Standing near the cash register, I was just finishing a telephone transaction when an older couple walked into the trading post. From the lines on his face and the abundance of gray in his beard, I estimated him to be approximately 70 years old. The lady had only a few laugh lines around her eyes and her hair was more brown than gray, which made her appear at least 15 years younger than her companion.
Navajo Rug Weaver Sarah Descheny
As soon as they came through the door, the couple split up. The man veered off in the direction of the Navajo rugs, poked his hands into his pockets and took on a look of complete indifference. The woman walked right up to where I stood and smiled in a bright, friendly manner; hesitating a moment as if waiting for me to finish my work. At the back counter, Priscilla, our trusty associate, was busy pricing bracelets we had just purchased from Ella Toney. I set what I was doing aside and greeted the woman, who was dressed for summer in khaki shorts; a sleeveless, button-down shirt; and sandals.
Her pageboy haircut and sparkling brown eyes made her seem even younger than my original guesstimate. She said she was interested in earrings, so I showed her a variety of styles. She liked those by Navajo artist Jimmy Poyer, and began to closely investigate his work.
Looking up to locate her husband, I found him standing near the bat wing doors leading into the rug room, tapping them impatiently. I told the man he was welcome to enter and look more closely at the weavings. Except to push through the doors and walk in, he did not acknowledge my comment. His wife and I returned to Jimmy's earrings. She soon found a pair that suited her and held one to her left ear to view it in the mirror.
Neither of us saw her husband approach, but we both distinctly heard his next statement. "I am dumbfounded," he said emphatically. We were caught completely off guard, and stared at him in wide-eyed wonder. He reiterated, "I am dumbfounded!" "So am I," I thought to myself. "Why?" I asked. I could tell the woman was thinking the same thing, because she had a similarly startled look on her face as she continued holding the earring to the side of her head.
The man was slight of build, with sharp features and a slightly olive complexion. He stood there looking intently at us in his Levi's, hiking boots and plaid button-down shirt. I admit I am sometimes slow on the uptake, but this guy was not giving me any clues. I looked to Priscilla for help and saw only confusion in her eyes. The man gazed at us intently from under his "Indiana Jones", sage green felt hat; waiting. At close range, the man's bearded face and the serious look in his eyes allowed me to see just how passionate he was about this subject.
The three of us stood gazing at this interesting character and wondered where he was going with his comments. He shook his head and produced a pictorial rug which I had not previously noticed him holding. "Sarah Descheeny" he said. Then again, "I am dumbfounded!" "I understand that part," I said, "but why?" Shaking his head at my lack of comprehension, he began to explain. "I am Jewish, and my last name is Deschenes. This rug was woven by Sarah Descheeny!" He looked at us again with raised eyebrows. "Oh," I said, somewhat relieved, "you have similar last names."
Turning to Priscilla, I asked what Descheeny means in Navajo. She thought a moment and said, "I think it is a clan name meaning, 'Start of the Red Streaked People.'" "There you have it," I said. The guy just stood there, shaking his head side to side. I turned to the women, who looked at her husband and tried to change the subject. Shaking the earring next to her earlobe, she asked if he liked how it looked. Waving off the question, he said, "I can't be bothered with that right now; this is amazing!" The woman handed me the earrings and sighed in resignation.
What had captured the man's imagination, aside from her name, was an image of Sarah that was attached to the weaving. Mr. Deschenes held the picture up to his face and said; "Do you see the resemblance?" "Okay, this is getting weird," I thought. "Think man," he said, "her name is Sarah!" Now I was loosing patience. Shaking my head in disbelief, I said, "There is also a Rachel next door working at the cafe, and I know for a fact she is not Jewish!" The man gave me a look of disdain and turned to his wife to explain. She cut him off by turning away. I am sure she was remembering the earring dismissal.
Navajo Pictorial rug by Sarah Descheny
The man turned back to me and said, "I think this is my sister!" I just stood there a moment, letting his statement sink in. He waited patiently, and I started to disagree. Looking into his eyes once again, however, I thought better of it. I could not, however, let it go and said; "If that is true, it would mean that your father visited the Reservation 80 some-odd years ago and . . . planted a seed. "Yes," he said shaking his head in the affirmative, "I am dumbfounded!"
I stared at the man in surprise, and thought through the implications. I considered how surprised Sarah might be as well, and smiled inwardly at the thought of presenting her with the facts. The idea just did not make sense, and I said so. In reply, the man said, " I'm Jewish; I know a Jew when I see one." He held the picture up again and said, "Can't YOU see it?" What I wanted to say was, "Well, I'm not Navajo, but I have lived among them for years. In spite of that, I don't always know a Navajo when I see one!" I resisted however, and in the alternative said, "What I think is, at this point, it really does not matter what I think; your mind is made up."
Things quickly went downhill from there, and the earring sale fell through. "I just can't think about that right now," he said again. The couple departed, and Priscilla and I stood there looking at each other in wide-eyed wonder. Yup, you guessed it . . . dumbfounded!
The next time Sarah came to the trading post we mentioned the encounter to her. I thought she would fall down laughing at the thought of such a thing. Her two daughters ribbed her unmercifully the whole time they were here, and then departed laughing and joking. This was quite a contrast to how Mr. and Mrs. Deschenes left the building.
As I considered the parallel encounters, I realized that Sarah never really refuted the accusation. She laughed about it, joked about it and allowed herself to be tormented by her daughters, but never actually denied it. Either Sarah thought the idea too ludicrous to take seriously or she would make an excellent politician, or just maybe . . . .
With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.
Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American creations!
Special Focus on: Bisbee Turquoise
Artist Spotlight on Navajo Folk Artist Leland Holiday.
Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!
New Staff Picks for the Month of October, coming soon!
Auction ends Friday, Oct. 3rd @ 2pm MST. Place your bids! eRocks Auctions!
Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!
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