This month we have visited 3 fairs with the accent on Native American art. The first two consisted of dealers with what one might refer to as old stuff, in other words the secondary market and not contemporary, all leading up to Indian Market where there are no middle men and just the artists themselves.
There is a fair in Albuquerque every year at the beginning of August. This is more of a dealer’s fair where the traders will go to buy from each other and sometimes you will see the same object in Santa Fe a few weeks later for sale from another dealer for X dollars more. We found this fair to be weaker than usual and were not tempted to make any acquisition.
The main fair for older Indian Art in Santa Fe is managed by Whitehawk. They also manage an Ethnographic show a few days earlier and we always go prepared, in other words we take our checkbook! I guess to some extent whether one considers a fair as good or bad is a function of if you have sold as a dealer or bought as a collector. I can’t say that we were tempted by a great deal but when one has been collecting as long as we have one becomes very picky and, of course, we are conscious of our budget as well.
The first object we spotted of interest was a bola tie with a stylized bird design and a turquoise. Penelope said to me, “don’t you have a buckle that looks like that”? I replied that I did, and asked the dealer if I could take a photo. When we got home we compared the buckle and tie and they were obviously made as a set. That matching bola could not be left behind and turned out to be from the same dealer at the same price as the buckle we had bought 18 years earlier!
Over the last 25 years we have collected for the most part art from the Hopi in all media, my wife, son and I picking different aspects of the culture. Our son, Hunter, decided at the age of 10 that the Katsinam were his love and until he started college all his gifts and earnings went towards their purchase. The problem is that they belong to him and when he has the space in a home of his own he will repatriate them. A few years ago he announced to us that we would have to collect Katsinam for ourselves! The Katsinam we have are single figures, with the exception of a couple of pairs. We certainly have never seen a set demonstrating a dance. At this fair, however, there was such a set and it was of a Snake Dance, one of the most sacred of all the Hopi religious dances. The set was made by Henry Shelton (born 1929) who had worked and demonstrated Katsina carving at the Museum of Northern Arizona. It has been many decades since Anglos were allowed to attend a snake dance. According to the dealers that we bought this set from it was acquired from the annual Hopi Show at the Museum of Arizona, Flagstaff in 1955. Strike when the iron is hot, when there is something rare there may not be another chance.
Finally the climax of the Indian events is Indian Market taking place with previews on a Friday and the actual market on Saturday and Sunday. Nothing can be sold until 7AM on the Saturday and by that hour all 12 blocks of downtown Santa Fe, occupied by the fair, are already filling up and some sales are made instantly at 7AM. Though we were there from the beginning our discovery came a few hours later.
I hear all the time that dealers are middle-men who just hype and hike the prices of works of art. The costs of real estate, exhibition and promotion are never taken into account. Yet Indian Market in Santa Fe has been unkindly referred to as “Indian Markup”. There is this perception that the Indians are just asking more than usual for their creations because they have all these naïve tourists who will pay anything to buy from an authentic Indian and everyone will be in competition for their object. Like all fairs, however, some sell a lot, some sell a little and others nothing at all. The best known and appreciated artists often sell out and therefore the rules of supply and demand come into play. But usually the reason higher prices are asked is because the Natives value the prizes given out by the Judges at these fairs and they keep what they feel is their very best work for these occasions. There is also an intense competition between the artists and the tribes. The time they spent making the work of art to reach the perfection they seek must also be considered in the price.
There is a very famous family of potters on Santa Clara Pueblo by the name of Naranjo with an uncanny number of brilliant individuals. Four sisters are a source for much of the work and many of their progeny follow in their footsteps. Tessie, Rina, Dolly and Jody Naranjo are the four that I am thinking of. The latter married a Folwell and their daughter is Susan Folwell and one of her pots really grabbed us. The actual potting is extremely important but then the decoration on top of that will make it for us. In this case the bowl has a scene taken from a Fred Harvey post card combined with an image of a Hopi woman from the back, taken from an Edward Curtis photograph, who observes the arrival of tourists from her perch high on the mesa. Here is a photo of Susan Folwell at Indian Market and another of her mother in the process of painting a pot that her granddaughter made.
Fred Harvey (1835-1901) had the idea to supply food and lodging along the new transcontinental railway line which was completed by 1869. By 1875 Harvey’s restaurant and hotel chain was born. When the trains no longer made long stops, Harvey, moved his culinary amenities to the dining cars that had been added to the trains. Many of the hotels, however, exist still today. In 1925 the Harvey Company established in Santa Fe the first, “Indian Detours”, road trips that served as the introduction of the Indian culture to the Anglo world. This happens to be around the same time that Indian Market started in the same town.
Making 3 purchases from 2 out of 3 fairs all of which add something special to our collection we consider very good and successful fairs.