Chances are, if you think of Native American arts, the Navajo rug comes to mind. Every rug is a unique work of art that starts with raising the sheep and goats for wool, which is then shorn, carded, spun, dyed, and finally woven, all by hand, into a rug using traditional, contemporary, and historic themes. Rugs are highly-prized by collectors and can fetch huge sums when sold.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, the 11th annual Navajo rug auction takes place at the Prairie Star Restaurant in Bernalillo. More than 200 traditional and contemporary handmade rugs by weavers of New Mexico and Arizona will be on display and available for purchase. The only local Navajo rug auction, it will feature a wide range of rug styles and other hand-crafted Native American art. Viewing begins at 11 a.m., and the auction starts at 1 p.m. sharp.

The event is free and open to all. Proceeds benefit Navajo weavers and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. Purchases are tax-free.

The rug auction is the result of a long-standing collaboration between the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico and R.B. Burnham & Company of Arizona, explained Carla Sinopoli, museum director and professor of Anthropology. The Burnhams have been trading with Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo artists for five generations.

11th Annual Navajo Rug Auction · Saturday, Nov. 16
11 a.m. viewing · 1 p.m. auction
Prairie Star Restaurant, Bernalillo · Free admission, open to all

Appraisal night at the Maxwell Museum
Friday, Nov. 15, 5-7 p.m. · Free admission, open to all

“The auction is fun and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Burnhams have worked in this area for many generations and bring fantastic textiles to the auction,” Sinopoli said. “There are items to fit many needs – from holiday gifts to elaborate floor rugs, and at prices far below you'd pay in most galleries. I'd recommend that potential buyers arrive early to preview the rugs and decide which they want to bid on. You will go home with beautiful objects, knowing your purchases support Navajo weavers and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.”

Sinopoli noted that the weavers keep 80 percent of the sale price of their products and the museum receives 10 percent of all sales. 

“Or sometimes more if the objects were placed on consignment to benefit the Maxwell. This is our largest and most important fund-raiser of the year,” she said. Proceeds from the auction support many of the museum's activities. 

“Many visitors are not aware that the museum must raise its own funds to support our public programs, educational activities, exhibits, collection care, and many aspects of our day to day operations,” Sinopoli explained. “We do this through grants, donations, and holding fund-raising events, such as the auction. The proceeds from the auction ensure that we can continue to serve the UNM community and tens of thousands of visitors and K-12 students each year.”

She estimates that over the last 10 years the auction has earned approximately $100,000 for the museum.

Preview and appraisal clinic
The auction catalog and some weavings can be previewed the night before on Friday, Nov. 15, from 5 -7 p.m. at the Maxwell Museum on the UNM campus. The preview is free and open to all. Attendees can purchase Native American jewelry, check out the auction inventory and find the value of your Native American art at a special appraisal clinic. Specialists and experts will be on-site to identify and set a market price. Appraisals are $10 per item. For more information, call 505 277-1400 or email

“You can bring rugs, jewelry and other items of Native American art. The Burnham team is incredibly knowledgeable and experienced and able to provide detailed information about age, style, makers, and materials on the objects they appraise,” Sinopoli said 

Volunteers needed
Volunteers are needed at the rug auction on Saturday, Nov. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. to help display weavings and set up rugs in the lineup. Call 505-277-1400 or email to volunteer.

The auction is a lively and fun event, according to Sinopoli. Volunteers walk the objects around the room so the audience can see them during the bidding process. After the weaving has sold, they run it to the back of the room so it can be packed up and the bill prepared for the buyers. If a weaving for some reason does not sell at the initial bidding, they return it to the display area, so that buyers can have a second chance later in the day. 

“No experience is required to volunteer, but good walking shoes are a must,” said Mary Beth Hermans, public programs manager at the museum and volunteer coordinator.


The Prairie Star restaurant is located on Highway 550 at Tamaya Road, Bernalillo, NM. The Maxwell Museum is located on the UNM campus just north of the intersection of University and Martin Luther King boulevards. For more information call 505 277-1400 or visit the museum website.