Notably, both European and Native American traders valued Navajo blankets long before they entered any gallery setting. “Chief’s blankets were expensive—by 1830, they were the most expensive garments in the world—but they held their value,” wrote Joshua Baer in his 2012 essay
“The Chantland Blanket: A Navajo Masterpiece.” “You could trade twenty horses for one chief’s blanket, wear the blanket for a year, and then trade it for hides or rifles.”
Baer describes four categories of Navajo blankets, all of which will be on view at Pace: first phases, second phases, third phases, and variants. The complexity of patterns—ranging from horizontally striped fields with no foregrounds to more intricate designs that manifest a sense of depth—distinguishes each group. According to Baer, the blankets express an “idealization of balance.” The same might be said of Martin’s serene paintings, which exude equanimity and calm.
Though she lived near Native American communities in New Mexico, Martin herself never wrote about any direct connection between her work and their crafts. “I’m sure she came into contact with them,” Sullivan said, “but she never made a reference to them.” Instead, Sullivan thinks the pull of the Pace show lies in the fact that “when the Navajos were weaving, the loom looked out on the landscape. Every day, Agnes would take a break, but she’d be looking at the landscape, as well.”