Sunday, August 2, 2015

Connoisseurship & Good Pie

Now that I have gotten your attention with the title of this exhibition let me elaborate. The complete title of this show is “Connoisseurship & Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art”.  As I am getting ready to write this I see that I have already written the prequel to this Missive in December of last year so I will let you read the background for yourselves.

For those who don’t want to bother suffice it to say that when the director of the Wheelwright Museum  of the American Indian in Santa Fe, Jonathan Batkin, came over to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts in order to pick out a few objects to show in a small gallery near the museum’s sales shop he was blown away.  He decided that it was exciting enough to show Ted’s Collection in the entire original exhibition space of the museum.  Meanwhile they have added the new wing with the Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry

You are probably already asking yourself what does Ted Coe’s collecting have to do with Good Pie.   It turns out that Ted had two overriding passions: one was art and collecting and the other was food.  In fact he once wrote that he had traveled 5 hours out of his way in Alaska to get a piece of good pie. About 25 years ago when we started coming out here Ted took us to dinner at a Santa Fe institution called Dave’s Not Here, unfortunately that is now true for Dave’s restaurant as well.  That night Ted announced that his doctors had forbidden him to eat spicy foods and then he proceeded to order an enchilada with red and green chili, topped off by a huge piece of incredibly good chocolate cake, which I had as well!

As was illustrated in the Missive mentioned above the Coe Executive Director and Curator, Bruce Bernstein, with the assistance of the Coe’s Advisory Board had chosen about 400 objects for the exhibition but that proved far too many to make a beautiful exhibition.  The most important aspect of an exhibition is in the editing in order to focus on the point of the show.  Equally important to showing the right selection of works of art is how they are installed.  I have seen exhibitions in different venues and one that you may have loved when you saw it in one museum may seem really dead in another.   Between Bruce Bernstein and Jonathan Batkin and his curator Cheri Doyle Falkenstein the show was greatly reduced in future discussions and then the designer, Louis Gauci, had the final say.  The resultant show is something over 200 works of art, which compares favorably with many great international exhibitions.

The museum-going public sees a “gallery closed” sign one day and an exhibition the next or as is sometimes said, “Out of the nowhere into the here”.  Maybe that is why when a bunch of junior high and high school students at the Coe went to a museum to understand all that goes into an exhibition one of the things that interested them the most was the empty gallery that would become an exhibition a few weeks later.  Many museums and particularly those showing decorative arts often have to build false walls and exhibit cases from scratch as the Wheelwright does.  In these photos you can see the process. The plans are put on the wall and the crew begins to build the structure.  It is a miracle, particularly with a marvelous designer, how great it can look when the work is done.

A few weeks before the show opens each object gets packed and marked and put in a carry tray, driven the two miles to the museum and here Bruce Bernstein reviews the final list with Jack Townes, the marvelous preparator who directed the actual installation.

When the doors opened on the first evening of the exhibition visitors eagerly came piling in. The first case that confronted them holds some of the non Native American objects that Ted collected as well as some of his earliest acquisitions.   The case that really appeals to me is the following one that I will dub Ted’s case.  It shows a large photo of Ted wearing many of the objects that are shown in the case including the faceless watch, which his good friend Joyce Growing Thunder beaded for him to teach him about Indian time, as she did the pendant and his comfy moccasins that he wore as slippers.  Note where the objects are placed.  As Jack Townes explained to me, the wristwatch is about the level of Ted’s wrist in the picture, the pendant at the height it would be on his body, his belt at his middle.  Only the hat is not in the right place because that would have looked strange.

In the last year’s of Ted’s life we came to visit him and he was extremely excited.  He had just acquired a moose hide coat with quills and wool dating from about 1740, a rare find indeed!  Cree or Ojibwa it is from the eastern part of Canada.  Very few coats such as this are still extant.  They date from the highpoint of the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trade. One theory is that they were made by the Indian women for their European trading partners, but none of the surviving examples seem to have been used for reasons that are not yet known.  In this photo a couple are clearly discussing this important work.

In case you were wondering whether there was good pie at the opening there certainly was!   Volunteers at the Wheelwright baked up a storm and one French gentleman made a Tarte Tartin that I have not seen duplicated outside of France.  I only wish that the pies would always be available when I go to see the exhibition, which will be often.

Photo Credit: Neebinnaukzhik Southall, Public Relations, Wheelwright Museum

To acquire the 68 page illustrated catalog email the President of the Ralph T. Coe foundation, Rachel Wixom at or by phone (505) 983-6372.  The cost is $11 plus $3 shipping. 


  1. Marvelous to see the Coe Foundation coming into its own. Thank you for the report!

  2. Fine exhibit. Nice catalog too. Thanks for the report!