Essential elements

If I had to pick a defining characteristic that has guided Twin Rocks Trading Post through its more than 30 years of existence, the likely winner would be... curiosity.

A close second might be openness.

And the third? Probably, more curiosity.

As the dictionary defines these traits, curiosity is the desire to learn or know about anything, while openness is identified as the quality of being receptive to new ideas, positions, or arguments.

For me, these elements go hand-in-glove. One compliments the other, and the best outcomes result from a heavy dose of both ingredients.

Many winter mornings, Rick, Frances, and I can be found sitting around the trading post discussing what we have learned from our pre-Bluff lives, seen in the morning news, experienced the day before, or uncovered during our nightly readings.

Hardcover books are a significant part of every 24-hour cycle for each of us, so we cover a lot of ground.

Pearl is typically a party to the conversations, although she retreats to her doggy bed when discussions become too lively or overly loud.

Priscilla, being the shy one, often sits in her office, agreeing or disagreeing by simply nodding or shaking her head, never saying much.

Our confabs tend to wander and involve issues as diverse as politics, journalism, art, craft, race, education, gender, economics, food, and religion. We are open, and almost anything is on the table.

During these debates, I am reminded of the old trading posts, which typically installed a potbelly stove in the middle of the floor, kept a pot of coffee percolating, and provided a plug of tobacco for those needing a nicotine rush.

Since I tend to be nostalgic about old-time traders and posts, I would have long ago installed the stove and stocked up on coffee and chew.

I didn’t, however, because I feared nothing besides talking would ever get done, and the banker would soon come knocking.

Although they might make an interesting reality TV show, so far there has been no way to monetize these conversations. No matter what is discussed, however, curiosity is always on the agenda.

As anyone who walks through the Kokopelli doors knows, or soon discovers, contemporary Navajo baskets are our passion and is also what Twin Rocks Trading Post has built its reputation upon.

Visitors are generally “knocked out” by the quantity, quantity, and variety of our selection. Frankly, even though I am here almost every day, I am too.

I never grow tired of working with the basket weavers, and I attribute the stunning array of basketry found in the store to an abundance of curiosity and openness, from everyone involved.

So far as I can tell, the contemporary Navajo basketry movement began at Oljato Trading Post when the trader Virginia “Chin” Smith asked the question, “Can you do something a little different with these baskets?”

By way of explanation, “Chin” got her pseudonym because the Navajo people she traded with could not pronounce Virginia.

Oljato is a lonely outpost located just west of Monument Valley, which takes its name from the Navajo term for “Moonlight Water.”

Apparently at that moment in the 1970s, Chin had an overabundance of ceremonial baskets and wanted to see if the weavers might explore alternative avenues of creativity.

The ceremonial basket is used by Navajo medicine men and their patients in wedding or healing ceremonies. As Navajo people became more “mainstream,” traditional ceremonies had likely been slowing, so Chin’s demand may have been a little slack.

She may also have been trying to expand her market into new geographic locations. In any case, we will never know for sure, because Chin perished in a car accident not long after she initiated the project.

At about the time Chin died, Barry and Duke at Blue Mountain Trading Post in Blanding were asking a similar question of the local Ute Mountain Ute basket-weaving population.

Duke had seen the now-aging, White Mesa basket makers doing interesting people and animal baskets in Bluff when he was just a kid and wanted to see if the artists could recreate them.

Both movements converged at some point, and a basket-weaving explosion ensued. It was like an artistic atom bomb, and Chin, Barry, and Duke engineered the experiment.

Fortunately, there were no casualties associated with that blast. Rather than damage and destruction, the resulting shock waves spawned a new creative movement that lasted several years and expanded economic opportunities for everyone involved, with the possible exception of Chin, who by that time had gone on to her greater reward.

Throughout the trading post’s existence, it has been common for artists of all stripe to be at Twin Rocks discussing different types of imaginative art they have seen or read about, and asking, “What if...?”

“What if I use this technique with that material?”

“What if I incorporate that design into this rug?”

“What if we take a completely new approach to folk carving?”

Our answer has always been something to the effect, “Try it and let’s see what happens. We’ll back you up.”

This curiosity and openness has made Twin Rocks an exciting place to work and an interesting place to visit.

While the coronavirus has slowed the creativity we typically see at the post, I am confident it has not destroyed it, and I look forward to the time when it returns in a flood of new styles and powerful pieces.

Until that time, Rick, Frances, Priscilla, and I will continue to ask, “What if?” and be open to the answer, whatever it may turn out to be.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday