Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Off Topic

Yup. It's another cute cat picture. Sorry.

This is Chopper. Some kid moved into my courtyard, got him as a kitten, and proceeded to neglect him. He'd leave him locked up in the apartment, alone, for days with nothing but a huge bowl of dry cat food and a bucket of water. Chopper would sit in the window all day screaming to get out.

I'm the self-appointed gardener of the courtyard and when watering I would spray the window where Chopper was sitting. It freaked him out a bit the first couple of times, but he realized he wasn't going to get wet, and took to sitting there while I sprayed the window.

The kid would take the overflowing cat box into the private courtyard behind his place, and just dump it on the ground. This got the landlord excited and Chopper was evicted. The landlord didn't know what the cat looked like, had only seen the cat box evidence, so the kid just kinda kicked Chopper out. He hung around and got fed once in a while when the kid would make a rare appearance at his apartment, so I picked up the slack and fed him regularly.

This led to Chopper hanging with me a lot. He'd follow me around when I was watering, and due to the window spraying, he had little to no fear of water, and would stand inches away from the spray as I watered, whereas the numerous cats that occupy the courtyard would maintain a considerable distance.

I talked to the kid one evening and expressed my concern over Chopper's well being; asked if he had plans to place him with someone. He had none--had opted to let Chopper fend for himself. Chopper, being very young, was learning the ropes when it came to dealing with the adult cats in the courtyard. He got his butt kicked regularly and had no chance of respite cuz the poor guy didn't have anywhere where he could escape their advances. I bit the bullet, bought a case of cat food, and moved him in.

I don't do cat boxes. Chopper's been with me for a couple of weeks now and he is real good about going outside to do his business. The one drawback is that he has chosen to perform this task at 4am on the dot. He employs his "outside voice" in order to wake me to let him out. I don't really mind, I like getting up early, and he's such a sweetheart I seldom scold him for doing so.

Considering adding him to the "About Us" page on the website as the company mascot. But then Chantal would insist on equal billing for her pitbull cross.

I had no part in naming him.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Pupil Speaks

When I was first starting out on this adventure, like in all things you set out to accomplish, there were some stumbling blocks. I made poor acquisition decisions regularly and was tethered to eBay as my source for moving them. I had a good eye, but as per usual, my ADD kept me antsy and I often ended up with pieces that absolutely deserved to be on eBay.

I was learning as much as I could absorb, but the pace was maddening--I couldn't get the info into my head fast enough. My eye served me well in many instances, but I needed to raise the bar.

In my second or third year of involvement in the Native American jewelry trade something important happened. An avid collector purchased a piece from me on eBay, was pleased with his purchase, and we struck up a conversation that led to him becoming the first of my collectors; I now had someone to show my better acquisitions to that would be straight forward with me concerning attributes of a piece that I was either confused about, or just plain wrong.

The flagship image of Native Treasures is a piece he acquired from me as an enhancement to his bolo tie collection. When it landed in my hands, my first thought was of him. I knew it was something special and couldn't wait to show him. He agreed and I felt I had reached a point where my acquisitions skills had improved enough to garner his approval. This was a big deal to me.

During the course of our relationship he has humbled me regularly by correcting my assessment of the pieces I offer him. He has a deep appreciation for the art form, has been a collector for a very long time, and although there was no real motivation for him to assist in my education, he did so without reserve. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, and I'm pleased that our relationship continues.

I just missed meeting him in person during a recent trip to the east coast. We both had our hands full and the weather was prohibitive (10 to 14 degrees with high winds the whole time I was there). He put me up in a fine hotel and gave me many useful pointers on navigating the landscape. I still haven't a clue as to what he looks like and am hopeful we'll meet one day--I must view his collection as it promises to be a thing of wonder and amazement.

He sits on my shoulder now when I'm in the field--I consider what his opinion would be and it either moves me to acquire, or throws up a big stop sign. The bar has been raised considerably over the years and it's due in part to this man's patient contributions to my knowledge base.

It's a rare thing to meet someone of integrity that also happens to be kind.

I thank you sir. You are truly a gentleman.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Truly Unique American Art Form

Several years ago, when it became apparent that being someone's "employee" was no longer an option for me, I had some hard decisions to make.

Previous to my enduring "employment" as an income source, I made a decent living as a musician; I got to express myself. That was all well and good, but there's a youth factor to be considered, and as my tastes evolved, I found it harder and harder to remain in that particular bread line due to the high cost of living indoors. I still play regularly, but I do it alone and for free.

I had always shown an interest in art even as a child. So, in my 30s, I went to art school and graduated in the top of my class. This led to a string of mind numbing jobs in the commercial art industry. I tried to escape by starting my own advertising firm and it was a success, for a while. I was still someone's "employee" and had to answer to them concerning what their spouses thoughts were on the ads I was creating:

Client: What do you mean I shouldn't be portrayed as the devil?
Me: Last time I checked, Satan was not considered to be a trustworthy character.
Client: But my wife LOVES it!
Me: Why does this not surprise me?

Conversations such as this were the norm, not the exception, and again, I found myself forced to do the bidding of others against my better judgement. Something had to change. Sooner than later.

I had a couple of friends that were antique dealers. Their stories always made it sound like they were enjoying themselves; shopping, research, trading with other dealers and making a reasonable living while doing so. Why not join in the fun?

So I picked a category that interested me--I've always had an appreciation for "old stuff" especially things from the Art Deco period and shortly thereafter. I chose toys as my focus. I studied up, tried to memorize huge volumes of toy pricing guides, manufacturers of note from around the world, conferred with the few toy aficionados I could find and started my search. Turns out Albuquerque is far from being a mecca for vintage toys and I floundered. Oh, I made a few bucks here and there when I got lucky, but getting lucky in the toy market proved illusive. I pushed onward, determined to find the source of vintage toys in New Mexico.

Making the garage sales was imperative, according to my successful friends, and while I was making the rounds one Friday morning, and digging through a 5 gallon can of what appeared to be urine specimen bottles and rusty gardening tools, I spotted a turquoise ring at the bottom of the pile. Time stopped. It was the proverbial "diamond bullet to the forehead." Upon examining the ring I realized it had been made with some considerable effort, was beautifully designed and apparently very old. These are things I can get behind--hard work resulting in a thing of beauty. I am familiar with that; have an understanding of the mind set required to pull it off.

Toys? What toys?

I dedicated myself anew. New volumes of information now garnered my attention, and the more I learned, the more I liked what I had chosen as my new undertaking. The wealth of information on the subject of Native American jewelry is mind boggling. Documentation starts around the turn of the century and expands exponentially as time marched forward. Native Americans, having been forced to live in the white man's world, were adrift; their culture all but eliminated. There were a handful of native artisans that were producing jewelry on a very small scale for use in the few tribal rituals that remained intact, and as every day adornment for their fellow tribe members. But when the US highway system was put in place their numbers multiplied due to the tourist trade. People traveling through the Southwest wanted to take a piece of it home with them, so the established artisans taught their craft to anyone caring to learn. And presto! Food on the table for a change.

There are countless varieties of jewelry available to consumers; have been since the first person poked a hole in a pretty rock, ran a string through it and hung it around their neck. Yet when you compare ingenuity, creativity and attention to detail, you'll be hard pressed to match that which the Native American Indian has achieved in the last century.

I've been studying for close to a decade now, and have barely scratched the surface. Anyone who tells you they have Native American jewelry attributes "in their pocket" is sadly mistaken. Oh, I know plenty, but good grief, there is so much more to learn. It's proving to be a pleasant journey.