Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian was founded in 1937 by a philanthropist from Boston, Mary Cabot Wheelwright, and her collaborator, a Navajo, Hastiin Kllah. The original building was built in the shape of a Hogan, the traditional Navajo house. 

In 2011, I wrote a missive about the plans of the Wheelwright to build an extension to their institution to house a Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry.  The project had been discussed and debated for some time that there needed to be permanent galleries and installations since the museum had been conceived as a museum of Navajo ceremonial art, and, after repatriation of the sacred objects, it developed as a Kunsthalle for exhibitions of the work of individual Native artists and also historical subjects.  We have been coming out here for 25 years and known the director of the Wheelwright, Jonathan Batkin, during that time and the shows have been among the very best in town.

Finally, this June the long awaited goal of galleries for the permanent collection was reached and we attended the opening.   Though the museum had been donated some silver in the past when it was decided that silver and jewelry would be the focus of the permanent galleries the first major purchase was a collection of Native American silver spoons in 2002.

Martha Hopkins Struever, a dealer and collector for whom the main gallery is named has also been a major influence in the lives of many Native jewelers through mentoring and acquisition of their work. Over the course of the campaign, she directed many donors to the Wheelwright and, I suspect, was behind many of the anonymous gifts.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Batkin

Jack and Ann Stewman had scoured the country for an institution that they felt would appreciate their Native jewelry collection and when they saw the 2005 exhibition of Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma at the Wheelwright and met its dynamic director they knew they had found what they were looking for. They promised their collection as well as additional funds to kick off the last leg of a fund raising campaign to be able to add the wing for the study center.

They say good things come in threes and in this case it was Lauris Phillips known as a voracious collector and dealer in the field of Southwest Jewelry who donated her personal collection of rare early pieces in 2010. 

We attended the afternoon opening and it commenced with a prayer by the Navajo sand painter and silversmith, Joe Ben and his son Zachariah giving a blessing.   Joe Ben spoke about the great influence and assistance both Marti Struever and Lovena Ohl, another major dealer in the field had been.  After a short prayer song outside the doors of the new center the director went inside the galleries with the Bens who did two blessing songs in private as requested by the Navajo.  The door was left part way open so that those crowded into the ante room could hear but not see.

From left Zachariah, Joe Ben, Jonathan Batkin with artist Jonathan Lorretto

At the members’ opening the next day we saw Zachariah Ben demonstrate his sand painting technique.

After the blessing we were invited back to a large tent where tables and chairs were set out and food and drink were provided.  The director then thanked the many people who were involved in one way or another in the success of this monumental endeavor.  Wisely, we were given individual time slots to see the galleries so that they never got too crowded.  Since this first day was for donors and artists the pecking order was obvious by the times assigned!

The galleries are truly beautifully done with recessed vitrines in wood paneling.  Inside each case, on  the left and sometimes right side as well there are general didactic labels giving the history of what is in the case.  The silver and jewelry are beautifully mounted in the center of the case and below labels lighted from underneath have images of the pieces and brief label copy.  The cases are in roughly chronological order starting out in the late 19th century and going through to contemporary.  Some are devoted to bracelets, concho belts or horse bridles and others have the work of single tribe such as the thunderbird jewelry of Santa Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo or an individual artist such as Charles Loloma.

Photo credit: Jonathan Batkin

 True to its title as a study center Johnathan Batkin has assembled unique documentation of the field. In 1995 he was able to negotionate  the donation and management of the archive of John Adair (1913-1997) an anthropologist who  was the first to research the origins and early history of Native American silversmithing.  He wrote the seminal book on “Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths” in 1944.  The museum has continued to acquire documentation about early Southwest silversmiths and even some of their original tools making  the Center a must place to go for in depth study in the field.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Currents: New Media in Santa Fe

The first question is, “What is New Media?”  I quickly found a good answer at  It is “is a 21st Century catchall term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound. In fact, the definition of new media changes daily, and will continue to do so. New media evolves and morphs continuously.”  It is where art meets technology and it seems to be a continuous battle between the two.

Currents is produced by Parallel Studios in Santa Fe.  It is a not for profit put together by a group of video and installation artists.  The Co-executive Directors Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano are interested in producing exhibitions to provide a venue for new media artists.  The first edition of Currents was in 2010.  The main event is always free and it seems to grow larger every year. It takes place in the 31,000 square foot exhibition space known as El Museo Cultural.  This space is also often a venue for art fairs.  For Currents it is totally blacked out with the only light on or from the exhibits themselves, and ,wisely, a separate light on the label.  There are about 45 exhibits here that vary in size from quite small to 400 square feet.  Since this includes sets of short films as well as outside venues, approximately 125 artists participate in Currents. 

There can be a disorienting nature to the dark space and ever moving exhibits so there are plenty of places to sit, watch and listen.  In one exhibit you walk onto or is it into a pool of moving water.  One steps rather gingerly if you don’t have a great deal of faith that they are not trying to soak you!  There are earphones so you can hear the water swishing and gurgling around you. In this brief video,  the ambient voice is coincidental.  I left the earphones dangling and you can see my shoes as well.  Titled Pink Noise by Yolande Harris.

While some of the works are purely visual many include sound. On a large screen, here is a detail of the Video “Noise Fold” by David Stout and Cory Metcalf from Denton, Texas.

Some of the exhibits are interactive.  We saw an artist who had a stylus attached to a gyroscope-like contraption, which periodically took images of people looking at the work. It then took bits of the image to draw until the round piece of paper was reasonably full.  According to the artist it would continue until the paper was totally full but he preferred to stop before that point.  The artist is Harvey Moon from San Francisco and he titled his work “Delta”.  He is interested in connecting people with technology through what is new in the field.

Hye Young Kim, originally from South Korea, has created a video experience called Intimate Distance where two visitors are asked to sit opposite each other with their heads together.  Some are related like Aunt and Nephew or Mother and Daughter and others are Boyfriend and Girlfriend.  The artist is interested in the interaction and also whether they will kiss or not!   Some of the videos are exhibited on a screen nearby.

An event like this also allows artists of different nations to get together to exchange ideas, techniques and understand the art of other countries.  The immense effort that goes into such an enterprise makes the project worth being funded by National and State agencies, private foundations and individual contributions. This year 40 artists had their, travel lodging and shipping paid by Parallel Studios and honorariums were paid to local artists.

Currents does not only occur at El Museo but at a number of galleries and other venues in Santa Fe and this year the organization will present exhibitions at four other locations around New Mexico as well.  It is the largest venture of its kind anywhere giving new media artists around the world the opportunity to qualify and participate.

I must admit I find it intriguing but still have trouble reconciling it with how I was brought up as to what art is.  On the other hand there have been so many art movements that have been ridiculed in their own time only to last until they become part of the artistic vocabulary.

The show has a short 2 week run and will close on June 28.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


I am writing this Missive because my wife and I have joined a number of Boards of institutions here in Santa Fe.  In need of funds, as all institutions are, it is necessary for us to understand fundraising as best we can.  As you know, it is the process by which one solicits donations from individuals, businesses, foundations or governmental agencies.  I believe that most of us find this an unpleasant task and leave it up to professionals called Development officers to bring prospective donors to the CEO of their organizations.   That individual does the final pitch particularly in the case of larger donations.

The question is who does one approach.  The best professionals have gotten out in their communities and been introduced to and met with prospective donors.  In the case of businesses it is usually easier to beat the bushes and meet the appropriate person on their own turf.  In the case of grants it is best to hire a professional grant writer because this is its own skill not only knowing which government agency or private foundation might be interested in a given project but then filling out the complicated and idiosyncratic forms in the appropriate manner.

There is an eternal question that comes up on Boards, “Why is our donor base so old?  How do we attract a younger audience”.  It is my personal belief from observation that people are wired that way.  We spend over half of our lives trying to acquire funds to reach certain goals and then one day we realize it is no longer our only or prime desire.  Witness all the yard and garage sales you find in the suburbs and country: one starts to divest oneself of one’s goods.

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

In my opinion fundraising from private individuals, and I am sure the professionals would amplify greatly on this analysis, falls into two categories: one is the care and handling of the large donors; and the other is the stewardship of the smaller ones.  The latter are those who wish to support an institution but do not wish to or cannot contribute the big bucks.  Why is it important to cater to both?  Because once in a while the regular small donor becomes a very large donor.  I gave such an example last year.

Also, the consistent donor’s smaller contributions add up.  The smart fundraiser realizes that $1,000 a year even has an advantage over the one time $10,000 donation because there is an excellent chance that there will be an equal donation from the $1,000 donor in the 11th and 12th year.

I don’t want to give the impression that young people are uncharitable but they, of necessity, will probably be more modest donors.  Obviously I am not speaking about the young genius who has just sold his company for a zillion dollars.   Thanks to the internet there is a new phenomenon that donors, often the younger ones, donate more easily through the web.  They find it much simpler than writing out a check or filling out a form and finding a stamp and mailbox.  I never appreciated the effort involved in finding a mailbox when I lived in a city with a box every block or two but in the country one needs to drive to it!  There are also crowd sourcing websites that help raise funds for eleemosynary as well as for profit ventures and I have known a few cases where people raised funds for needed medical attention on line as well.  The web is therefore a relatively new source of revenue but again not for the major donations. The latter come through longer term relationships with the institution and probably with one or a few individuals there.

 But where to start the cultivation process?  It begins with the question of what is it worth to have an art museum, a Kunsthalle, or a performing arts center.  Many believe it is so much more important to give to medical research than to the arts.   Well, thank goodness many want to give to such research but it is up to those of us in the arts to show the value of art in society and the preservation thereof.

The Lensic Performing Arts Center
I was tempted to write, “where would the world be without art” but that is ridiculous because since man invented fire he has created art.  So the question is whether it is worth preserving.  The education best starts when we are very young.  Of course, our son Hunter was taken to art institutions from a young age but he had an additional impetus when he was in first grade and won a drawing contest and his “masterpiece” became part of a major exhibition at the teachers’ union offices on Union Square in New York City.   This gave him a sense of pride (not to mention a rare opportunity for a meal at a nearby MacDonald’s. ) It also gave him a sense of preserving an art work. 

School groups are taken to museums but far too rarely, and then all too often there is only a very dry docent giving them facts rather than getting them to use their imaginations and ingenuity.  It becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.  It does not have to be that way. The headmaster, a classicist, in our son’s middle school years took his class to the Metropolitan Museum and let them loose telling them to find an object that spoke to them.  On each of repeated visits they had be able to find their way back to that object.  After studying up on it, they had to bring the rest of the group to tell them about it.  That gave each of them a life long sense of possession.  Still today, Hunter visits his object when he is at the Met. 

Many institutions bring in groups of young financially successful professionals in the hopes that they will someday become donors and trustees.  Too often these are merely social events.  The Museum of Modern Art, however, has a long standing program for Junior Associates, those 40 and under, who come to the Museum and socialize over a glass of wine but then they are taken for a behind the scenes tour.  There is nothing more seductive than being taken to where the public does not usually go or getting access in advance of others.

Anything and everything we can do to get people involved with our art institutions and cultivate their interest as early as possible will ensure that, when they are ready, they will consider contributing in one way or the other.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


We went to the commencement ceremony of the New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA).  This Charter high school was established by Governor Bill Richardson and granted its charter by the State in 2008.  It opened its door to its first class of 9th graders in 2010.  The founders and inspiration behind the entire effort were Catherine Oppenheimer and her husband Garret Thornburg with a number of other very dedicated backers.

Before NMSA, Catherine, a former ballet dancer, established the National Dance Institute of New Mexico (NDI) modeled on the methods developed by New York City Ballet star Jacques d’Amboise who founded NDI in New York City in 1976.  From a base in Santa Fe, NDI New Mexico. goes into public schools across the state and now has over 8,000 4th grade students who learn discipline and cooperation through dance .  Statistics show that these students have done significantly better academically than those without the training.

We have been attending NDI performances for the beginner to advanced students for some time and you can tell which students stand out.  In 2011 we saw this young girl performing with her older brother in the musical “A Chorus Line”:

I must admit it brought me to tears and in fact I wrote about it at the time. 

We have been following this young woman for all these years and last week she graduated from NMSA.  Her full name is Gabriella Monique Ottersberg Enriquez known at school as Gaby Ottersberg.  Gaby graduated with the highest honors from her class.  This is a very talented class. Though their specialties are in Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Arts, 29 out of 44 students graduated with academic honors.  They receive 3 hours plus every day in their arts specialties and the rest of the time is devoted to the usual high school curriculum.  According to the commencement program 100% of the graduating class is going on to college including schools such as Bard, Lewis & Clark, Oberlin College and Conservatory and the University of Pennsylvania.

Who remembers their graduation?  I just remember that I had to go to my High School graduation but I don’t believe I even attended my college or post-graduate commencements.   I do know that Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at my high school graduation in 1962 and all I remember is an old lady who I thought was going to be inspirational and she wasn’t … at least not to an 18 year old.

My older son, Danny, actually remembers that Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, spoke at his High School and George H. W. Bush at his College graduations.  He did not remember what they said but found George Bush’s commencement address on the web!  It speaks of grand concepts of freedom but there is no practical knowledge being imparted.

When my daughter, Cathy, graduated from college Mike Wallace spoke, you would think we remember that, but we don’t!

Kathy Bates, the actress, spoke at my younger son, Hunter’s College Graduation, and she did say one thing that we remembered and found important.  She said that the young people should take advantage of every opportunity and if you play the guitar and someone asks you to bring it to a party you bring it because you never know who might be there and hear you. That was how she got her first break.

Gaby was kind enough to invite us not only to her graduation but also to her graduation party for family and friends.  I asked her then who would be speaking at her commencement but she could not remember the name and said she did not have a chance to look her up yet.  She must have perked up, however, when that person announced that she was a spy and former covert CIA Operative Officer.  It was Valerie Plame Wilson.

Photo Credit: Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican
Ms. Wilson had practical experience to impart to the students that they hopefully will remember.  She did give some of the usual individual pieces of advice such as-- college was an opportunity to explore and decide where your passion was and not to be scared to make up your mind, change it and make it up again.  She also advised most strongly that if you were not a morning person, not to take early morning classes!  

But most important she spoke of the need for perseverance and resilience.  This is an imperative for anyone in the arts.   Her illustration was most apt and personal.  In the run-up to the Iraq war her cover was blown and her husband’s reputation was shattered in retaliation against her husband, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson.  He refuted the administration when he reported on his 2002 fact-finding trip to Niger to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase Yellow Cake Uranium.   He then wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times called "What I Didn't Find in Africa".  Valerie Plame said. “we were called liars and traitors and those were the nice things!”

After they were done with the subsequent inquiries and trials they picked up and left Washington moving with their  twins to start all over again in Santa Fe.  Living well is the best revenge and here they have become very active and influential in the community.

To end on a lighter note, there were as usual a number of speakers but one of the best was the young senior Genevieve Conley from the Music Department.  She gave the Salutatorian Remarks.  Her last line was, “But if your passion is in the arts make sure your parents give you a credit card before you leave home”!!