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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Pendleton Celebrates 100th Year Of Its Indian Trade Blankets
by Jane Larson - The Arizona Republic
credits: photo by Time Tingle - The Arizona Republic

John Berzelius unfolded a red and black striped blanket, then a gold and cream one patterned after one worn by the famous chief of an Oregon Indian tribe.

Minnesotans Linda Carlson and sister-in-law Valerie Carlson studied which one best matched the upholstered footstool from Linda's winter home in Scottsdale. It didn't take the pair long to choose not one but three Pendleton blankets in different designs to take home from Arizona's only store owned by Pendleton Woolen Mills.

"I've been looking for a Pendleton store for a long time," said Linda Carlson, who regularly buys the colorful wool blankets to give family members and finally found the Old Town Scottsdale store through a tourist brochure.

For Berzelius, a former commercial designer and art history major, helping the Carlsons was another chance to sell his favorite items in the Pendleton store.

"We get tourists who just want something Southwestern to take home with them to people wanting to decorate," he said.

With 40 different patterns and a history to each, the blankets famed for their Native American designs are coming to the forefront this year as the Scottsdale store and Portland, Ore.-based Pendleton celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pendleton's Indian trade blankets.

The store, on First Avenue west of Brown Road in Old Town Scottsdale, attracts tourists as well as blanket collectors, manager Helen Noplos said. The blankets are a big part of business at the shop, which also sells Western wear and men's and women's clothing from the venerable Pendleton brand.

"The blankets are more of an investment piece because of the history behind the ones we have," Noplos said.

Native Americans also shop the store, she said, because over the generations Pendleton blankets have become a strong family tradition. Blankets are given for graduations, weddings, funerals, ceremonies and other special occasions.

Pendleton started making blankets in 1909 when C.P. Bishop and his brothers opened a woolen mill in Pendleton, Ore. Native Americans were the Pendleton mill's first customers, buying blankets for everyday use and for their exchange value.

The company says its bond with the tribes grew as early designers learned about their customers' mythologies and design preferences and incorporated them in their works. Pendleton's jacquard looms, which allow more complex designs than conventional looms, made the designs stand out with detail and vivid colors.

Pendleton first entered the retail arena in the 1920s when it took over a failing shop in Chicago's Palmer House, said Bob Christnacht, manager of the company's home division. In 1954, it accepted Walt Disney's invitation to open a store in Disneyland's Frontiertown, closing it in 1990 when Walt Disney Co. wanted its own stores in the theme park.

The company's retail strategy broadened in the 1980s when department stores were consolidating and Pendleton wanted to reach underserved areas, Christnacht said.

The Scottsdale store opened in 1996 and is one of 50 company-owned Pendleton stores in the country.

"Each store is customized to the area, and Scottsdale has a huge collection of blankets," Christnacht said. "It is one of our biggest blanket stores."

The Arizona store's customers also match up with Pendleton's core demographic of upper-income shoppers who value quality, longevity and traditional style, he said.

The company still weaves its wool at its mills in Oregon and Washington state, and it still makes its blankets in the United States, Naplos said.

The Scottsdale store plans events throughout this year to celebrate the anniversary.

In April, it will hold a blanket-signing with Jim Babbitt of Flagstaff, whose family's trading posts across Arizona have carried Pendleton blankets since the beginning. Pendleton asked Babbitt to help design the 2009 release for its Legendary blanket series, and "Shared Spirits" will debut April 1.

"We're excited because it has Arizona history behind it," Naplos said. "He did a great job of telling not just one tribe's story but multiple stories."

The store also plans Mother's Day and Father's Day promotions. A September event will celebrate the relaunch of the '49er Jacket, a patch-pocketed wool shirt jacket for women that swept suburbia when it was introduced in 1949.

'Tell Your Family Story' contest
To mark the 100th anniversary of its Indian trade blankets, Pendleton Woolen Mills is holding a "Tell Your Family Story" blanket design contest.

What: The company is inviting families to submit short essays telling their family's unique story and history.
Why: The winner will receive a Pendleton-designed blanket based on the story and patterned after Indian trade blankets.
Details: Contest information is available at and in Pendleton stores.
Deadline: Entries are due by April 30. The winner will be announced by May 30.
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