Sunday, October 25, 2020

Art that Makes Me Smile

These days we need to try to laugh and smile through the tears.  Being restricted to home more than usual I draw on our personal art collection.

When my wife wanted to rush me to close my art business in New York and join her here in Santa Fe full-time, (turned out to be the best decision of our lives) she lured me by allowing me to buy a wide screen TV and amplifier speakers, DVR, DVD player etc. Shortly thereafter we saw a cartoon I could not resist as it spoke to my personal moment.  It is by Ricardo Caté, of Santo Domingo Pueblo, whose cartoons titled “Without Reservations” have appeared in the local Santa Fe newspaper, The New Mexican, every day since 2006.  He describes Indian humor as the result of “us living in a dominant culture, and the funny part is that we so often fall short of fitting in.”   We bought the watercolor from Ricardo at his first Indian Market, an annual event in Santa Fe and it filled his characterization perfectly. That modest acquisition cost us only $20 but it was the first of many more ambitious examples of Caté’s work  that we now own.

Most of my life my work has been with artists who have long since past, but I have learned that works by living artists can afford a more immediate experience. One example is the carved wood sculpture that hangs in our home.  We acquired it when we were driving up to Taos, New Mexico, not for the skiing for which the town is famed, but for my wife’s shoulder surgery with the orthopedic surgeon to the Olympic ski team.

Since we can hardly ever pass up an art shopping opportunity, we stopped on the way at the Chimayo Trading del Norte at Rancho de Taos.  There we discovered this unusual mask that reminded us of Commedia dell'arte but was signed by a well-known Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache sculptor, Bob Hazous. Since we had met the artist previously, I wrote to him. asking about our purchase.  Here is his reply: “I have always enjoyed the Italian theatrical masks since my first visit to Venice … My mask: I don’t recall the exact time when it was created, probably somewhere in the late 1980’s … I clearly remember making the mask, probably looked at as a humorous piece by some, but to me it represented an aesthetic and compositional challenge, probably inspired by the eyeglass frame [most likely the antique trade sign for an optometrist]. Where that came from, I couldn’t tell you. I surround myself with junk of all kinds for inspiration to be used in an artwork or contemplation. Your photos are great. Thanks for sharing that almost lost memory.”

My final smile for today is a Hopi carved wood sculpture of an embracing couple. The figures are a yellow clown and a Kokopelmana, who is the female fertility Katsina in the Hopi religious pantheon of spirits.  The group is signed RG on the base for the Hopi carver, Ros George. He specializes in making small sculptures out of a single piece of cottonwood using only a pocketknife and an Exacto razor knife.  

We acquired the piece five years ago at an auction to benefit Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.  Adding to the provenance was the fact that it had been donated to the auction by a prominent dealer, Lynn Fox who specialty is Native American pottery.  He told the Wheelwright that it dated from 1995, which was the height of realistic action Katsina figures.

So, here are three smiles in our home: one acquired directly from the artist; another from a trading post (for those not acquainted with the Southwest, read art dealer); and lastly at a charity auction.  If you are a collector, you seize opportunity wherever it presents itself.

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