The story of making and running Thin Bear Indian Arts for nearly 50 years is an adventure.
Robert E. Hosler served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Southwest Indian Mission from 1955 to 1957. He served in Dulce, NM, Klegeto, NM, and the Wide Ruin Area.
He and his companion were given the challenge to teach other missionaries the Navajo Language. His companion was a linguist in college, who studied languages before serving a mission. They took up the challenge and Robert learned fluent Navajo and a smattering of Ute, Hopi, and Zuni.
After coming home from his mission, Robert married his sweetheart Joan Burnside. They went to Brigham Young University, where Robert went to school and worked. Joan was a forelady over ten women who sewing lingerie at the Barazion.
Then they were drafted to Germany, where Robert served his country for two years. Joan joined him in this adventure and they lived in a home with a German Family.
Upon returning, Robert called the Faults brothers in Gallup, NM and asked if they had any stores to be managed. Buddy Faults had one at Pine Dale, NM.
That was in 1960 and they stayed there for three years. Then they moved to Gallup, NM and helped manage “Little Bears Market” for Don Tanner.
Native Americans would come in and ask for “Little Bear” and Bob would tell them they’d have to settle for “Thin Bear” and the name stuck.
Robert and Joan decided that they didn’t want to raise their family on the reservation. They came thru Blanding in 1964 looking for a place near the reservation and fell in love with Blanding.
Robert knew Bruce Shumway from the mission field. Bruce said he’d give Bob a job if he got a degree, so they returned to Weber State and finished a degree in Social Work.
They return in 1966 with three kids and one more on the way. Robert served in the Monument Valley area for many years as a Social Worker.
Local residents knew Bob was working on the reservation and would ask him to get them a rug or a basket and the collection started to grow in the corner of the bedroom.
In 1968, they opened a one-room shop with one showcase. The little shop also contained lapidary equipment and a silversmithing bench. Robert and Joan also started teaching silversmithing to the Native Americans in the basement of their home, while working with Joel Tate thru Vocational Rehabilitation. The business soon outgrew the one-room shop. They continued to teach silversmithing to the Native American people, giving them the equipment and skills to have a trade.
In the spring of 1972, construction was started on a larger shop on South Highway 191. In November, 1972 the original doors were opened to Thin Bear Indian Arts. They were told that they would sell everything to Blanding people in the first month, and then asked what were they going to do then. Forty six years later, they are still in business.
One of the iconic things they are known for are bringing tree ripened oranges into the community at Christmas time. Robert would drive down to Phoenix with a van and load it as full as they dared, leaving only room for two passengers. This has become a family/community tradition and isn’t Christmas without the tree-ripened citrus fruit.
Some of the helpers with this endeavor have been Arvid Black, Lee Smith, and Kenny Black, plus all of the Hosler clan who was living in Blanding.
Robert was asked to work for the school district to teach silversmithing and lapidary. He taught from 1980 to 1995 in the Zenos Black Building. He was over the Indian Club and made many crowns for the various Royalties.
Joan ran the store with a German Shepherd Police dog and a shotgun. Joan learn to be a silversmith and has done all the repair work for many years.
Robert encouraged Native Americans to learn and refine their art. He worked to get the artisans known at different art shows. Robert and Joan started the Indian Art Show in the Salt Palace and ran it for four years.
They helped artists become known by entering art work in shows like the O’Odham-tash in Casa Grande, AZ and the Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, NM for many many years.
They have had many people come year after year to listen to him speak Navajo and visit with them. Many tell them that this has been the funniest part of their vacation visiting their little shop.
Visiting is a pastime that hasn’t been forgotten in the store. Robert and Joan express their gratitude and appreciation for the years of support from the community.
Thru the years, many spirits have been lifted and helped by the couple’s love and generosity. Come by and say a “hello” and get a treasure before they are gone.