American Trails Gallery Road Trip

“Road Trip by Shane Bloodworth owner of American Trails Gallery”

David Bobb my partner and I just completed a 3500 mile whirlwind tour of the Southwest hand selecting the best of everything we encountered to feature in the new American Trails Ethnographic Gallery. We started the tour by attending the Tuscon Gem and Mineral Show where you can spend two full days there and only go to 10 of the 43 Venues.

We concentrated in meeting with the Native artists and manufacturers while shopping for beads in all the colors of the rainbow: lapis, turquoise, gaspeite, coral, sugalite and spondoulus shell to list a few. We enjoyed seeing thousands of mineral samples, beads, stones, artifacts, fossils and the interesting people from all over the world.

Traveling North through the land of the Sugaro with huge towering specimens for miles on end covering the red stone hills and canyons around Tucson we eventully arrived in the land of the Zuni outside Gallup NM to hold and select Zuni fetish carvings out of the hundreds we looked at. These creative little fetishes originally represented the animal totems of their religion. They have a plentiful palate of stones and shells in which to create these miniature sculptures and many are incised or decorated with feathers and shells. The Zuni artists put a little of themselves in each piece and send it and its blessings along to us.

Our next stop was the Toadlena Trading Post South of Shiprock. Good friends of David’s Mark and Lynda Winter have owned the Post for 20 years and during that time they have bought over 7,000 weavings. The Toadlena/Two Grey Hills weavers create some of the finest Navajo rugs and tapestries. They shear the local sheep which can have splotches of different shades of black, gray, browns and russets along with the white. They still clean and hand wash the wool. While talking with Thelma Brown local weaver and Trading Post expert she joked it was a lot of work to clean the wool “those sheep love to roll in the dirt and pebbles and then they go through the thick brush and all kinds of things stick to the fleece,” The wool is then carded in preparation for spinning. She was very kind to come in on her day off to show us around and to give us a little demonstration of how they use a simple spindle that they roll along their thigh to spin their yarn. It looks like a lot of tedious work but Thelma said she enjoys it and finds it meditative. As she worked I noticed her jeans were worn through in places where the spindle rolled.

By having dozens of shades of white, black, greys, tans, and browns to work with the weavers create intricate designs of multi colors without having to use natural or artificial dyes. Homespun wool allows these weavers to create very strong and thin threads that can be used to create tapestries. A relatively new weaving category created at the Gallup Cerimonial so that someone other than a Toadlena weaver could win a ribbon. The Tapestry category requires 80- 120 threads per inch.

We selected a group of weavings that represent the diversity of artists they have at the Post from the traditional to the unusual. One extended Family weaves round rugs with sand painting designs including Mother Earth – Father Sky. Another family weaves Kokopelli into their creations. The Navajos “Walk in Beauty” and the time that goes into first preparing the wool and then setting up the loom and finally weaving the design can take months. A young Navajo girl strapped into a cradle watching her mother weave for hours a day may be what allows mature weavers to fully envision the design they intend to create in wool before the first weft is started. The Navajo have Matralinally based Clan societies so families have multiple generations of weavers that typically all share the design motifs that make their weavings identifiable. These beautifull weavings represent hundreds of years of tradition and radiate the love and care of their creators.

While in Alb

uquerque we had the opportunity to tour the workshop of Chimney Butte, traditional jeweler, artist and manufacurer. In a large room stacked all around with five gallon white buckets of raw stone and nuggets one worker was grinding the excess silver off of rings that were just soldered together and another was soldering on the bezels for a group of bracelets. They start with raw stone and then slab it. At that point they see what each piece reveals and then decide what to do with it. A big bracelet cab or maybe two pair of matched earrings. They don’t use any filler or backing on their stone cabs.

As Chimney expained it “you have to use a thick slab so you can feel the medicine of the stones”. Their shop creates one of a kind hand made creations that carry the essence of the metal and the stone and the blessing medicine the Artist imparts on each piece.

We also selected a great group of colorfull paintings by the Artist Farrell Cockrum who is from the Blackfeet Nation of Northern Montana, Farrell Cockrum’s great passion in life is informing the world of his rich Native American heritage through his contemporary works of art. Farrell Cockrum studied art at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1980’s. Steeped in the traditions and culture of his native ancestors, Farrell captures the spirit of the Blackfeet in each of his unique and colorful paintings. Vivid color, rich texture and striking subject matter make up the core of Farrell’s captivating subjects including native figures and honored wildlife. He is very well known throughout the southwest and collected across the world.

Heading North towards Santa Fe we stopped off at the Santo Domingo Pueblo whom are known for their distinctive Pottery and also for their Heishi necklaces and fancy inlay slab designs. We visited the home of Lynn Aguilar who was working on a big table surrounded by large Navajo rugs and was kind enough to get out her finished jewelry and let us pick out what we liked. She mentioned that her brothers Raymond and Lonnie were jewelers as well and before you knew it the brothers arrived and the house was filled with 8 members of her family. We were able to get an outstanding collection of Santo Domingo jewelry direct from the artists which saves our customers money and gives the art a personal connection.

Further North we arrive at Taos to tour the Taos Drum factory and to pick out some of their handmade drums. Most are made tradtionally with cottonwood logs with the inside hollowed out and then covered in wet rawhide and laced together. When the rawhide dries it shrinks giving a tight head with great sound. They make a wide selection of hand drums as well.

All in all we had a very successful trip bringing back a fabulous collection for our Grand Opening coming on the First Friday Art Walk in April. We also have shipments of Pacific Northwest carvings including dance masks and decorative plaques which are hand carved out of cedar with simple tools and then painted to bring out the designs. Many of these carvings represent the totems of their Clans, Eagle, Bear, Whale, Wolf etc. We also have a custom made hand carved inlaid panel and boxes by renowned carver James Michel. We look forward to seeing the incised silver earrings, pendants and bracelets we have coming from Tlinget and Haida artists as well.

Also arriving daily are weavings from the Zapotecs in Mexico, fanciful animalistas coming from the State of Guerrero and distintive pottery from the Mata Ortiz which is a small village in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, less than 100 miles from the US-Mexico border. The community is one of the designated localidades in the municipio libre of Casas Grandes, one of several such pueblos in a wide, fertile valley long inhabited by indigenous people. Mata Ortiz is located at the base of a mountain known as El Indio and on the west bank of the Rio Palanganas, a tributary of the Rio Casas Grandes. The ancient ruins of Casas Grandes are located nearby.

We invite you to come by and join us for our grand opening so you can get to connect the art with some of the faces of the artists working hard to maintain their tradional ways of life in an ever changing world.