Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Coe Foundation Opening: I Have Been Promoted?

When I wrote about the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts last year, I was on the Foundation’s Advisory Committee.  We would meet every once in a while and make suggestions to the Foundation’s Executive Director, Rachel Wixom, and the Foundation’s Board.  Since then I have been asked to join the Board and we have acquired a Curator, Bruce Bernstein and a terrific space.  But now I can’t just give advice, I find myself doing the “dirty work” as well.

Bruce Bernstein’s Involvement with Native American Culture has been extensive including being the first director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe as well as executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) that runs Santa Fe’s Indian Market and a decade at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).  Now that we have a base of operations

all the material that had been kept in warehouses after Ted Coe’s death has been brought to our new space, all 2,000 works of art.  As, I am sure you realize, those objects had to be wrapped and packed when they left Ted Coe’s house and in the warehouse and then unpacked when they arrived at the Coe Foundation’s new digs.  My job, under the eye of our curator, was to unwrap a good part of the Native American collection and I was even allowed to install many shelves worth.

Lest you think this was a hardship, it wasn’t.  In fact it was an unbelievable thrill.  We had often visited Ted at home where he would show us new treasures that he had acquired on his journeys of many thousands of miles across the U.S., Canada and abroad. There was so much art that we could never absorb it all.  But now I had the opportunity of unwrapping many of these objects and making amazing discoveries.  Every once in a while I found myself gasping in awe at something of such beauty and/or technique.  There were also many pieces of Oceanic and African art, which were unpacked by others but that is something I know far less about – it was  all such a great learning experience.

At the Foundation’s opening event on May 17 we had about 80 guests and Rachel Wixom, the Coe’s Executive Director and Bruce Bernstein explained our objective. This is to be experiment in museology.  We are neither building a museum nor a shrine to Ted Coe, but rather a place to continue the dialog Ted initiated in his home with wonderful stories of his adventures that revolved around individuals and families of artists that he met. When I added that only 25% of the collection had been unpacked there was a stir of excitement as many realized the potential of the Foundation as a research center.

Bruce Bernstein & Rachel Wixom address the crowd

Bruce, with the help of the Advisory Committee, had come up with the concept that we would not label every object and tell people what the object was, but rather let the viewer, who may know more or have a different perspective on the work of art, tell us what they think.  Of course, we have the database that Ted had prepared but it does not answer every question.  We decided that any valid attributable comment would be added to the web based “catalog cards”.

In addition to what was on the shelves and in the cases we had tables set out with a few objects, which Ted had commented on in his writings.  In our brochure, next to his thoughts were personal reactions about the piece from members of the Board and Advisory Committee.   On the tables with each object was a clipboard with a sheet showing the image of the object and the basic catalog information, asking our guests to make their comments of praise, criticism or a story.  Several children of artists recalled their parents and grandparents making the pieces, including the watch with no face that Ted wrote had been made for him by the noted beader Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty in order to break him of the Anglo habit of constantly checking the time and introduce him to the more relaxed concept of “Indian time”.

The Foundation will address both the Native and the Anglo audiences. One couple from the East Coast were delighted with this opportunity to learn about the Native American culture that exists in the Southwest but could not find an entry point until now.  We plan to have lectures and symposia where there can be a free exchange of ideas with the actual objects at hand.

In August at the time of Indian Market in Santa Fe, we will present a special exhibition, “Plain & Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets” supplemented with baskets from the southwest.  This exhibition was first shown at the Fennimore Art Museum in the area dedicated to the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art but most of the baskets were borrowed from the Coe collection.  If you wish to be notified regarding the details for the opening please let me know and we will add you to our mailing list.

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