The Coe is a research center but I have mentioned that in the case of new museums I feel they have arrived when collectors are willing to entrust their personal collections to be shown or to donate material as several individuals have to the Coe. Dick Chodosh is a retired dentist from Rochester, New York and he and his wife Joan now live in Santa Fe. They have spent forty years building their collection of Northwest Coast Native American Art. Most of the objects lent to the Coe Foundation are modern with a few older examples.
The President of the Coe Foundation, Rachel Wixom with the executive director/curator, Bruce Bernstein visited the Chodosh home, at their invitation, and subsequently the curator picked over forty pieces out of a couple of hundred to exhibit at the Coe. The Foundation has a wonderful but not a huge space and it was agreed that two small contiguous galleries would be used for the show. Dr. Bernstein was aided by the Coe’s assistant curator Bess Murphy. Nancy Allen a museum exhibition designer in Santa Fe worked with Dr. Bernstein to come up with an excellent concept and installation for the objects chosen. Basically, the first gallery would include the large masks and the second gallery would have most of the smaller objects.
I particularly enjoyed what Dick Chodosh said about the beginning of their collection because it is so much what I have said about our collecting and that of others. “Our journey began… with the purchase of a single mask. …this art genre was unknown to us. This led to on-going research and visits to the artists, museum and galleries in the Pacific Coast of Washington, British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska. We always select an object that appeals to us emotionally, historically, and aesthetically.” That is just the advice I have given to so many potential collectors who have asked me how to get into collecting.
Even before it opened the show proved to be a success since an arts writer, Michael Abatemarco, for The New Mexican newspaper (founded in 1849) wrote a cover story about it for the weekly culture magazine section, “Pasatiempo”, of the paper. Needless to say the Coe had a very full house for that opening.
|Photo by Bess Murphy|
The masks depicting humans, animals and mystical creatures from the Northwest Native oral traditions are most striking with their fantastical shapes and unusual bright coloring. One of my favorites in the show is by Tony Gulbrandsen, a Triple Beak Hamatsa Mask done in 1987. He is a member of the Tsimshian First Nation, currently located in the upper part of Vancouver Island. The Hamatsa is part of their winter dance cycle danced by men’s religious societies.
Taking up a wall of the exhibition space is an extremely impressive red cedar Eagle Sun Mask, 1992 by Richard Hunt. The Sun Mask is used in the Klasala, or peace dance of Hunt’s Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.
A personal favorite is another work by Richard Hunt and one of the smaller pieces in the show. It’s called a Kwa-Gulth Frog bowl, 1990. The bowl is carved in the shape of a frog with a small frog on the accompanying spoon. The artist recounts that his mother owned the Tukwid, or supernatural frog dance and passed it on to his sister. He was taught never to question the judgment of this supernatural frog.
Button blankets are worn by men, women and children. They illustrate the clan and crest of the wearer. The space at the top that is devoid of buttons goes around the wearer’s neck. The Chodosh blanket is particularly fine and was made by another member of the talented Hunt family, Shirley Hunt Ford.
To end on a historical note the exhibition includes a group of Argilllite carvings all dating around 1860. These are traditionally created by the Haida people. The Europeans brought with them the metal tools that allowed the Haida to carve this fine-grained sedimentary rock. It is dark grey to black because of its high carbon content.
The show is up through March, 2017 and we would welcome you at the Coe. Do please call first for an appointment unless you are in town on the first Friday of every month between 1 and 4pm when we there is always staff available.