Friday, February 6, 2015

In a Hundred Years

The other day Elsie Holiday was in the trading post with her latest wonderment. The basket was, as always, a stunning work of art. Although Elsie, Barry and I have been collaborating almost 25 years, her work continues to dazzle us. Over that period we have come to know each other well, and frequently tease about things that might otherwise be uncomfortable. Our banter would certainly make many of the politically correct crowd howl and cause the conservative congregation to blush.
Elsie Holiday with her Feather Basket

Once Elsie has her greenbacks tucked safely in her trousers, we at times joke about going to K&C Store for a twelve, twenty-four of thirty-six pack and sitting under the Cottonwood Wash bridge for a binge. The size of the suggested haul being dependent on how trying the day has been so far. I always suggest we get Budweiser or other inexpensive brand, and that she pay the tab. With a loud “Bah” and a twisted face, she consistently informs me she does not drink the cheap stuff and that it’s my turn to pay anyway. We have a good laugh, she leaves with a smile and I am left wondering why we all cannot simply enjoy each other on our own terms. Why do we worry so much about what others think is right or wrong?

When we opened Twin Rocks Trading Post, there was a local Navajo folk artist whose work Barry and I enjoyed. It also sold well, so that made things even better. In the early stages of the business relationship, his severe alcoholism made our transactions tense. One of his favorite drinking locations was under the bridge, so that is why Elsie and I tease about going down to the wash.

On hot summer days our associate and his buddies would often be found beneath the abutments, enjoying an icy cold brew. With the ambition of missionaries, Barry and I tried to convince him he was on the wrong track. He, however, would not budge. Once we realized he was what he wanted to be and had no intention of changing, we were forced to accept him on his own terms. It was at that point Barry and I concluded we were not cut out to be saviors. It was also at that point we began to find the true beauty in him and his work. From that day forward we have stuck to selling turquoise, silver and fry bread, abstaining from evangelism.

At the trading post we are often asked or opinion on professional sports teams using Native themes as their mascots, what we think about using the term “Ancient Puebleon” instead of “Anasazi” to identify the ancient ones of this region and what should be done about white folks commandeering Native themes. Barry is a little more cautious, but for me, I think we think a too much. My friend Gerald always asks, “Will it make any difference in 100 years?” In all too many cases the answer is a resounding, “No!”

Several years ago, I received a call from an obviously agitated woman who informed me Bruce Eckhardt, an Anglo artist, had no right to make “Native American beads” and that it was an outrage he was doing so. I happened to be setting in front of my computer, so, using the magic of Google, it did not take long to discover that such beads have been made for thousands of years, long before there were Native Americans. “So”, I asked, “who are we to tell Bruce what he can and cannot make?” And, “Why”, I inquired, “did she feel beads were the exclusive jurisdiction of Native American artists?” As one might guess, she did not have a solid answer.

Recently, one of our best friends was at Twin Rocks expressing agitation about pop stars wearing, “Native” headdresses. “Cultural appropriation”, he called it, and indicated Native Americans should be compensated for such usage. “What about us”, I asked, “we sell Native art all day long. Isn’t that also cultural piracy?” “No”, he argued, “because you pay for it.” “Okay”, I said, taking the easy way out. I still, however, felt uncomfortable about his thesis. So, after he left I once again called upon my best friend Google, and ascertained that feather headdresses were in fact used by Myan, African, Aztec and, you guessed it, countless other cultures around the world.

Having lived more than half a century, I have concluded the best things in life are affected by a great many external factors. At Twin Rocks Trading Post we often see art incorporating Oriental Optical Art themes, Art Deco elements, Hopi motifs, Apache designs, Anglo ingredients and a variety of other influences. In fact, Barry and I view Twin Rocks Trading Post as a confluence of such diverse ideas.

Like the people who make it, we believe art is an amalgam of individual experience. Barry and I have, therefore, developed the opinion that we, whatever our color, should be free to express ourselves openly, with no concern for what is politically correct; without having to consider whether some other group claims an exclusive right to the idea’s origin. After all, in a hundred years will it really matter?

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

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