The Dancing Rabbit Gallery turns 35 years old today! Happy Birthday, Dancing Rabbit! To help us celebrate, when you buy anything from the Gallery during the month of July, enter the promo code “birthday” to receive 15% discount on all purchases.
Started in 1980 by my mom, Jo McClain, and my dad, Pat McClain, the Dancing Rabbit Gallery was initially a vehicle by which my parents could indulge their lifelong love of Southwestern American Indian art and culture. Mom was a great fan of Oklahoma painters, including Jerome Tiger (we currently have about 17 of his prints), Doc Tate Nevaquaya, Archie Blackowl, and Kelly Haney, among many others. She began by purchasing signed limited edition prints, and a few originals; she and Dad went to exhibits and shows to sell the prints. Thus began the official “business” part of the Dancing Rabbit Gallery.
Mom’s paternal grandmother, Nellie Hammer Denham, was one of the first Anglo women in Oklahoma Territory, where she was a schoolteacher for Native American children. When she was a child, Mom’s parents would take her on vacation trips to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and throughout the Southwest, visiting pueblos, learning history, and meeting lots of people. One of the first pieces of pottery acquired by my Mom’s maternal grandmother was a small black pot bought in 1934 from Maria Martinez in her home at San Ildefonzo Pueblo.
Over the years, Mom grew to love the Southwest cultures, and passed that love and appreciation along to me and my siblings when we were young. As a family we took frequent vacation trips to the Southwest stopping to enjoy new cultural experiences. Mom and Dad also made a point of stopping in to see their many artist friends. It was at that time, on one of our trips, that I began acquiring my own pieces of jewelry and pottery (as my very limited allowance permitted).
Mom taught pre-school at the Fort Worth Museum of History for a number of years. She also assisted in their Native American art and artifacts collection. It was here, as well at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, she was able to delve deeper into the culture she loved. When the Museum of Science and History decided to downsize some of their collections, Mom was able to purchase some nice pre-historic artifacts, as well as other items, with complete confidence in their provenance.
As time went on my siblings and I moved on to college and our own adult lives, Mom and Dad became more fully engaged in the Gallery. Though still an aerospace engineer at Lockheed, Dad found time to support Mom with her “habit” of meeting artists and buying pieces for her collection. They even purchased a small garden home in Santa Fe, where they would spend long vacations exploring the Southwest and visiting with their friends.
Mom used to tell the story about hearing a knock on her Santa Fe door one day, about a week before Indian Market was to begin. It was Juan Tafoya and his family, renowned potters from San Ildefonzo Pueblo, showing up to visit and stay for a couple of weeks – unannounced. Of course, my Mom took it in stride, and gladly welcomed them into her tiny home for the duration of Market. She told similar stories of Ivan and Rita Lewis of Cochiti spending weekends and of other potters who would drop by to visit. Her eyes always sparkled at those fond memories. One of the most poignant stories is of her attending Rita’s funeral, and seeing one of Rita’s favorite pots smashed into the grave as tradition dictated.
Mom passed away in 1995, and at her funeral, Dad took her favorite Feather Woman pot and did the same. We knew what that meant to Mom, and why she wanted to continue with the traditions she had come to love so much.
Sadly, Dad passed away a few years later, and their collection of art, pottery, baskets, rugs, jewelry, and other artifacts was passed along to my siblings and me. For a number of years, I continued my career as a high school English literature teacher, maintaining my love of Southwestern cultures through visits to the Southwest and a few additions to my part of the inherited collection. But in 2012, as I began to contemplate retirement, a new door opened in my life. My husband and soulmate, Michael, suggested that retirement would give me time to resurrect the Dancing Rabbit Gallery and carry on the tradition that my family began so many years ago. The Internet made that possible; so we re-opened and expanded the online Dancing Rabbit Gallery into what you see today.
The tradition of education and learning runs strong in my family. Over 100 years ago in Oklahoma Territory my great-grandmother was a teacher. My grandmother also taught. My mother spent her life teaching not only her children, but many others about science, nature, and a people’s culture she loved. I also spent many years as a teacher and consultant. There is a common thread that is consistent through the generations of my family – education and appreciation of art and other cultures. I am very proud to be able to continue the opportunities to learn and appreciate the art and artists of the Southwest through the Dancing Rabbit Gallery.
Although the Dancing Rabbit Gallery officially turns 35 years old, the tradition and legacy that I continue to represent is well over 140 years old – a strong understanding and a deep appreciation for Southwestern Native American people and their cultures. We will continue to share what we have learned through spotlighting artists, pieces of their work, and aspects of their cultures both on the Dancing Rabbit Gallery site and on our Facebook page. Let’s continue this journey together!