With the 40th birthday of the Gallery coming up soon, we are spending a lot of time reflecting on what got us here and preparing for a big birthday bash. And yes, we are also spending a lot of time thinking about what we are going to do going forward to further enhance our mission of illuminating and celebrating the rich variety of cultures represented in the Native American peoples of the American Southwest.
My parents embedded deeply in my core as I was growing up the importance of being honest and following through on your promises to others. This was the main premise on which my parents founded the Gallery in 1980, and I am proud to have this premise at the core of my daily life.
For an online Gallery in particular, trust and honesty are paramount. I have been in a number of brick-and-mortar stores over the years where I can pick up a piece of art and quickly identify that the work was not authentic Native American. Sometimes this is clearly identified by the store, but sometimes it is fobbed off as authentic when it is clearly made either outside this country or by non-Native American artists. As a result, I go to great lengths with my network of highly knowledgeable subject matter experts to research and identify the provenance of the items in my Gallery.
A few years ago, I acquired a couple of large, unsigned black ollas that were attributed to Margaret Tafoya, with her trademark bear print symbol. But I had to know if they were authentic and done by Margaret. I took these two ollas out to Toni Roller at Santa Clara Pueblo and she and her son Jeff confirmed that the two pots were made by her mother, Margaret Tafoya and her grandmother, Sarafina Tafoya, at roughly the same time in the 1930’s. She teared up as she felt the fingerprints on the inside neck of the pots, and remarked that though her grandmother Sarafina clearly made one of the pots (from the shape of the pot’s shoulders), her mother Margaret probably polished it for Serafina because Serafina was not a real good polisher. These are the stories of authenticity and provenance that make the art truly special, and I delight in researching and conveying the back stories of the amazing art created by these Native American artists.
So when we developed our 40th birthday celebration, we wanted to reflect our values in this celebration, which is why our birthday badge on our home page and all items we ship this year is a big “Thank You For Your Trust” to all of our partners – customers and Native American artists alike – who have placed their trust in us for the past 40 years.
My word is my bond. My brother and sister can both identify with that, as they were also raised in the same straightforward manner. I want people to trust me and understand that I will do whatever is possible to honor my word. If I say I will ship a piece of pottery well protected in a double box, with added insurance, I will do so. If I say a product is authentic Native American, that means I have done everything physically possible to certify it as such. For all contemporary art, we work hard to buy directly from the Native American artists to support their efforts, but also to make sure we know the provenance. For vintage and historic pieces, we sometimes peruse estate sales or get a special closeout deal from another gallery, but even then we are very careful to establish provenance before purchasing.
Sometimes, this approach can create a bit of a challenge. Our Gallery does not do any consignment or commission work; everything we have is completely owned by us. When an artist sells us their work, we pay up front, because they have bills to pay. Again, sometimes this can be challenging when we order a piece of art from an artist, and even give a large down payment for the piece, and then the artist doesn’t follow through on their word to deliver. That hurts me deep in my heart, because I believe that if my word is my bond, theirs should also be their bond. Over time, with some missteps along the way, I have learned who to trust and who not to trust. And much like my customers do with me, if I can’t trust an artist, I won’t do business with that artist.
Where do we go from here with the Gallery? We are still operating, even though the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping the world, and we are very careful with implementing anti-virus protocols for both receiving art from our artists and shipping it out to our customers. Even though we are somewhat insulated in the cloud, we still have the physical contact with shippers and inventory to manage. We are being careful, and will have our 40th birthday celebration with 40 days of free giveaways on schedule. You have my word on that. We will be around after this pandemic recedes, stronger and healthier than ever.
So, if I haven’t already said so, THANK YOU for your trust in me and in The Dancing Rabbit Gallery. We have spent the last 40 years building up that trust base and reputation for quality and honesty, and we will continue to do that. My word is my bond. You can take that to the bank.