October 15, 2019

Storyteller Doll

When I was like 10 or so, my mom opened a Southwestern Art gallery in Cherry Creek, an up and coming suburb of late '80s Denver. I like to kid with my mother, who doesn't really appreciate it, that as soon as she opened the gallery, that's when I stopped getting parented. 

The truth is probably closer to Mom just being ready to do something big, having parented the shit out of two boys to the point where they could be trusted to be alone... though perhaps she shouldn't have trusted us with HBO. 

Regardless, freedom was a boon for me, and it turned out my older brother and I could take care of ourselves. But while Mom frequently let us stay at home to explore the wide world of Huntington Estates, she did make us hang out at her gallery, Canyon Road, quite a bit, too — which is where arguably some of her longest lasting parenting lessons took root.

But at first, that's exactly what it felt like: being made to do something. That probably stems from the fact that the first time my brother and I were put to work it was underneath her office desk in the back, so no customers would see her 10- and 12-year-old boys licking stamps and applying them to her thousands of newsletters. Not because people would object to seeing such nice boys subjected to such arduous child labor, no, it just wouldn't be proper to have children in the gallery. (Proper being a parenting concept we'd revisit regularly.)

Not sure how long after that it was until my mom fired me for the first time. Or the second. Or the third. But she really liked to fire me. And I really liked to argue with my boss, apparently. And that was seemingly the way we conducted business all through high school. 

Looking back though, from the perspective of who I am now, particularly what kind of artist I seem to be, it's clear that mom's store had quite an effect on me. Perhaps I wasn't particularly suited to the business side of the gallery, but I had an eye from an early age, which my mom nurtured, and would learn to trust. As would I, somewhere along the way.

And of course being surrounded by all that stunning art, not just at the gallery but at my home (since my dad was Mom's best customer). Perhaps even more inspiring were all the artists we'd visit on buying trips to New Mexico, some of whom would come stay at our Huntington estate when they had shows at Canyon Road (mom's gallery, named for the famous street in Santa Fe). I learned to revere the artists — some of the warmest, wisest, most in-tune, gracious, respect-commanding people I ever met. 

Like Stella Teller, a master maker of Storyteller Dolls — traditional Pueblo ceramic dolls, usually of a maternal figurine with any number of babies on her lap. As the whole family made these dolls, Stella brought two of her daughters to the show — Robin, I believe was one of them, and Mona, judging by the name signed on the doll my mom gave me for working the show, which I still have on my desk to this day...

I guess that experience stuck, because the picture up top is of a painting I did for my mother for her 75th birthday, with a little photoshop magic thrown in for prints (email me if you're interested!). Where you think I lifted that idea from? 

It just made sense, of course, given the symbolism of the Storyteller Doll, and my nostalgia for Ma's life and art lessons. But I remain daily inspired by Stella and her family, and all the artists I grew up absorbing. I'm sure some people will cry cultural appropriation, but Southwestern Art is what I know in my bones, because of the Tellers and so many others, and because of my mother. So why would I ignore sweet inspiration where I can get it?