Mention crooner Andy Williams and songs like "Moon River" and "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" might come to mind, or perhaps you might remember The Andy Williams Show, his Christmas specials, or maybe one of his movies. What probably doesn’t come to mind are Navajo blankets. Andy Williams started collecting Navajo blankets in the 1950s and through the years amassed a collection of around eighty. He displayed the blankets in his home, his office, and even in his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri. In fact, the seats in the theater were designed specifically to coordinate with his blanket collection.
Williams passed away in September of 2012, and in May his blanket collection is slated to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s auction house in May. While the entire collection is described as “museum quality,” the crown jewel is without a doubt Williams’ Navajo Man’s Wearing Blanket, a rare chief’s first-phase design, shown at left.
According to textile historians there are four phases of Navajo chief's blankets with the first phase being the oldest and rarest. The first-phase chief's blankets were woven from the 1820s until around 1865 and characterized by very simple stripes in blue, white, and natural browns. These blankets would have originally been sold for around $100-$150, a high price in a time when a person might make $5 a week or less. Today they are worth exponentially more.
Williams' piece, one of only around fifty known to exist, is expected to sell for somewhere between two and three hundred thousand dollars. If this is a bit out of your price range, rug weaver extraordinaire Tom Knisely wove a wool rug for the January/February 2013 Handwoven inspired by a first-phase chief's design. Tom's rug looks stunningly similar to Williams’ antique blanket, but this one won't set you back a hundred grand.