Finally getting organized after a long weekend in Phoenix. I’ve been working on a book I’m calling (for now at least) “Sacred Southwest: …” . And this trip to Phoenix, specifically a full two days at the Heard Museum’s Indian Fair and Market, is to experience one of the preeminent Native American art events — and an important nexus in the artistic and economic landscape of two cultures. So a book research trip to the Heard.
The Heard Museum has a lovely collection of Southwestern art in it’s own right — including a collection of kachina dolls based on the Barry Goldwater collection, a real feast for those familiar with the traditional side of that native art.
Plus they present this yearly event, open to all Native American artists, right there on the grounds and courtyard of the Museum. So the swirling beat of the show plays off of a gallery full of Pueblo (and Navajo) art — mostly of an earlier era, as well as a wonderful collection of work at the Museum store.
And for me (and more importantly, those artists whose careers I’ve been following), this show, along with the Santa Fe Indian Market, is the place for seeing and buying new Southwestern art. Any Native artist can pay the fee and get a booth, like an “open” sports event. But like sport, to be noticed with an award, that’s the brass ring. That’s positive proof you’ve arrived at some level of respect in this unique art world.
The artists don’t journey down here just for the prize money and the bragging rights. They do it because they’re doing work they’re proud of and because paying the bills is part of the definition of a professional, and because they can’t imagine doing anything else with this craft they’ve been given. So an art festival like the Heard captures the pulse and range of the ancient artistic traditions of the Southwest. And the Heard does its job elegantly.
The event includes the Friday night display of the juried art winners (this being a museum contest in part). Then for the weekend, the festival continues with all the artists, winners (and the less lucky) selling the work they’ve brought at a booth. And during these two days, the event will be a hitching up of two cultures; a connection both cultures appear to enjoy.
That first Saturday is all about showing and selling, explaining the work, being available, as each passerby seeks for what catches the eye and the soul. After five, a tired dinner, as Saturday sleeps into Sunday. Lots of good stuff is gone by Sunday but there’re plenty of gems for not too much. On Sunday you also start to notice that there’s a whole community of folks who come back every year to check out the pottery or kachina carving. And with the more laid back atmosphere, they get caught up with their artist friends.
The artists can also venture out more. Talk to friends from the tribe, see another artist’s work, get caught up with an uncle or cousin in the slow moments. These Native art festivals go way past the vendor-buyer framework.
And that’s because the artist isn’t just out there selling on his own. People try and bring their family to this one, as they do to Flagstaff or Santa Fe. And family helps support their artist around the booth and later hook up for dinner … and so it’s almost like the tribe has a branch office in Phoenix.
And during the last year, I’ve been closely engaged with the Hopi community and gotten a hint of the flow of the life (for a white boy writer). Family, tradition, school, ceremonies and dances, and all the things that go into selling one’s work. So I realized, I had to go to this final show. … Five of the Hopi artists I’ve been connecting with were at the show, a couple ended up as prize winners.
Rainy Naha won best of Division A, (Painted, outdoor fired, native clay, hand-built) for her pot in the traditional Hopi style — done in the Awatovi village style of her ancestors.
My buddy, Aaron Fredricks won a best of division for his traditional kachina doll, “Navaho Woman,” (carved figure, old style, revival) and a Judges Award for Contemporary Carved Dolls for his, “Soyoko Wuhti With Child.” Nice.
But everyone who comes comes with their game face on. Everyone who’s spent the last few months putting together some show pieces gets their art out there in the light of day. And that experience can be exciting or painful but you don’t grow until you put yourself out there. So just seeing people make that big commitment to their creative process, that’s what most excites me. That seems to be what gets people coming back.
So how does this little weekend trip to the urban desert city fit into a book? Current thinking is a wide-ranging travel book — with a more complex structure than the two Utah photo books. This one is still part photo book, with a portfolio, “Canyon del Muerto in Fall,” a photo enthusiast’s guide to Monument Valley, a sampler of Antelope Canyon(s) images, etc. But I want to also see how the elements of a road trip into these ancient cultures can be captured into travel book form.
That’s why the writing style deepens as I engage with each sacred place through the art form — using image discovery as a lens (intended) for human experience. It’s my attempt at a more personal form of travel/photo writing. And this new book will be a personal exploration of what a visit to Navajo country or Hopi (or another Pueblo) can be.
Several of the chapters will center on native artists, mostly Hopi and Zuni, and how they engage with their art and how that art connects to the deeper cultural traditions. And luckily for me, the Hopi are one of the few Pueblo cultures that allow outside folks access to any of their spiritual ceremonies.
So some small insights the deeper life of Hopi or Navajo may find their way into the writing. But in large part the book will be a celebration of art of the Sacred Southwest, and a photographic celebration of the landscape that provides the context of culture.
That’s one nice thing about putting the landscapes and the artistic landscapes of these cultures into the same book. Because when you come into these places, even as a tourist, you’re also engaging with folks who’s village, whose culture, has grown in the high desert for centuries. That’s what makes a visit to the Sacred Southwest so intriguing. Because in some small way, experiencing the art, the artist, the tradition, allows you entry into the cultural complexity of Spirit.