Origin Story – Part One
My MO about the time I met Bob was to pick the Midwest summer flea markets for old Navajo textiles and jewelry, drive to Santa Fe stopping at rag graders and pawn shops along the way with our arrival timed for the week before Indian Market. It usually involved an overnight camp out at Palo Duro State Park in the Texas panhandle. This enabled a stop at a Canyon, TX laundromat located near an awesome donut shop and Fat Boy’s bar-b-que. We’d wash the Beacon blankets and cowboy shirts Lynn and I had picked up on the road. The next morning off to Santa Fe in a car smelling of fabric softener and crullers. We’d roll in to town, hit the “off” the plaza street level shops early with merchy packages, collecting slightly postdated checks. Then to the upstairs galleries “on” the plaza with the good stuff. The gallery checks went right to the Wells Fargo and got cracked for cash. You never knew with that crowd. A whole season completed by two in the afternoon.
Then we’d get to have our first meal in a week without having to keep an eye on the car. If that was in Albuquerque at El Patio we’d head North through Gallup on 666. I’d already started hitting every weaving yarn shop and trading post in the land of Rachel Brown for the elusive “blanket brown” Churro yarn. By having Navajo rugs fixed in Chicago, and then attempting to fix them myself using what was handy to me, a bulky woolen heather, I had come to the conclusion that you could have highly skilled craftspeople (not me) using the best technique (not me again) and if the yarn was off, the piece would never look quite right. The dyed brown was too “flat” and devoid of convincing necessary luster and character. The yarn was spun from soft wool in the wrong direction. Not at all appropriate to the task. (Should have been looking in the Navajo Nation border town wool barns that we were flying by on the way getting to Colorado.) This about the time I got to know Bob.
The trade was buzzing about a guy in Denver that would not only wash blankets for half the price of the folks to the south, but would also get the pet stains and dye run out of 30’s Ganados and let you make a buck . It was Bob Mann and he still does. And the guy could fix them, too. My first carpet restoration using Bob/Woven Legends was the aesthetizing of a green ground Oushak early in the heyday. It’s hard to spend money that well. Early on in our phone conversations Bob and I agreed that material selection was more than half the battle when it came to good fixing, and it still is.
I started to see the blanket brown sheep in the flocks the Basque shepherds brought south along the Dolores down from the high meadows. Once, stopped by the migration on the West side of Ophir, headed to Ouray for the waters, I flagged a young shepherd while shouting- “Hey, where does the wool go? Whose sheep are these anyway? Can I buy just the brown ones? Hey Buddy!” All I could understand was the name “Craig” and he kept moving. I wasn’t chasing after anybody at that altitude. What I figured out after returning to Chicago was there was a wool warehouse in Craig Colorado. I called them and after a few more calls entered the international wool market.
Moving forward a few years, over a bowl of noodles, Bob and I decided that we could significantly improve on the available options and the market would respond favorably. An improved alternative to the soft, matte “Persian”/needlepoint yarns in a midcentury synthetic palate, the workrooms “go to” wool, seemed smart. We brought the concept to the industry leader who, while interested in almost everything we had to offer, took exception to the assertion that their product was at best mediocre. They didn’t see why they should pay Bob and me to change the already very popular yarn.
The Navajo Churro was chosen for its staple length, superior dye affinity and because using it rather than inferior less expensive industrial longwools we support the sustainability of a landrace sheep and indigenous growers that raise it using traditional pastoral practice. We have fair traded* directly from the growers, enough Dine’ (Navajo) mohair and Navajo Churro to keep us supplied for at least the next year. *We realize that fair trade is an odd term to apply to a domestic transaction. Sadly it is an accurate one.
RMRY is 100% nomadic (seasonally pastured) wool. Zero New Zealand. Zero feedlot lamb. Zero slipe. The component wools are brought together as combed tops and blended in the UK. Blend proportions are tweaked for each run, depending on the specific character of each component.
Growing up in Boise, graduating from bishop Kelly high school in 1969 with my friends Odiaga, Ulezaga, Goicochea, Hormachea etc , Idaho is the largest population of basques outside of Basque Country, unless you are decades older than I am those basque sheep herders were Peruvian and still are. Basques when I was young were very successful in every business and politics.
Ps I live in Ketchum Idaho and they run sheep through town going to high mountains in the late spring and back down in the october when the is the trailing of the sheep festival.
Bob et al, this looks great--count us in as customers for core and special natural dyed yarns. Thank you!
James- my name is Teddy Varndell and I'm out of Chicago. Thanks for reading the post.
Terry- this would have been in the late 80's. The local I was with referred to the shepherds as Basque. That might have been a euphemism for any acclimated immigrant with sheep skills. Thanks for the Idaho news. Does most of that clip go to Pendelton?
Nice "origin of story" here, but you don't name yourself... Or are you trying to remain nameless?