Sunday, August 17, 2014

Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry

I first heard about this exhibition when the collector, Norman L. Sandfield and the curator from the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Diana F. Pardu came to Santa Fe to do a slide lecture and book signing at the Wheelwright Museum here in Santa Fe.  They also told us that this exhibition which opened at the Heard would be coming to the Albuquerque Art Museum. That was 2 or 3 years ago.

The exhibition has finally come to New Mexico and an engaging show it is.  It consists of bola’s both from the Sandfield Collection and the Heard.  As you may have already noticed I am using both bolo and bola interchangeably as they are both in popular usage.  Possibly bola more on the East Coast and bolo more in the West.

I want to call your attention to a statement in the catalog that I have never seen before, Stanfield writes, “This book could not have been done without the aid of the Internet – a research tool many of us take for granted today“.  This is a thought I have every week as I write my missives.  Actually, they would be possible but considering the needed trips to the library I would be able to write one a month rather than one a week and it would be a full time job!

Enough digression.  The Native American bolo only arrived on the scene in the mid- 1940’s but the string tie dates back to the Victorian Era.  In the 1950’s I remember wearing a yellow kerchief tie held with a slide in the cub scouts and those could be found in the West as well. On the cover of Life Magazine in 1950 there was an image of Hopalong Cassidy, the popular TV character wearing a kerchief with a slide.

Photo compliments of the Heard by the Albuquerque Art Museum


Photo from the catalog

The bolo became a statement of defiance to East Coast neckwear which I can totally sympathize with since from the age of 6 I had to wear a fabric tie to school everyday and it was de riguer to wear one in our gallery.  Shortly after we fell in love with the Southwest I started to wear bolos and spent the next 20 years giving most of the cloth ties away.  I still have a few like the one that was knitted for me, a cork tie which we bought in a household fair in Munich, and a few with western motifs.  I can hardly remember wearing any of these.  I used to wear fabric ties in Europe until I sat in the office of a German curator who just had an open collar. After that I gave up the Eastern tie there as well.


When I don’t wear a bola in Europe my friends often let me know that they are not happy with me.  Only once have I had a criticism from a society lady who did not think it proper decorum to wear the bola to a black tie event.  As a matter of fact in 1971 the bolo tie became the official neckwear of the state of Arizona…. Maybe that is where I should wear my last fabric ties!

The first Native American bola tie that can be documented dates from the 1940’s and was made by the Hopi silversmith Willie Coin (1904-1992).  It was commissioned about 1947 by the co-founder and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Harold Colton.  His wife, the other co-founder,  Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton had developed an overlay silver technique so that Hopi silver work could be distinguished from that of the Navajo.  The bola depicts the logo of the Museum and the tips are in the shape of archeology tools.  The tie was worn by successive directors until 1983 when the director donated it to the museum collection.

MNA Collections #E8754 Willie Coin

I encourage you to see the exhibition whose run has just been extended to October 12 or acquire the catalog with its excellent reproductions.  The following images, however, are from my personal collection of bolos created by the Hopi.

The first one I acquired was at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff which like the Heard sells bolos in their gift shop acquired directly from the Indian artists. It is an unusual but not rare format with shaped and worked tips.  The maker was Victor Coochwytewa  (1922-2011).  He is one of the artists we actually got to meet on Second Mesa.  He questioned me about a bracelet he had made that I was wearing and asked if it had a copyright mark.  When I replied in the negative he took it from me went into his shop and added the mark.  When he brought it back he said, “it is however, difficult to sue your friends and relatives”.  He meant that they would be the ones to copy a bracelet like his.  Unfortunately, that is not the case because I learned shortly thereafter that the Japanese had a prime industry in faking Hopi silver!



The second bola is one that I commissioned.  There was a spider buckle in the collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona that I had always admired and wanted something like it, but I did not want a copy. So I asked the artist Weaver Selina who had made the buckle in the museum if he would make me a bola with that design.  When it did not arrive, we went the following year to visit his studio/home on the Hopi reservation and bought an embroidered Kleenex box from his grand daughter in the shop, and still no bola.  The next year, visiting again, I brought photographs of the grandkids and I guess that got Mrs. Selina on my side: and that fall a brown envelope arrived with my bola and a bill for $125.



The Hopi, however, do not produce bolas only in overlay silver but they also do wonderful lapidary work.  Charles Loloma (1921-1991), an internationally known Hopi jeweler, did some of the earliest lapidary work.  The one piece that I would covet from the show is a Loloma bola illustrated here.

Photo compliments of the Heard by the Albuquerque Art Museum

The piece that we own is an early pendant that he made for his aunt.



In the 21st century Raymond Sequaptewa has added his own touch to the tradition.  He is not from 2nd Mesa as are the other bolas here but from 3rd Mesa.  He is not only a jeweler but a Medicine Man and Healer as well.



My final bola is by the grandson of one of the great artists of the Hopi tradition Fred Kabotie (1900-1986).  Ed Kabotie’s first love is music, he plays at various functions in New Mexico and we own a couple of disks by him.  He is, however an accomplished silversmith and painter as well.   This bolo we bought from him at Indian Market a few years ago has a small piece of turquoise that he found in his grandfather’s tool box that he had inherited.  I get more positive comments when I wear this one than any of my others.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Old Masters from Another Part of the World: “Painting the Divine”

It is always refreshing for someone like me who teethed on old master paintings and lived with them in the U.S. and the Capitals of Europe to see such in the American Southwest.  Finally, one in the European Tradition right here in Santa Fe, “Painting the Divine:  Images of Mary in the New World”.

The image of Mary, those of us in European Old Masters would have said the Madonna, sustained the religious immigrant Spanish and their descendants in the New World still today.  Maria is depicted in the ways you would expect such as the Immaculate Conception, the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt but also one finds apparitions of Maria in the New World as well as symbols of these new surroundings. 

When I walked into the New Mexico History Museum to see the exhibition there was beautiful music coming from within.  It was the Schola Cantorum singing Sacred a Cappella Music except there were a few instruments not always used.  Here is a brief sample:


CLICK ON ABOVE VIDEO TO PLAY

I was there, however, to see the exhibition, which to my surprise was composed of almost entirely works from the History Museum’s own collection.  The works of art had been donated by the International Institute of Iberian Colonial Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The latter was founded by Charles Wood Collier ( 1909-1987) and Nina Perera Collier (1907- 1973) in the mid 1960’s.  Both were from the East Coast and although both were familiar with Native American culture (Nina surveyed Navajo and Pueblo architecture for the Bureau of Indian Affairs headed by her father-in-law, the famed champion of Indian rights, John Collier)  neither initially had connections to the Hispanic world, Charles had travelled to Mexico City with his parents in 1930 and later with his wife travelled in Mexico and various countries in South America.   At the behest of Nelson Rockefeller, then the Department of State’s Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, they went to Bolivia in 1942 where they lived for a couple of years. They finally moved to New Mexico in 1959 with their growing collection of Spanish Colonial art.

The works in the exhibition were created in the two administrative centers (vice royalties) of the Spanish Empire in the New World, Mexico and Peru, as well as Bolivia, originally part of Peru and New Mexico.

Although the theme was images of the Virgin, it was a pleasant surprise find some sculpture included with the paintings. One of my favorite pieces was a polychrome wood sculpture, representing the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by an anonymous Mexican artist of the early 18th century.  Somehow the dynamic flow of the robes enhanced by the color and the angelic face spoke to me.



A beautiful painting of the Virgin and Child from the 18th century is again by an unknown artist but this one has been identified as working in Cuzco, Peru, which has its own notable style.  One giveaway are the flowers along the border of the painting drawn from Flemish still lives which would have been known to the artist.  Also, the gold stenciling in the halos is typical of the Cuzco school.  This picture is installed within a baldachin (canopy) as if part of an altar in a private chapel.  This must have been a personal favorite of the curators to get such special treatment.



Few artists at the time signed their names.  The author of the 18th century Mexican painting “Our Lady of the Rosary with Souls in Purgatory” is not known but the picture is almost incidental to its incredible frame.  Most of these intricately carved frames have not survived, therefore, making this one all the more unexpected and dazzling.



One of Mexico’s outstanding 17th century artists is Juan Correa (1646-1716).   This picture is one of the closest to what one would expect to see in Spain.  It is part of a series of seven, all originally from a single altarpiece .  The image is based on a venerated Byzantine icon in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, known as “Salus Populi Romani” (Protectress of the Roman People).  It reminds us that Charles V ruler of the Holy Roman Empire was also Charles I of Spain.




José Aragón (ca. 1781-1850) is one of the best known New Mexico artists who continued in the tradition of Spanish painting.  Here he has depicted one of the most famous images of the Madonna in the American southwest, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”.  The story goes that one day in 1531, Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City.   The girl asked that a church be built at that site in her honor; from her words, Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary. The picture is not painted on panel or canvas but rather on hide with gesso on top as a base.

Photo credit: New Mexico History Museum

And the tradition continues with a large contemporary image which represents “Nuesta Señora de la Selva” (Our Lady of the Jungle) by Alfredo Arreguín from 1989.  The painting was lent by the artist who lives in Seattle.



The organizers of the show were Joseph Diaz, curator at the New Mexico History Museum and Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt, an independent scholar.  The exhibition she co-curated with Joseph Rishel at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “The Arts in Latin America 1492-1820” was a major contribution to the field.  As you see from this Missive many artists still remain unidentified. There is so much more to study about the Spanish Colonial Art from the New World and I hope there are some PhD candidates out there who will be working in this field.  Even if they can’t make it to Santa Fe for this exhibition, they should acquire the catalog.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

63rd Spanish Market

The 63rd Traditional Spanish Market took place over much of the City Different’s Plaza and downtown. It is organized by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society to encourage the local traditions of religious imagery (painted and carved) tinwork, straw, and textiles. It seemed this year that it was spread a little thin only using some parts of streets and making the wanderer walk further to see less.  It might have been better to push the booths closer together so that one felt the excitement of former years.  Installation is as important as what is being shown when it comes to marketing.

We have acquired a few Spanish Colonial pieces in the years we have lived here, but it takes a lot more in this area to excite me than it might in Native American.  I know how fussy I am, however, and therefore I do not need to see a great deal that I like to consider the fair a success.  This year there were a few things that caught my attention already at the Friday evening preview.

To step back for a moment our Community Gallery has a Chair Show where they are exhibiting chairs made by local artists.  The artists were juried but not the chairs that they made.  For an exhibition, artists usually do put their best foot forward.  One was Andrew Garcia who we knew because we had bought a wood carved mirror from him a couple of years ago at Spanish Market.  He had a armchair in the exhibition that my wife had spotted and I agreed that it would be a wonderful, as well as useful, acquisition.



It turns out that Andrew Garcia also managed to win the Blue Ribbon for Best of Show this year at Spanish Market for a cabinet he made.  That helped make us feel brilliant in our purchase before the market.  By the time we got to his booth on the second day of Market his Best of Show cabinet had already been sold to another artist who could appreciate this marvelous object.  Garcia also received 2nd prize in the furniture category for a somewhat larger cabinet that had drawers which made it more useful.  He told us that he had thought that if anything would win a prize it would be that one but the gracefully scrolling gallery and apron put the smaller piece over the top.   Here they both are:




As we walked around the market we saw lots of artists explaining their craft and in one case a metal smith brought his tools and was working on one of his tin work pieces.



We also wandered through the Contemporary Hispanic Market.  It seems that the powers that be feel that Spanish Market should only comprise artists with Hispanic Heritage who work in the traditional manner and create traditional imagery.  These rules encourage artists to include their mother’s maiden names if they are Hispanic and the art presented includes a great many saints and crosses.

 In rebellion 28 years ago Contemporary Market was started, which is far more lenient.  Maybe a little too much so since I saw a lot of art that reminded me of Montmartre around Sacre Coeur in Paris where artists sold their wares to the visiting tourists.  There were, however, a few artists who stood out.  One that I particularly liked was a young man who paints religious imagery on metal signs.  His name is Thomas V. and his website is shakenuptom@yahoo.com!



Walking back through Traditional Spanish Market I discovered one piece that totally blew my mind.  It is a large manuscript which at first I thought was a hand made bible.  It has a buffalo hide cover with silver ornaments and the pages are made of goat skin on which the artist has painted images and written the Spanish text.  It turned out not to be a bible but a very important piece of Southwest and Santa Fe History.   The Native Americans got tired of their Spanish oppressors in the 17th century.   In an uprising coordinated across all the pueblos on August 10, 1680 they drove the Spanish out, killing 400 and driving the remaining 2,000 settlers away.  Within 12 years, however, the Spanish returned and again took over without great opposition.   The book that illustrates the event in the style of a manuscript of the period is by Ramón José López, an artist so outstanding that that he regularly wins prizes at Spanish Market.




Sunday, July 27, 2014

Madness on Museum Hill: The International Folk Art Market


Just above the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico is “Museum Hill.”   There one finds four museums, the Laboratory of Anthropology and the Department of Cultural Affairs administration building.  Once a year the International Folk Art Market takes takes over the plaza and parking lots of Museum Hill.  This year was it’s 11th appearance and it grows ever larger.   153 artists were brought from around the world and 1,700 locals volunteered to assist the professional staff.  On the opening day they had a limit of 10,000 tickets to sell, and every one of them was used.



Of Course, if you are willing to pay more you can come in early and for even more you can go to the preview the night before.   By 11AM on opening day there was a line to pay for objects acquired even before the larger crowds arrived.  Only at the Flag Ship Apple Store in New York have I seen lines like this to pay.



Obviously, they are offering something that people want.  In this case, it is the opportunity to make contact with foreign artists and buy their wares.  It is obviously more fun to buy directly from the artist particularly when there is an exotic factor involved and you can ask about their lives in Africa, for instance, and the techniques they use to produce their craft.



There is a rigorous vetting process of the artists and a complicated application form for which the umbrella organization the International Folk Art Alliance offers assistance.  Every year there is turnover even though in at least one case an artist participated for his 9th year.  This year’s market grossed 3 million dollars of which 90% was kept by the artists averaging around $19,000 each but, of course, some artists do better than others.  One artist brought clothes one year in a size too small for most Americans and did not do so well, but she was invited back the following year, and, having learned her lesson, she did much better.  The International Folk Alliance also offers on line assistance for the artists on subjects such as pricing, developing a catalogue for buyers, and customer relations.  The latter is a logical subject when you think about that some people come from quite different cultures.  In some places barter and bargaining is an important part of selling but not necessarily in the U.S.

There is another gimmick for getting people to come and volunteer to work at the Market.  I am less convinced of this one.  It is billed as your good deed for the day.  You are helping a village in third world countries.  We are told that an artist can make at market 10 times what he or she might make at home in a year. I worry that this may be like the person who wins the lottery and one day the money runs out. Some artists come from co-ops, however, and a cop-op with a good manager is probably a good thing for all. But what about the  artists from Israel, France and Italy.  I wonder how they feel about this third world classification.



Another large selling point is saving art forms that would otherwise disappear.  This is said about most art in most cultures at one time or another.  In our world of Native America we have heard this about several areas including Hopi textiles.  Often it is a trader’s gimmick to sell a piece.  Somehow, arts and crafts survive wars, genocide and famines.  It is a necessary part of life and, though it may lie dormant for a while, it is resilient.

Lowery Sims, Curator, The Museum of Arts & Design, New York and an exhibiting artist

One personal point…can you imagine what it is like living near Museum Hill with the thousands of people who are coming our way? The Market organizers have done what they can arranging for large touring buses to pick people up and bring them back to the parking facilities around town, but that can add up to at least a 20 minute wait and a 10-15 minute ride both ways, so people take there cars.   The surrounding streets are all parked in.  We have to block our driveway with orange cones and a trash bin to be sure we can get in and out of our house!  If they have much more success the Market will need to move… what about to the dormant race track south of town?
When all is said and done, however, the concept of the International Folk Art Alliance was summed up by Cheryl Mills, a lawyer who served in the Clinton White House and as Senior Adviser and Counsel for Hillary Rodham Clinton, quoted the former First Lady, “Talent is Universal; Opportunity is not.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Easton Collection Center


When we were up in Flagstaff recently we had a special treat.  The Director of the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA), gave us a tour of the Easton Collection Center, which is a state of the art facility on a hill just opposite the museum.  It is located among the converted chicken coops of a late 19th century ranch on the site that were made into housing units for scholars and interns.  It is a beautiful spot.



The story reads like a fairy tale which I guess becomes more so with each retelling. Robert Breunig had been a curator at the museum in 1970’s but only came back as director in 2003 after a term as director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center.  In Flagstaff he inherited a museum in financial straightswith a great collection and a dedicated staff but with substandard storage facilities.  In fact, there was a very real risk of losing much needed grants if he did not upgrade

Six months into his tenure he held an event for his Plateau Society (higher end members) and told them that the priority of the institution was a to build a new conservation center and storage facility.  One couple who had been involved with the institution but never given more than $1,000 at a time asked him to call them on that Monday morning, which he did and was asked to pay them a visit.  They had talked for about an hour after he arrived when the lady of the house asked if three million dollars would help in this endeavor.  He practically fell off his chair because this is what dreams are made of, not the usual slogging to raise funds.  The couple did have two conditions, however.  One was that he interview their architect, Jim Roberts, not insisting that he hire him, however, and the other was a little vaguer.  They said, “Make it the best you can”.

Every museum has many constituencies and MNA is no exception.  One of their most important are the Native Americans of the Colorado Plateau, including the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and White Mountain Apache.  The museum put together several planning committees and one was solely for the Indians, who, as you might imagine had several concerns.  They desired for one that the entrance of the Collection Center face East, also that the building have a connection to the San Francisco Peaks which have a religious significance for them; further the building needed to be in tune with the seasons and wherever possible made with local materials.



As surprising as it may seem the architect and the director got along extremely well and both had some of the same concepts, one being to build a natural living roof.  This was a new one to me but not to architects in general.  The Center was built with a slanted roof topped with earth planted with local grasses, which keeps the building at a more consistent temperature.  Solar panels at one end supply about one third of it’s needed electricity.  During the rainy season the water runoff goes into a 22,500 gallon tank which in normal years tides them over the dry season.



The architect came up with a wonderful design and the Indians were pleased with the concept as were the other constituencies.  Their was just one problem, it would cost over twice as much as they had so they made plans to put the project on hold until they could raise the needed funds.  When the director told the donors, however, they weren’t having any of that. They immediately offered to contribute another 3 ½ million but again on the condition that he make it “as good as you can”.

When it was time for the ground breaking in February of 2008 there was just one more problem and that was political in nature.  The donors had said this was not about them, it was about the museum and they did not want their name mentioned.  Robert asked them one last time a month before the opening whether he could please use their name because everyone would want to thank someone, and all would be terribly curious.  I am sure it would also start a rumor mill that could cause all kinds of embarrassing conversations for the director.  Anyway, they continued to say no until the day before the ground breaking when they phoned him to say that they had been thinking about it and he could use their names, Elizabeth and Harold Easton.  Robert described humorously the scramble to redo the programs and make this change in the celebrations.  The Eastons did draw the line at having their pictures up in the entryway.

In the entrance on Equinox and Solstice the light comes through a window slot into the East-facing entrance and shines in the exact center of the inner metal door to where the collections are stored at 65 degrees Fahrenheit with 35 % humidity.



One of the big issues is natural light which the Indians thought was important and the conservators were, of course, against.  The perfect compromise was motion sensors so that when you walk into the conservation center the skylights slowly open and close again when you leave. 

The collections are all stored in rolling cabinets and categorized according to materials.  I believe we were told that there are over 300,000 etymological specimens alone.  There are rows and rows of rolled textiles.   Abundant ceramics from all the tribes, with many archeological objects as well.   Shards, however, are housed elsewhere.



Guess what one of the results of building a state of the art Collection Center is?  More collectors want to donate their collections.  One of the recent donations is a collection of contemporary-style intricately carved Katsina dolls from about 1990 to the present.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Hopi Festival


For most of my life I have been in London on the 4th of July since the Old Master auction sales and art fairs are around that time. I never had a bucket list as such but there was something I have wanted to do for 25 years and finally, not being in London for Independence Day, I had the opportunity to go to The Hopi Festival at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA).  It was right after this Festival in 1989 that we stopped at the MNA on the way to the Grand Canyon and in their gift shop "discovered" the art of the Hopi.



This time we were no longer strangers but friends with the director Robert Breunig and his wife Karen Enyedy.  We also had friends and acquaintances among the visitors and exhibitors. Funnily enough my first thought when we got there was an association with a fair we used to do in Munich.  All German events start with a speech by the head of the organization and then a celebrity guest.  In Munich it was the organizer of the fair and the mayor or his representative. As exhibitors we waited impatiently for the doors to open and the potential clients to come in.  Here it was much the same only we were among the potential clients on the outside. After the museum director welcomed everyone to the 81st Hopi Festival the Hopi Cultural Preservation Officer, Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, thanked the visitors for coming and implicitly buying their Hopi works of art.

Robert Breunig (Director)
w/ Leigh Kuwanwisiwma (Hopi Cultural Preservation Officer)

The Hopi Festival was conceived of by the wife of the founding Director of the MNA,  Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, in 1930.  This was at the height of the Depression and she wanted to help the Hopi get some income.   Later she helped the Hopi develop their own unique style of overlay silver with Hopi motifs so that their work could be easily distinguishable from that of their neighbors, the Navajo. The festival has continued until today with a few years left out during World War II.  (It has always been a wonder to me that in spite of the barbaric treatment the Native Americans have received at our hands, they have been the most patriotic of citizens and have enlisted and fought for our country in great numbers.)

Sitting in the middle of Indian Country the museum today does a festival for each of the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes during the year.   Flagstaff being the gateway to the Grand Canyon it attracts a great many tourists, especially July 4th weekend.

After the preliminaries we were invited in and there was art and artists everywhere.  It is not that large a museum and almost every gallery was crowded with artists and the several courtyards had artists under the portals. In all between 50 and 60 tables had one or two artists at each.  There was also a consignment gallery where artists not exhibiting had given one or two objects for volunteers to babysit and hopefully sell. It turned out that the awards for Best of Show and Director’s Choice went to pieces in the consignment gallery.



Many of the artists brought their tools to demonstrate their work, which is always interesting and they are always willing to discuss their techniques, inspirations, and stories behind their pieces. There was a healthy representation of traditional Hopi items like pottery, jewelry, and carved katsina dolls but there were also paintings and novelties like beaded hair bands (a huge hit with little girls).

Fermin Hawee, Silver Artist

The opening night was a “members only” event with only about 300 invited guests it was ideal for viewing all the exhibits.  When the general public came in the next day, it was a mob scene.  There were about 3,000 visitors over the weekend.  Entire families from grandparents to toddlers enthusiastically ogled the wares, picnicked on Indian food sold from stands in the parking lot and listened to traditional and contemporary Hopi music and watched youth dancers under a tent. Not only were cars parked in the usually ample parking areas near the museum but they ran a shuttle driven by museum staff to and from their conservation center up on the hill, opposite, and still cars were parked for between a quarter and half mile along the road.


"Ed Kabotie playing the flute"
CLICK ON ABOVE VIDEO TO PLAY




Though we did not find anything that might be considered museum worthy we did buy some pieces that tickled our fancy.  Actually, that is not entirely accurate.  A Hopi quilt which I would think a museum would be happy to have was up for a raffle for the benefit of The Hopi School and we bought quite a number of tickets.  Since I have never gotten anything I wanted in a raffle I am not holding my breath but we can enjoy the anticipation.  We should know soon!


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Shan Goshorn’s Photo Baskets


Two years ago there was something new at Indian Market, the annual event in Santa Fe.  It was baskets made out of paper with photographic images on them.  The artist was from Tulsa, Oklahoma of Eastern Cherokee heritage, her name Shan Goshorn.  She was, as far as we knew a basket maker.  She had just won first prize for Innovation.

Now she has an exhibition of her work called “We Hold these Truths” at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe.  My wife and I have been extremely taken with the work.  Not only are they wonderful baskets (made of paper!),  they also have images or words on them and sometimes both.  Shan calls herself an activist artist because her baskets often call our attention to issues that specifically concern Native Americans or indigenous peoples in South America.

I took lots of photographs of works in the exhibition but they were taken through plexi vitrines. When I reached the artist by phone and explained she supplied superb images which, as in most of my Missives, can be clicked on to enlarge.  I should not have been surprised how good the images were because her BFA was in painting and photography.  What did surprise me was that she made her first basket only in 2008 and her first double weave baskets in 2010!  I wanted to know what gave her the idea.  She told me that early in her career she had been commissioned by Qualla, the Cherokee Arts and Crafts Co-op in North Carolina, to do a dozen drawings of their baskets.  She realized then that she could make them herself but at that time her first love was painting, drawing and photography and she was making a living at it.

Probably her most recognizable image is the basket that everyone calls Redskins but Shan is adamant that the title is “No Honor”.  For obvious reasons the Native Americans do not feel they are being honored by the name of the football team, The Washington Redskins  and the team recently had their patented trademark revoked. If you put the text together that is woven through the image it has the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary for Redskin and Nigger both say “Offensive Slang”.  That basket asks why is one term acceptable and the other not?!

 



The sifter basket called “Separating the Chaff”, which is the actual function of the basket shows images around the inside that come from 1960’s reference books about Native Americans and they are not much different today.  The question that this basket asks is how do we, Native Americans, wish to be portrayed?  Are we going to accept these misrepresentations?





In the show there is a set of three baskets called “They Were Called Kings”.  In 1762 three Cherokee warriors went to England to meet King George III.  They made quite an impression on British Society and in their exotic garb it was thought that they must be foreign royalty. Inside the baskets are quotes from historical accounts of their visit and the King’s Royal Coat of Arms.  On the outside are three images of contemporary Cherokee in clothing of the period.





A real tour de force is titled “Cherokee Burden Basket: Singing a Song for Balance”.  Burden baskets had leather or cloth straps so they could be put on one’s back to carry corn, bedding or firewood.   This basket has a compendium of commentary of items like the burdens of the Indian people, high statistics of domestic violence, Boarding School Mission and many other unflattering items but also Cherokee Morning and Evening Songs.





I don’t believe that the artist expects us to read every word though it is fun to “weave” bits together as one looks at the baskets.  It does not take too long to get the idea but for those of us unversed in the history of the Cherokee, Shan supplies explanations.  You can find additional illustrations of her work at http://shangoshorn.net

I asked her how come she did not have a gallery on a regular basis and she talked about the pressure she would have to produce work.   In the past 4 years she had created about 150 baskets.  How long would that supply last?  On the other hand she doesn’t need a gallery since she has been getting regular phone calls directly from museums and collectors.  You can find her baskets at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D. C., the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Heard in Phoenix and a number of other institutions.  There is literally a line forming for her work.

Personally I can’t wait to seek her out at Indian Market this August.

Just before Market the Ralph T. Coe Foundation will open an exhibition, “Plain & Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets”.  The exhibition was at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown last year showing mainly Eastern Baskets from the Coe foundation.  The show in Santa Fe will include additional baskets from the Southwest.