Monday, June 18, 2012

In Our Own Neighborhood

Several weeks ago I was at Twin Rocks Cafe around closing time when a handsome, well-groomed man of about 40 years of age approached me.  Watching me move about the restaurant, cleaning tables, sweeping the floor and picking up dishes, he surmised I was one of the owners and that it was likely a family business.  Having grown up in his father’s jewelry stores, he wanted to discuss my experience.
Navajo Journey Twin Rocks Modern Rug - Eleanor Yazzie (#42)
As we laughed and joked about the complications associated with such enterprises, he mentioned he had something to show me and walked out to his car to retrieve it.  He returned with a brochure displaying a line of African sterling silver jewelry.  He said he and his wife had begun traveling to the continent several years ago and, witnessing the country’s poverty firsthand, had determined to help the people they met.

Noticing some of the villagers they got to know had a tradition of making silver jewelry, and capitalizing on his years in that trade, he established a not-for-profit export business specializing in their crafts.  All profits went back to the villages to help with infrastructure, food aid and the like.  The brochure featured mostly handmade charms based upon local legends and traditions.  They were exceptionally attractive, and the stories associated with the pieces extremely interesting.  He wanted to know if I would support his cause and carry the jewelry in our gift shop.

This was not the first time I have been asked such questions.  One cannot argue the African people, and many others around the world, need help.  Initially I was inclined to pitch in wherever and whenever I was able.  That, however, was before I began to comprehend the depth of need right here in the Four Corners region.  As anyone who has lived in this area knows, one could easily spend several lifetimes trying to mitigate the poverty, abuse, neglect and need found in our own neighborhood.

Late last year I was talking with a good friend of mine who mentioned the citizens of Monticello, a community 50 miles north of Bluff, had tied more than 800 quilts to be donated to various humanitarian organizations.  When he, his wife and several other volunteers delivered the quilts to the worldwide distribution center in Salt Lake City, the director was grateful, but concerned.  He did not know where they would find the money to ship the donations to their intended recipients.  During the ensuing discussion, my friend became convinced that, rather than looking to far-flung countries they actually knew little about, his group would have been better served by focusing on local families.  It was quite an eye-opener.

Long ago Barry, Craig and I found we could have the greatest impact by helping local artists and craftspeople develop their skills.  In doing so, we have been able to create micro-economies in Navajo basketry, contemporary Navajo rug weaving, folk art and silversmithing that put money directly into the pockets of people we know.  We can focus on problems we understand and can also see that we are having a direct impact on the lives of people we interact with on a regular basis.

For us it is hard to fully understand the needs of people half a world away.  It is, however, easy to see the struggles of those living just miles from our door.  I, therefore, informed my new friend that, because I was concerned it may diminish what we do for local people who have great and overwhelming needs, we would not be selling the African charms.  He seemed to understand and appreciate our philosophy.  It is satisfying to know that at times a trading post can help a village.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

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