between 1863 and 1868, when the United States government forcibly marched more than 10,000 Navajo to Bosque Redondo, an internment camp at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In 1868, the survivors signed a treaty as a sovereign nation and returned home to a reservation. During and after this time, Diné weavers incorporated stylistic features from Hispanic textiles, bright aniline dyes, and wool yarns mass-produced in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. With older trading networks disrupted during this “Transitional Period,” weavers had unprecedented freedom to experiment and turned to new sources of inspiration. It was only after the 1890s that non-Native traders in the Southwest developed design constraints to appeal to rug buyers’ tastes. The vivid expressions of ingenuity and autonomy made in the decades after Bosque Redondo and at present testify to the resilience of Navajo communities and the innovation possible in this medium.

Color Riot! was organized by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Laura J. Allen, MAM’s Curator of Native American Art, coordinated its presentation at the Montclair Art Museum. An additional room in the installation, developed with ArtTable Fellow Larissa Nez (Diné), highlights how weaving connects to Diné cultural ideas and other artistic practices, featuring the perspectives of musicians, boundary-pushing artists, and wearers of Navajo textiles as heritage and fashion, among others. This room will also include immersive music by composer and pianist Connor Chee (Diné) and weaving tools and materials from the Montclair Art Museum collection. The exhibition graphics for Montclair Art Museum were designed by Victor Pascual (Diné/Maya).

“Diné weavers have long embraced the great possibilities of abstract design as well as new materials, technologies, and visual forms. Color Riot! honors the aesthetic and technical complexity of works by historical artists whose names did not remain with their creations, and shows how today’s weavers uphold and advance that vision,” says MAM’s Curator of Native American Art Laura J. Allen.

“I am so pleased that MAM’s visitors will learn about these striking works and their historical contexts from the perspectives of this exhibition’s Indigenous co-curators and artists. It has been a fantastic opportunity to facilitate Color Riot! at Montclair Art Museum to include even more Diné voices speaking to the powerful roles of weaving in their creativity and cultural understandings,” Allen adds.

Ira Wagner, Executive Director at MAM, believes that this exhibition represents a special opportunity for local and NYC residents since such a range of these works is not readily seen in this area of the country. “Color Riot! shows the richness of the tradition of Diné weaving and its future direction. In collaboration with Larissa Nez, Laura Allen has put Montclair Art Museum’s own stamp on this wonderful show organized by the Heard Museum, and our education department has created accompanying material and activities, making this accessible to people of all ages.”

This exhibition, organized by the Heard Museum, is made possible with major support provided by the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, sustaining support from patrons of the Grand Gallery Exhibition Fund, and additional support by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

image: Venancio Francis Aragon (Navajo, b. 1985) Prism of Emotions, 2019 Merino/mohair yarns, aniline and natural dyes Heard Museum Collection Image: Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

About the Montclair Art Museum (MAM)

The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) boasts a renowned collection of American and Native American art that uniquely highlights art-making in the United States over the last 300 years. Works in MAM's Native American art collection span the period of ca. 1200 C.E. to the present day. The Vance Wall Art Education Center encompasses the Museum’s educational efforts, including award-winning Yard School of Art studio classes, lectures and talks, family events, tours, and the mobile MAM Art Truck. MAM exhibitions and programs serve a wide public of all ages, from families and seniors to artists, educators, and scholars.

Address: 3 South Mountain Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042 Website:

All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Carol and Terry Wall / The Vance Wall Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum members.

Media Contacts Georgette Gilmore, 973-259-5122 [email protected] Asif Iqbal, 973-259-5134 [email protected]