Sunday, September 1, 2019

Art Batala Commission

For the collector, commissioning a work of art, essentially asking an artist to create a work to order, is a risky business.  What if you ask an artist to do something that turns out totally different from what you envisioned?   Therefore, we have done it less than a handful of times in all our years of collecting.

For several years I had an office in an arts institution here in Santa Fe and had no need for a business card holder, so I donated my silver overlay example to the institution.   I had purchased it 25 years ago at a shop on the Hopi Reservation.  Then, when I moved to an independent office again, I missed my card holder.  Well, once you have received a tax deduction for a contribution to a not-for-profit, you cannot ask for it back!

For a year I searched websites and galleries to find another Hopi card stand without luck.  I asked a friend on the reservation if he could ask the artist, Art Batala, a silversmith from 2nd Mesa who had made my first one, if he could make another, but that did not happen.  Finally, after about three years we went to a fair of Indian Art and there was Art Batala.  I had photographs of the first stand and showed them to him, asking whether he could make me another one, but not just a copy.

The artist asked what my favorite motifs were.  I looked at a wedding ring I had commissioned for my wife from another Hopi artist and told Art that I liked the sun and rain signs, Kokoppelli (the fertility deity), and the kiva (square walled, often underground structures where spiritual ceremonies are held). 

What gave me, actually my wife, the idea to write about this commission is that the artist included me every step of the way through email images.  Of course, as with any artist, he had shows to get ready for before he could actually start work on my piece, but he did send me his idea for the design which I liked. He had given me the size of the piece and had taken my business card into consideration as to where my name and the company name appeared.  FYI, my company name is Pahaana which is the Hopi word for foreigner which we were on 2nd Mesa and in Santa Fe.

Art’s design was very carefully thought out.  He wrote: “Sometimes designs can get "too busy" when combined altogether, so with your interests in the Kokopelli, sunrise, kiva and rain, I separated the designs into all sides of the card holder. The Kokopellis are shown with prayer feathers for longevity of life, abundant of crops, happiness, and above all; healthy livelihood. The back the Father Sun is depicted with just the forehead showing; meaning sunrise with the rays coming down. And the designs on each sides of the sun rays represent water and clouds. On each side of the card holder, are the kivas with thunder clouds and rain coming down.”

Note that there is a ladder to go down into the Kiva which symbolizes going underground.  

FRONT: the Kokopelli; BACK: the sun symbol;
SIDES: the Kiva with rain cloud

Additionally, he wrote, “I intend to use a thicker gauge of silver for the bottom of the holder (Base) so the weight stabilizes the entire holder.”  I understood this better when I received the piece and found how it was weighted which the old one was not.  Like all of us we learn as we go along, and this piece was far more substantial than the first one I bought.

A week later Art wrote, “Attached you will see where i am in the process of your biz card holder.  Everything is transposed onto sterling silver plates.  I have drilled small holes where i will began cutting out the designs.  The designs are slightly modified from the sketch i sent to you. But overall still has all the motifs you desired.”

Design is transposed onto silver plates

A few days later I received the following, “Good morning and greetings from Hopi, attached you will see that i am finished cutting out the designs.   Now, i will be soldering the cut out plates onto similar sized sterling plates.”  I asked a question, “How do you make the black stand out on the bottom layer?”  Art replied, “I have checked all my lines and indentations are good, I will then put the entire piece into dissolved liver of sulfur, heating the contents until the card holder is totally blackened. Then i will began to grind, polish/buff, and, I will be finished.” 

After soldering

Art learned Hopi Overlay after serving in the Marine Corps.  He studied with the master Jeweler Glen Lucas, who he described as, “the person who put "precision cutting overlay" on the market”. To give you an insight into where Art is coming from, he wrote, “Today I am semi-retired and enjoy getting back to jewelry making.  It’s a hobby to me these, but my primary work is my cornfield, which i also enjoy as that is where my ideas and designs originate, amongst nature and its awesome powers.”  Living in an arid land farming is the only thing more important to the Hopi than art.

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