Walmart and Native American art
As one might easily guess, there are no theaters in this town of approximately 265 people. Consequently, when Jana and I want to see a movie we get into the car and steer towards Cortez or Durango, CO or Farmington, NM.
Living in a small town, which is far removed from any significant population center, we have grown accustomed to driving to get what we want. A few weeks ago, we got the urge to see a new release, so we struck out for Durango.
As we passed through Cortez, I noticed the local Super Walmart. Emblazoned on the facade was their slogan, “Always Low Prices.”
Now, I know many people have developed firm opinions about the Walmart philosophy, how the company treats its suppliers and employees, and a variety of other issues.
I, however, have no strong emotions about those particular matters because I see them as symptomatic of what the consumer demands, the lowest prices possible.
Apparently, many people do not realize they pay the cost one way or the other. It seems naive to expect Walmart to provide extremely low pricing without some corresponding sacrifice.
For the most part, my interest in the Walmart phenomenon is directly tied to our local artists and the value of their work.
Complaints about how expensive their creations are is as inevitable as homeless dogs at a reservation convenience store.
At Twin Rocks Trading Post, however, we work hard to honor the artists with fair compensation, which can lead to retail prices that are slightly higher than some people expect.
We feel paying more to artists results in enhanced creativity and perpetuation of traditional crafts that are slowly, but surely, going extinct.
We have noticed over the years that when we feel the sting of a slow economy or the tug of a tight money supply and begin contracting our cash payouts, the artists become less inclined to create fresh, new items.
As we restrict the outflow of capital, the inflow of extraordinary art slows correspondingly.
There is a direct and easily-identifiable inverse relationship. We find the artists resort to repetition and lower quality to compensate for smaller returns.
To me that seems as natural as spring following winter. Why invest the extra time necessary to do exceptional work when there is no proportionate reward?
Some time ago, we sold a splendid Edith Tsabetsaye Zuni squash blossom necklace, ring, and earring set. The troika was on the back counter to be packaged and shipped when an assertive woman walked into the trading post.
As she poked about the store, it became apparent she had no appreciation for the quality of art she was experiencing and was taken aback by the associated pricing.
At some point she spotted the Tsabetsaye set and asked, “What is that?”
I explained it was an extraordinarily well-crafted work of art by the premier Zuni cluster-jewelry maker.
“How much is it?” she demanded.
I politely informed her it was already sold and therefore the price was not pertinent. She, however, persisted.
When I finally relented and divulged the selling price to avoid lecturing her about common courtesy, she blurted out, “Well, that’s ridiculous,” and headed for the door.
I bit my lip to avoid saying something I would regret.
I have lived my life immersed in Southwestern art, and in spite of that, much of what I see at Twin Rocks strikes me as new and exciting. A beautiful basket, bracelet, or blanket can still astonish me.
There is a natural beauty in much of the local art that captivates me and makes me advocate for fair, sustainable prices. Unfortunately, handcrafted items in general do not bring what they should.
Many of us hew to the Walmart ideology of “Always Low Prices” without understanding the consequences.
When there is no economic incentive to create these unusual baskets, bracelets, and blankets, they will forever cease to exist.
Recently, Elsie Holiday brought in a basket that features the image of a multicolored wolf. Beauty radiates from the weaving, and I was happy to pay Elsie’s asking price.
I knew my support would reinforce her creativity and help keep Navajo basket weaving alive for at least a while longer. To me that was a sound investment in Elsie, Navajo culture, and the arts.
That is the result we strive for at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Cheap pricing is for Walmart, not quality Native American art.