Recently, I was privileged to judge at the Heard Museum Guild, Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix, Arizona. The Heard is a leading entity when it comes to supporting and promoting Southwest art and artists, so I felt honored to have been called. This was a chance for me to view some of the best art in our business. Judging at this level allows me a first look at cutting edge creativity and craftsmanship. There were more than 700 top American Indian artists displaying and selling jewelry, textiles, sculpture, pottery, paintings, carvings and beadwork. The best, or most daring, of the group submitted creations they have spent up to a year preparing for this juried competition. I was definitely excited about spending up close and personal time with such a treasure trove of art.
It was looking to be a crazy week at the trading post and cafe. Craig was just recovering from knee surgery and Steve was scheduled to travel to Salt Lake City for a meeting. Several months before I had promised Carol Cohen, who was heading up the judging committee at the Heard, that I would be there for the event. I was becoming concerned that my long-term commitments here in Bluff would oblige me to renege on that promise. Fortunately, Kathy stepped-up and offered to cover my shift at the cafe and Steve offered to forgo his monthly meeting and cover the trading post. I would not be able to stay at the Heard and attend the Best of Show reception and stroll through the fair, but I could at least judge and frolic through the entries, so Laurie and I loaded up the truck and headed to the bright lights, big city.
We left early Thursday morning and drove onto the Reservation at daybreak. I am constantly amazed by and appreciative of the graphic nature and stark beauty of Navajoland. The early morning sunlight sets off the eastern face of monuments and mesas with a soft yellow/orange glow which is contrasted by deep, dark shadow on western slopes. For me, looking closely at the enhanced rock face and sheltered surfaces is reminiscent of the wonderful, weather-worn complexions of our local Navajo elders. I see in both an aged and complex attraction, and witness patience and intimate associations with time and space. Even the undulating sand dunes whiskered with scraggly plant life and stoic red rock, pockmarked and scarred by wind and rain speak to me of ancient associations. The asphalt highway splitting the landscape seems to have only a tenuous grasp on the terrain. As we traveled its narrow expanse, we were jarred by cracks and buckles upon its surface. This land is ever moving, ever altering its face. It is a wondrous, evolving place.
The trip from Bluff to Phoenix is one of constant visual stimulation. We traveled from our secluded, underpopulated, red rock embraced river valley, through the Navajo Reservation and its monolithic desert spires and red blow sand, up into the Coconino National Forest and the sacred, San Francisco Peaks; cascaded off the Mogollon Rim and into the overpopulated desert city which is encircled by giant saguaro cactus and barren, rock strewn hills. This is some of the best scenery Mother Nature has to offer. There is no need for digitally enhanced visual aids reflecting off drop down screens in your car, you simply need a clean windshield. The fact that the mother of my three children came along added greatly to my scenic perspective. We spoke at length of how much of the road we now traveled paralleled the path an early Mormon scouting party took to find their way to what would become Bluff and Montezuma Creek. I was blessed with good company, great visuals and easy conversation.
After arriving at our destination and checking into the hotel in downtown Phoenix, we had a couple hours to kill, so we went out on the streets for a walk-about. It has always interested me how other people live and adapt to their surroundings. Being born and raised in a small town makes the idea of living in a big city rather unappealing. I like the idea of being so close to the natural world, without much human competition for perfect peace and quiet. I am truly a "Bluffoon" in all aspects of my life, and that tour of Phoenix reaffirmed my belief. There are a few things that draw me into the city, and the Heard Museum is just such an attraction.
It was now time to explore the possibilities. Laurie and I went back to the room, donned fresh Levis, walked down the street to the Heard and entered its oasis in the desert. We were treated to a picnic lunch from Honey Bears, introduced and reintroduced to our peers, given a discussion on judging etiquette and turned loose into the hall. I was to be a basket judge, and was teamed with Dianne Dittemore, Ethnological Collections Curator at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona and Mark Bahti from Bahti Indian Arts in Tucson, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The good folks at the Heard were well aware of how opinionated and hardheaded some of us can be, so they put three of us together in an attempt to overcome gridlock. Our group, however, had very little trouble agreeing on prize winners. We gave the Best of Class award to a basket titled: "Gathering of Nations" by Carol E. Douglas. The Best of Show award went to a wooden reticulated sculpture titled, "Coyote as Champion" by Ed Noisecat.
After judging the baskets I was able to stroll through the wonderland and visit all the other categories, unfettered by normal viewing constraints. For me, this was an amazing opportunity to closely inspect and appreciate the passion these individuals infuse into their art. It was great to be able to study the technique, attention to detail, materials and creativity used to produce this art. Browsing the myriad of entries made me feel like the proverbial kid in a candy store. The only thing between me and that fabulous art was a pair of thin cotton gloves. The experience was overwhelming. Laurie was patient with my over exuberant attitude; she let me wander at will while waiting patiently for me to wind down. My judging duties ended around 10:00 p.m. Afterward I bid a fond farewell to the experience and we found our way back to the hotel. As I drifted off that night I must have had a smile of complete satisfaction on my face while dreams of Indian art danced in my head.
With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.