Sunday, April 24, 2016

Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York at Bowling Green is such a perfect museum setting.  It is in the old customs house whose rotunda has murals around the ceiling by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), known for his images of New York City.  The rotunda no longer has customs officials but the day I was there was used to entertain and teach little tots!

Around the circumference of the building are the galleries making it quite easy to follow from one gallery to the next.  The exhibition I went to see with a high school friend, David Phillips, tells Native American stories, which were narrated through images created on the materials at hand.  Originally, in the southwest the Indians told their stories as rock art, i.e. petroglyphs, then in the 18th century where this exhibition begins the Plains Indians used deer hide, buffalo robes and muslin on which to record their tales.  Still later their was ledger painting with pictures drawn on the pages of ledgers, account books of traders and government  agents.  Around the turn of the last century these were plentiful but today artists sometimes struggle to find individual pages from old ledgers.

I love the hide paintings and it does not take long until you begin to pick out the concept of the stories if not the actual event.  I was told by a Kiowa woman that the hides showing battles were usually painted by the men and the ones with more decorative images by the women, which is rather logical if you think about who was doing the fighting!   I would guess that the fans of each kind of decoration could be divided by the same sensibilities.  Of course, today, one finds these rules not always adhered to. 

One of the scenes on elk hide in the exhibition dates from around 1880.  It is by Spotted Tail, a Crow Indian, and illustrates the accomplishments in war of a fellow Crow, White Swan, who was a scout for the infamous, then Lieutenant Colonel, George Armstrong Custer.

Two interesting women’s dresses had battle scenes on them.  One dates from the early 1900’s and is attributed to Running Antelope.  It represents battles of the Lakota Indians.  These  are “Honor dresses” made following in the tradition that only women who had relatives killed in battle could wear them.  Lauren Good Day Giago followed a more recent tradition honoring the achievements of her grandfather in the Vietnam war.

The second part of this exhibition is devoted to the artists of today who are carrying on the tradition of hide and ledger painting.  It being easier to get one’s hands on sheets of ledger paper than hides, much less painting on them, more artists have followed this tradition.  The first or last, depending where you entered the exhibition is a hide, however.  It is by Dallin Maybee, Northern Arapaho/Seneca, who is a lawyer by profession, but is also an artist and is currently running Santa Fe’s famous Indian Market.  This work was created in 2013 on a commercially tanned hide with several different kinds of beads including steel, copper and gold accentuating the painted imagery.  Dallin says this is his interpretation of the evolution of Native traditional and contemporary art forms.  It reminded me of a model Tippi that I saw a few days later given from the Ralph T. Coe collection to the Metropolitan Museum.  It is from the 3rd quarter of the 18th century and painted by a Blackfoot, Alberta/Montana.   It is also uses beads and other materials enhancing the painted imagery.

I have written often of the Ralph T. Coe Foundation and Ted Coe.  He was very close to the bead worker Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty and bought objects by her and many members of her family.  Darryl Growing Thunder, Assiniboine/Sioux, Joyce’s son, is a leger painter and Ted suggested before he passed away that we look at Darryl’s work. We did and acquired our first ledger painting.  The last painting by Darryl that Ted bought he put on the ceiling over his bed so he could admire it when he was lying in bed!   My favorite of the works by Darryl in the exhibition is a depiction of traditional dancers in colored pencil, gold marker, graphite, ink and glue on an old ledger sheer. The artist dated his work 2012 beside the date on the sheet of 1871.  After writing this I see it is one of 3 candidates to be the cover of next year’s NMAI calendar!

I love collaborations so I will end with one.  This is by Darryl and his sister, Juanita.  It is a doll wearing an “Honor Dress” like we saw earlier.   Darryl painted the horse-raiding scene and Juanita created the doll and dress.  The Coe Foundation has a more elaborate doll by their mother Joyce which I have always loved.

To learn more you can look go to
The exhibition was curated by Emil Her Many Horses, Oglala Lakota, and will run through December 4 this year.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Thanks for Calling

I will be working in New York this week so I thought I would let my son, Danny, do the heavy lifting.  He is a Commercial Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker in Traverse City, Michigan and he writes a monthly blog with updates in his field.  The one below I wish I had thought of.  The images have been added by Dan’s father!

Recently I returned a customer’s phone call and I received a very enthusiastic reply saying, “Thanks so much for calling me back and not emailing!”  At first I wondered if I’ve been emailing too much, but upon talking with him further, he said that he had called another agent multiple times and the agent would never return his calls, but would send a short email response instead.

That got me wondering about the correct business etiquette for modern times.  I tend to respond to inquiries in the same way I receive them.  If someone calls me, I call them back.  If they text me, I text them back and if they email me, well you get the picture.  However, it can get extremely confusing keeping track of all the places one needs to check to make sure all inquiries are being responded to.  In addition to calls, texts and emails, I get messages through Facebook, linked-in and specific websites that you can only respond through the website.  My preference is to get those people to email me as it is time consuming to log onto a specific site each time I need to reply to a short question.  And finally, upon occasion, I may actually see someone face to face and get to have a real conversation.

Communication methods have changed dramatically in the last decade.  Keeping up with the responses and not letting any fall through the cracks can be a challenge.  I like being able to flag messages in my email so I remember to follow up on them later.  I still have a hand written list of people I want to follow-up with, but I’m probably behind the times not using an electronic list like Evernote or OneNote.  I find texts can be the most challenging because you can’t flag them or save them like a voice mail, so they really demand immediate responses.  That is usually what the person sending the text expects, however I often feel it’s inappropriate to send a business text after hours, unless it is urgent or applies to a meeting early the next day.

I recently read about a social experiment done by Julie Dobrow, a professor at Tufts University, where she asked her students to call people for one day instead of texting to see how they would respond.  While the results are mostly anecdotal, the consensus seemed to be that students thought it was uncomfortable to make a call, but also felt a deeper connection talking with friends, even though it was still mostly about trivial things.  When the parents got phone calls they first wanted to know what was wrong, and then were thrilled to actually have a chat.

The fact that more millennials and generation Z’s are all texting instead of making phone calls also makes it apparent that we must try and communicate with our customers in the way they prefer to be communicated with. I personally like email since it has a written record of what was discussed and is easy to reference later if one forgets.  I have my assistant email monthly updates to our clients with a list of activity on their properties for this very reason.

The old fashioned phone call or face-to-face meeting seems to be fading away, but there is definitely a cohort of people that appreciate the deeper connection and ability to get their questions answered and will always prefer a simple call.  I thought about concluding that when in doubt one should pick up the phone or use the same method the customer uses to contact you, however asking may be the best option as I once returned a client’s phone call (yes they called me) and at the end of the conversation they said, “I really don’t do phone calls very well, I’m much better with email, so please contact me that way in the future.”

Dan Stiebel, CCIM

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rina’s Gone! (1939-2015)

“Rina Swentzell of Santa Clara Pueblo was known as an architect, a potter, a teacher, an author, a historian and a lecturer. She also was an activist for justice who wasn’t afraid to stand up to her own tribal council to argue for the rights of all people.” (Santa Fe New Mexican 10-31-2015)

Rina touched my life so profoundly as she did others and we recently attended a memorial for her at the school of architecture at the University of New Mexico. Filling the auditorium were members of her extended Native family as well as Anglos, academics and friends, who had all been touched by her.


Rina was born into the Naranjo family, an unbelievably talented family of artists many of them potters.  Rina started out similarly but she became inspired in a modeling class where she started to think about doing models of buildings and thus began a journey into the world of architecture.  She went to New Mexico Highlands University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education and went on to The University of New Mexico, earning a Master of Art in architecture in 1976 and a doctorate in American studies in 1982.  Upset by the transformation of Santa Clara by the federal H.U.D. program of cookie cutter houses with no sense of place, she wrote her Master’s thesis on the architectural history of her pueblo.

Rina met her husband Ralph at Highlands and they moved to Santa Fe where Ralph taught at St. John’s College.  They were married for 40 years and lived in the house that they designed  bringing up 4 children, a boy and 3 girls.  When Ralph died in 2006, Rina moved back to the Pueblo where she and her family built her house in the traditional fashion.

I met Rina in 1997.  I had been on what was known as The President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington D.C. which had a very idealistic premise  to stop looting of archeological sights internationally.  Unfortunately, it had been rigged, first by U.S.I.A. and then by the State Department, to come out against the collecting community, which included American museums.  I quit when the CPAC seriously considered the request by Italy that the U.S. ban import of objects from the original Holy Roman Empire, which included most of Europe.  My story on CPAC would be a book in itself but suffice it to say there was a great deal of discontent about the Committee. 

Another former member of CPAC was Eugene Victor Thaw.  He had moved from New York to Santa Fe and felt that more might be accomplished by what was then known as The School for American Research (today, The School for Advanced Research).  He sponsored a 5 day seminar where a diverse group of stake holders in culture would meet and discuss the topic of who owns culture.  There were about 10 of us including, representatives from the World Bank, a a preservationist from the J. Paul Getty Museum, a museum director, an archeologist who had written about subsistence digging, even a philosopher.  I was there representing the art dealing community and a Native American anthropologist by skill if not by trade, Rina Swentzell.  Here is an image of the late Marty Sullivan, then director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, yours truly and Rina.

During the 5 days of the seminar we lived in the very comfortable “dorms” that were on SAR’s beautiful campus so we interacted socially as well as in our day long meetings.  Rina explained that Native Americans did not believe in collecting but rather believed from dust to dust and repeated her oft-told story:  Every day her grandmother walked her to school and they passed a house that was beginning to fall apart.  She told her grandmother that they needed to fix the house and her grandmother replied that when the house fell down they would build a new one.

I countered, that art can act as an ambassador for a culture:  In 1989 we found ourselves at The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff right after their show of Hopi Indian Art and fell in love with what we saw.   We, then, set out on a quest to learn about the Hopi culture, which opened our eyes to a whole new world. 

There was an objective to the seminar and that was to write a book on who owns culture from our various perspectives (because of a change in administration at SAR shortly after the seminar it unfortunately did not happen.)  We were, therefore, all taking notes or at least had note pads at the ready.  Sitting next to Rina I saw that she was making notes but also doing wonderful drawings on her pages, which I believe she referred to as “doodles”.  At one point discussing collecting, I commented that I thought I would love to “collect” her so called “doodles” because I thought they were wonderful.  The conference closed, I went back to New York and two weeks later her “doodles” from that week arrived with a note shown here as well as one of her pages of “doodles”.

Rina spoke often of “World Views” and she certainly changed mine and I believe that maybe I gave her a glimpse of another one.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Decisions: Planning a Trip (to New York)

I was just reading an article in the March 28 issue of The New Yorker called “The Perfect Fit: Shopping in Tokyo” by David Sedaris where he quoted his sister as saying, “Why go to a store when you could go to a museum.”  His reply, “Um, because the museum doesn’t sell shit?”  That is an interesting division because the stereotype would be that the male/female roles have been reversed!

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view both my wife and I side with Sedaris’s sister.  This issue probably makes us rather boring unless you happen to be in the art world.  My parents had a French friend who was a dealer in 18th century French furniture who they said they had trouble inviting him to a dinner party because he only talked about his business!

Now I am faced with 5 full days in New York and like these Missives I will have to leave so much out that it will be very frustrating.  I received an email from a friend from school when I was wondering what I was going to write about.  He sent me an article about a Native American exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York which is located at the Alexander Hamilton U. S. Customs House.  it traces the evolution of the Plains Indian Tribes Narrative Art from the 18th century up to contemporary works.  Since I missed what must have been a truly phenomenal and much broader show which was originated by the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and was also at the Metropolitan Museum, I really would like to see this one.

If I had to pick one favorite institution in New York, you know the one you feel your friends have to see particularly if they are not necessarily arts people, I would be torn between The Frick Collection and the Neue Galerie.   Both are well focused collections in grand New York mansions with rotating special exhibitions superbly focused.  I wrote previously about the van Dyck exhibition at the Frick.  At the Neue Galerie they recently opened 2 shows that I am keen to see “Munch and Expressionism” and  “The Expressionist Nude”.  The museum is dedicated to the art of the late 19th and early 20th century in Austria and Germany, which greatly interests me.

Fountain Court at the Frick
The Grand Staircase at the Neue Galerie

Of course, I will visit my warehouse rooms where some of my art and most of my New York business files are stored.  I need to review inventory both business and private and research some of the material that people have asked me to do in regard to provenance research.  I hope to visit with Diana Nixon and Vince Hickman who were such wonderful and loyal assistants when I had the gallery.  Vince still puts my Missives on line and Diana does research in the archive for the many people who want information on the history of my family gallery and what they sold in the past.

One of our warehouse rooms

Can’t go to New York without going to the Metropolitan Museum.  While there are probably more that a dozen exhibitions there, one big reason I am going back is to see the show, “VigĂ©e Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France”.  It opened at the Grand Palais and was curated by Joseph Baillio, a great scholar of French 18th century who worked on the project for many years.

I actually added a day to my trip so I could see the New York Photo show which I have missed in previous years.  Then there are the friends that I have made in New York over all the years I lived there.  Happily some come to see us in Santa Fe.  Everyone has to make choices every day and my aunt avoided them by not traveling from her home in London to New York because she said, “I know too many people there.” 

Fill in the blanks on how many institutions and theater possibilities I have left out.  I fully understand I can’t do everything but you will hear about some of my choices upon my return.