Painting: The Least Traditional Native American Art Form

When we first considered presenting Native American artifacts as a special collection offered through Dogbotz Boneyard, we weren’t quite sure whether it was wise to include artwork, especially painting. Though Native American painting remains a popular art form about which people have e-mailed us, painting, as it’s understood within the context of European art history, is not a traditional art form for most Native American cultures.

Yes, native painting traditions exist in many tribes, but unlike their European counterparts, paintings were almost always used as decoration for apparel (for example, paintings on leather war shirts) or other functional items (tipi covers come readily to mind). Or, similar to their European cousins at Lascaux and other prehistoric sites, many North American indigenous paintings weren’t portable, such as petrogylphs on a nearby cliff face or other large rock formation. Before European contact, Native American painting was endowed with a variety of ritual and social purposes by diverse cultural groups throughout the continent. That said, perhaps the greatest example is Navajo sandpainting, which was originally created for religious ceremonies or for spiritual healing purposes. Today, some contemporary Navajo artists have designed secular versions of sandpaintings that can be acquired as cultural art.

Many contemporary Native American artists have adapted Western European painting styles to portray the people of their own tribes as well as their tribal experiences and worldviews. Such artists strive to maintain the traditions and culture of their people and reflect the dynamic and sometimes painful changes that they and their respective cultures have endured. Though the techniques of these paintings are not traditionally Native American, the styles, designs, and subject matter reflect the artists’ tribal heritage, and many of them are stunningly beautiful and incisive. Consider Peyote Man or Fire Woman by Sioux artist Kathleeen Kills Thunder, Wisdom of Our Fathers by Navajo painter Fred Cleveland, and Anasazi Parrots by Cochiti artist Joe H. Herrera (see images below).

In addition, contemporary Native American artists cover the gamut of expression in all media, from the acrylics of Fred Cleveland to the digital artwork of French-Ojibwa artist Michael Pierre Price. And, that’s just in the field of painting, for similar diversity exists in the sculptural artwork of Six Nations sculptor Clifton Henry and Navajo ceramicist Tom Vail, Jr.

The challenges currently facing many contemporary Native American painters are the conflicts between the styles of purism and modernism and between paintings created by genuine Native Americans and those works produced by artists inspired by Native American culture. Thus, such questions as, “How much tribal cultural imagery must be maintained within a painting (or any media, for that matter) to be considered by collectors as genuinely Native American.” Or, “Can a painting of any subject matter in any style, regardless of its point of inspiration, be deemed Native American as long as the artist himself/herself is an officially, tribally registered individual?” To date, the debate on these topics continues to be discussed.

The following paintings (and I’ve added a few sculptural pieces) are available for sale through The Tribal Perspective exhibit at the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art:

All the best,

Patrick Price
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC

Hey, Is This Collectible Antique, Vintage or Retro?

For any of us who are collectors of anything of value (hopefully real as opposed to merely perceived), we are at some point or another — and more often than not, at numerous points — confronted with the niggling thought as to whether what we’ve been collecting are antiques, vintage items, or retro pieces. Similarly, those of us who sell collectibles — as we do here at Dogbotz Boneyard — are asked the question “Is it antique, vintage or retro?” by our customers. Now there has been excessive discussion about this topic on auction websites such as the ubiquitous eBay, on blogs focusing on collectibles (such as this one), in newsletters (e- and not), etc. So much discussion, in fact, that I was at first loathe to add my proverbial two cents until, of course, Randy (one of our customers) asked me the very same question about the 1945 edition of the Cootie game we presented a few blogs ago (see Why Collect Vintage Games? posted August 27, 2012).

However, before reviewing the age differences between antique, vintage and retro, I thought it might be best to consider what exactly is a collectible, since many folks have sent me e-mails about that subject as well. In my experience, collectibles fall into three categories: manufactured, personal passion, and memorabilia.

A manufactured collectible is an item made specifically for people to collect — think any sort of tradable cards, such as those featuring sports celebrities or the fantastic creatures of Magic: The Gathering; Spiderman tumblers sold through a national fast-food restaurant chain; Hallmark Christmas ornaments, and so forth. The terms special edition, limited edition and variants such as deluxe edition and collector’s edition fall under the category of manufactured collectibles, since they are used as marketing incentives for various kinds of products, originally published products related to the arts, such as books, prints or recorded music and films, but now including cars, cigars and fine wine. A limited edition is restricted in the number of copies produced, although, in fact, the number may be either quite low or high. A special edition implies extra material of some kind is included.

A personal passion collectible is an item that was not initially nor intentionally created to be collected; however, at the point when different people purposefully began to purchase numerous items of similar style, function, design and often origin, they became by default “collected.” For example, I doubt that Shaker women of bygone centuries thought, as they were crafting their baskets, “A-ha! Some day this egg basket along with the dozen others I’ve woven (not to mention those of young Sally Fair or that gentle and wise Mrs. Smith) will be collected by folks in the 21st century so they can make mucho bucks from my toil!” The same probably holds true for match boxes, andirons, Victorian door knobs, Depression glassware and Inuit snowshoes.

The third important field of collecting is memorabilia, which includes collectibles related to a person, organization, or event, including t-shirts, posters, program booklets and numerous other paraphernalia marketed to fans. Memorabilia, though, can also include ephemera from historical, media, or entertainment events. Initially, these were items that were meant to be thrown away, yet they were saved by fans and later accumulated by collectors. Memorabilia from rock concerts, historic sporting events, and even political rallies (save those Obama and Romney signs!) are much sought after ever since memorabilia as a collectible category has become big business.

So, to review: Items marketed to be collected such as Captain America glasses are manufactured collectibles. Items collected out of a unique interest to a certain individual or group such as Art Deco inkwells are personal passion collectibles. Items associated with significant events or celebrities that were produced for one-time use but were saved by others as a cultural reminder of the times are memorabilia.

A final word about collectibles: Because a limited supply of collectibles of any sort exists, they are sought for a variety of reasons, including a possible increase in value. From a financial perspective, collectibles can be viewed as a hedge against inflation. Over time, the value of collectibles may also increase as they become rarer due to loss, damage or destruction. One drawback to investing in collectibles is the potential lack of liquidity, particularly for very obscure items. My rule of thumb? Well, I ask myself, would someone else be interested in buying what I just did? For example, am I the only person who values the vivid, fluid, and magical imagery of a Kathleen Kills Thunder painting? If so, it’ll probably end up being donated to a museum of First Nations artwork when I die. If not, I should collect her works and sell them when the time is right. The same holds true for that Kenneth J. Lane Maltese Cross brooch or that cast-iron Aunt Jemima doorstop.

Ok, now, is that painting, brooch or doorstop antique, vintage, or retro? I don’t doubt that whatever I say will be contested by throngs of others. But, hey, that’s part of the fun of blogging!

Here’s my take!

Antique: The Merriam Webster dictionary defines an antique as “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws was created, made, or manufactured at least 100 years ago.” That said, the stereographic cards manufactured in 1908 that I just acquired from a nearby estate sale (and plan to re-sell on Dogbotz Boneyard) are antique as they are, quite simply, photographic images more than 100 years old. Even the stereoscope that I purchased with the cards qualifies as an antique, as it was manufactured in 1897.

Vintage: Okay, now there are those who really (and I mean really) hate this term, and perhaps rightly so, hence they whine. The word vintage relates originally to a specific year in which a wine was produced, such as a chardonnay vintage 1998. Later the term was associated with vehicles (a vintage 1967 Mustang), and much later with everything else (my HP Pavilion Entertainment PC laptop vintage 2010).

Lovely as the supposedly “official” use of the term vintage is, language is a living process, which means that shifts in grammar, syntax and vocabulary (gasp!) are constantly occurring. Thus is the fate of vintage! Though debate ensues as to whether the term refers to items that are at least 20 years old, 30 years old, or 50, I defer to a common website where folks can sell (not auction) their goods — Etsy. I know, not the most academic of resources, but if thousands of folks can sell thousands of products a year on Etsy, then that website is reflecting back to us — the everyday sellers and buyers — want vintage means to the general public. And for Etsy, that’s 20 years. So, I follow that rule of thumb for goods I sell on Dogbotz Boneyard. If I indicate an item is vintage, it was made a minimum of 20 years ago but not exceeding 100 years.

Retro: The word retro simply refers to an item (frequently, but not always, clothing, accessories, and jewelry) that looks out of style for the current time period. Thus, any new design that references styles, structures, or ideas from the past is deemed retro. Other interchangeable terms are retro vintage or vintage inspired. This should not be confused with a reproduction, which is an item that is purposefully made to look exactly like an antique or vintage product but that uses contemporary materials in its manufacturing process.

Hopefully, you now have a better feel for what a collectible is and, based on its age, whether it’s antique, vintage or retro. I have provided examples of products available at Dogbotz Boneyard to illustrate the three types of collectibles as well as the age-restricted terms.

Hassle me if you disagree with my thoughts.

All the best,

Patrick Price
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC

The Art of Collecting Art

Throughout the years, friends have made such comments as “Wow, Patrick, you’ve collected some really wonderful artwork!” or “Where do you find all these fabulous paintings?” or “You really have an eye for art.” Oddly, I’m not personally convinced that I consciously know the fabulous or the wonderful when I come upon it, and being myopic, I remain uncertain that I have the proverbial eye for art. Nonetheless, family, friends, neighbors, and folks with whom I correspond are curious about my personal taste in art and how that impacts what artwork the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art offers for sale and which artists it promotes.

So, when people ask me how do I “know” which piece of art to buy or which artist to collect (and I do collect artists, often buying several of their pieces at a time), I simply tell them this: “I honor my gut.” What I mean by this is that I listen to and trust my intuition as I look at a painting, drawing, sculpture, or whatever form, and consider the story or the sentiment being shared. For me, it’s usually 50% epiphany (“OMG, this is the piece I’ve been waiting to see!”) and 50% intimate bonding with the artist (“I never expected to be touched in this way.”). If neither the awakening nor the connection is there, then I do not buy the artwork. This is not a judgment for or against any one piece of art or any one artist, as another viewer and potential art collector may experience the epiphany and the bonding in a piece where I haven’t — that’s the wondrousness of human diversity. I’m just conveying that these two elements are the essential criteria that impel me to collect a specific piece of artwork or a set of images created by a specific artist. Also, I don’t strive to buy what’s pretty or worse yet what’s trendy or the worst of all scenarios I need something to fill this space in my living room.

What I do know is that I collect what I like: the unexpected, the subtle, the vibrant, the serene, the traditional, the outlandish, the real and the spiritual. My collector’s palette enjoys the many flavors of art, being just as diverse as the colors on an artist’s palette. I have acquired art that encompasses the gamut of medium, style and theme.

From my perspective, it’s not a choice of Impressionism versus Modernism, the Abstract versus the Real, or Outsider Art versus Traditional Art (as if there ever were such a thing). Nor do I care whether the artist is well established in the art field or is an emerging artist. Nor do I collect art primarily based on its potential investment value, as who’s in and who’s out shifts with the winds of time, though I do genuinely hope that by collecting a certain artist’s work, her/his artwork increases in value so she/he can continue to create art unimpeded by financial concerns.

No, in my view, it’s about the marvel of feeling a connection with someone’s vision or interpretation of life that haunts me, in a profoundly healing way, to the very marrow of my bones.

That’s what I like, that’s what I collect . . . and that’s what influences the selection of art and artists promoted through the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art. So, wanting to share with you some of the treasures I’ve collected over the years, here are examples of artwork currently up for sale as well as some samples of what’s yet to come.

All the very best,

Patrick Price
Proprietor & Art Collector
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC