Sunday, August 25, 2013

Indian Fairs

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 na├»ve 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.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Feast Day

August is a month that belongs to the Native Americans in this part of the world.  There are numerous exhibitions and fairs focused on the pueblo Indians.  There are two fairs in New Mexico that are exclusively about contemporary Indian culture: one is in Gallup known as Inter-Tribal Ceremonial; and the other in Santa Fe called Indian Market (I will discuss the latter next week).

Also at this time of the year, many of the pueblos celebrate their feast days with dances.  These are days of renewal allowing the tribes to celebrate their culture with family, tribal members and invited friends from in and beyond the pueblo.

Painting by Benedick Naseyoma

We have attended three such feast days this month at Pojoaque, Santa Domingo and Santa Clara and in the past we have attended others.  This year we were lucky enough at each of these pueblos to be invited by one of the Indian families to join them in their homes for their feast.  Dances on the pueblos are often all day affairs going from dawn to dusk.  We usually arrive in mid-morning to see some of the dances and then go to one of the homes on the pueblo for lunch.  One thing that you will usually find on the dinner table will be a red chili stew and a green chili stew.  When we first came out here in the restaurants we were always asked do you want green or red chili?  At first we naturally had no idea how they would taste so we asked which one was hotter and always picked the less spicy one.  I could never make up my mind so I would ask for Christmas which meant you got half of each!  They might also have posole, whose basic ingredients are hominy and pork. There may also be some turkey or small sandwiches and lots of deserts.   The food is cooked by family members with additions brought by tribal members or as gifts from visitors.  We learned early on that when you visit someone on the pueblo you bring a gift and often receive one in return.  I remember bringing one couple at Hopi a baseball cap for the katsina carver and a jar of honey for his wife.  This is a tribal tradition we have found at all the pueblos we have visited and it makes for an instant camaraderie between visitor and host.

Since so many visitors have been invited to partake of the feast and most of the houses are quite small these feasts are rotating meals.  You sit down when there is room at a table.  You may find a family member or an Anglo friend or one of the dancers sitting next to you.  In any case, it is always interesting company.  Also, just passing the many dishes around the table creates a link between all those who are there.  After you are done you get up to make room for the next guests to sit down.  After lunch it is time to return to the dance to see the afternoon edition.

It is difficult to describe an Indian dance in words. No photos by visitors are allowed during dances anymore but I found a few samples of smaller dance groups on YouTube.   Here is one of a Hopi Corn Dance to give you an idea of what I am talking about.  It does not give the feeling or ambience of actually being there, which has quite a different effect on the viewer than watching a demonstration on a stage or in an arena.


On a small pueblo there may be as few as half a dozen dancers but on a large pueblo with many inhabitants you might have hundreds with crowds of observers around the plaza and on the roofs of the surrounding houses. If there are too many to be on one plaza they may use two or three.  A plaza on a pueblo is an open space around which homes have been built.  It is usually the elders who have these houses and they are passed down through the generations.  In some cases these houses are shared with other family members for a feast day.  This is so the many members of the family may show their generosity and invite their friends.  It makes for quite a crowd.

All the dancers wear traditional costume.  The women wear black dresses and tall painted tablitas (headdresses). The men have painted their skin which also protects from the scalding sun light.  They wear thin pine branches tied into their armbands and in various other places on their body which must scratch terribly.  Many will have large strings of small shells over their shoulder or tin jingles sewn to their clothing, others may have large shells tied around their waist or to their legs.   They often have jingle bells on their legs and arms, as well, and carry rattles in their hands.  In the center of the plaza you will have the musicians, mainly drummers beating a rhythmic beat and others chanting.  After a few minutes the sound becomes totally mesmerizing and you find yourself inadvertently totally taken over by the sound and continuous motion.  I asked an Anglo whose daughter has married into a tribe when the dances ended in the afternoon.  He said he had no idea because he gets so into it that time just melts away.
The Indians may dance from dawn to dusk, their stamina is phenomenal.  Often there are small children as young as three or four who participate and they are always wonderful to watch.  Most are extremely serious and work very hard at following the rhythm and steps. There are also the “warriors” who keep the little ones in line and help them and the adults with adornments that may have come loose or fallen off during a dance.

It is quite an experience to attend a dance in a pueblo but you must leave yourself open to it and not think about when it will start or end.  It just is.  If perchance you have the honor to be invited into a Native home it will be a day you never forget.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Go Fly A Kite

I have never thought much about kites, maybe because my few attempts were total failures.  I guess you have to understand wind shifts and how fast you have to run in which direction to get the darn thing to take off.  I also didn’t think about the design of the kites because ones that I saw had no memorable designs.  A while ago we met a gentleman who has totally immersed himself in the world of kites, well not exactly the world but rather traditional Japanese kites in particular.

David M. Kahn is currently Executive Director of the Adirondack Museum and has also been director at several other history museums across the country.   He has lent much of his Japanese kite collection to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.  The show is called “Tako Kichi”, kite crazy in Japanese.  Felicia Katz-Harris, curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Collections put the exhibition together.

Mr. Kahn told us that when he was 9 his parents took him to a place in Westchester, which was designed in the Japanese style and the gift shop was selling a great deal of Japanese material.  This is where he bought his first kite.  Later his family moved to Long Island and not far from his home was a shop run by a Japanese mother and her daughter called Kyoto Shop so he was able to indulge his new found passion.  As he got older and could afford to buy kites on his own he started to learn more about and collect kites seriously.  Today the collection amounts to some 700 pieces and about 300 of his kites, books on kites and wood blocks for kite prints are exhibited here. The museum has set up a table for families to work on building their own kites with instructions and guidelines.  Then they can go outside to the plaza in front of the museum and see if they will fly.

There were lots of other interesting stories and insights in the lecture Dr. Kahn gave at the exhibition opening?  The one that I have always known both as a collector and art dealer.  “Collecting is a pathology!”   For me a collector is not just someone who buys a lot of stuff but rather someone who is passionate and willing to travel in search of his/her quest and not lose interest in what they seek just because it is not immediately available. 

In Japan there is a kite association and even a kite museum.  I know of no kite museum in the U.S.  Mr. Kahn spoke of attending a meeting of the kite association in Japan and all were drinking wine and being very western and he, being traditional, asked for saki which they had to especially find for him.

He believes that traditional kite making is an art form that is dying out.  He told us that the professional kite makers of the late 19th and early 20th century have not been replaced by later generations.  He feels that many of the kite makers today are just hobbyists.  This is a totally new subject for me, so I am far from an expert, but I can say from other art fields that have been said to be dying out (such as Hopi textiles) they stay just below the surface and then they come to life again.  In the recent folk art market here there was a Japanese kite maker exhibiting his kites and I believe it was his profession but the subject matter was indeed pushing the envelope of tradition.

There are kite festivals all over Japan but one in particular in the small village of  Shirone is a 300 year old tradition and they show a short film on it in the exhibition.  The kites for this festival are usually 22 feet high.  Japanese kites can be as large as 4,000 square feet with a height of 67 feet and weigh up to 3,000 pounds.  As you can imagine this takes a large team to handle.  Also, normal kite string is not going to do much good, but if you braid the string you can get it strong enough to handle great weight.  Some kite teams have ways of braiding the string which they keep as trade secrets.  The object is to get your kite flying and then attack the rival teams kite and tangle your kite string with the kite string of the other kite.  The next step is a tug of war and whoever’s string breaks first is the loser.  Needless to day, the process usually ruins both kites and they go back to make new ones for next year’s competition.  There are no 22 foot kites in the exhibition but there are some pretty large ones of 12 feet plus. In contrast there are also a couple which are less than 2 inches tall!

There was a kite in the show called “7 Lucky Gods” but there were only 6 gods on the kite. When Dr. Kahn asked the maker about this he was told, “The 7th god is you”.  I am sure you need to know a lot about Japanese culture to fully understand this but for me it seems a very satisfying concept.

Now for a shameless plug:  Should you find yourself in Santa Fe and be a fan of Japanese sushi as I am there is a superb small sushi bar here.  Now there are many sushi bars in Santa Fe but only one that is as good and the sushi as creatively done as any I have ever had.  It is called Sushi Land East, on Water Street.  The owner and senior chef is Masa from Kyoto who also worked in San Francisco.  His sous chef, Victor, is excellent as well.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Georgia O’Keeffe & the Southwest

A year or two ago we were invited to lunch by a trustee of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and their Director of Development to discuss the possibility of our contributing to an exhibition that was in the works.  We were shown the prospectus for the show and on the basis of that we turned them down.  The curator at the time was trying to make the case that Georgia O’Keeffe was greatly influenced by her collection of Katsina dolls or tihu, the carved and painted figurines which teach the Hopi and Zuni children about their religion. The problem was that she did not have a serious collection.  She did own a few, however, and did some small drawings and oils of these and ones that belonged to friends, but they were not an important part of her life.

The exhibition starts with what is actually a snapshot, a wallet size photo of O’Keeffe in Canyon, Texas taken between 1916 and 1918 by an anonymous photographer.  It is a far cry from the photos which Stieglitz took of her starting in 1918.  She looks kind of ordinary and not at all the striking sensual woman we have come to recognize as Georgia O’Keeffe.  Then we see one of these photos by Stieglitz, it is of O’Keeffe’s hands in front of one of her abstract paintings, exhibited next to the photo.  At first glance it  seems as if she has balls between her fingers.

"Georgia O'Keeffe's Hands" by Alfred Stieglitz

The museum has instituted a new policy that allows photography of works of art in an exhibition as long as there is no symbol (a camera with a line through it) under the label.  Therefore, the illustrations are mine unless otherwise noted.  Reasons for not allowing photography are either that the lender refused to give the museum permission or that the museum does not own the copyright.  In the case of the O’Keeffes and Stieglitz’s in the museum collection they came with rights.  The Ansel Adams estate, however, has not given rights of reproduction.

In the gallery, which is usually devoted to photography are a number of images that Stieglitz and others have taken of O’Keeffe in her natural habitat.  Most are of the artist in New Mexico in the landscape near and around her home and studio.  Last year we had a tour of her place in Abiquiu given by her long time assistant, Pepita Lopez.  She was so close to Miss O’Keeffe, as she called her and gave us such an intimate tour that looking at a photo I suddenly thought was it Pepita or Georgia herself who showed us her studio?


Between 1918 and his death in 1946 Stieglitz took some 300 photographs of his wife and muse.  For some of these go to Google type in Stieglitz photos O’Keeffe and then click on Images.  One of the things that I like that the museum always does is use quotes by the artist which shows she is one of the few artists who was very articulate and a great self promoter.  In this room she is quoted as saying in 1922, “Photography is able to flatter or embarrass the human’s ego by registering the fleeting expression of a moment” and Stieglitz was a master in this regard.

There is no question that the land and sky in the Southwest have a great influence on all who come to it.  Also, religion is so important in our tri-partied Hispanic, Native, Anglo world that it naturally had a profound influence on O’Keeffe’s world view and how she interpreted it in her art.  One of the strongest religious symbols is, of course, the cross and it comes up in many of her paintings.  One wonderful example is Church Steeple of 1930.

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1983, “I saw the crosses so often-and often in unexpected places- like a thin dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape”.

The southwest light is absolutely mesmerizing.  The skies are unlike any I have ever seen on the east or west coast of this country or in Europe.  This obviously made a great impression on O’Keeffe.  Her wispy clouds which look like pure fantasy are quite real just as the dark skies of the Dutch 17th century masters were very real in their part of the world.  One of the most dramatic O’Keeffe’s in the show is Easter Sunrise from 1953 which captures that landscape and a vision of the cross shining from over the edge of the mountain.

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1977, “When I got to New Mexico that was mine.  As soon as I saw it that was my country.  I‘d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.  It’s something that’s in the air-- it’s different.  The sky is different, the wind is different.  I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them Interested.”

Another kind of religious imagery for New Mexico’s Hispanic population is the bulto, a carved and painted wood figure that comes down from the tradition of Spanish Colonial sculpture.  One of the most important symbols is that of the Virgin Mary.   In the show we see the actual bulto of the Virgin from a private collection with a painting by O’Keeffe.  We did not have permission to photograph the painting but take my word for it the painting is a precise replica.

It is not a large leap from bultos to Katsina dolls.  A small gallery is devoted to O’Keeffe’s paintings and drawings of these carved figures.

The final gallery of the show has the work of two contemporary Hopi artists (paintings by Dan Namingha and tapestries by Ramona Sakiestewa). Their abstract images are inspired by Katsinam but you have to know to know in order to recognize the symbolism.

The exhibition in the end is not about O’Keeffe’s work with Katsinam but rather as the title now reads “Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture , Katsinam and the Land”.  The land has a great influence on anyone who lives here just like skyscrapers influence the view of the city dweller.  In fact when O’Keeffe lived in New York she painted the city canyons with the buildings looming above.