"What do you grow around here?"
The other day I was sitting in my office closing the books for March when I overheard a conversation between Rick Bell and one of our customers.
The visitor was probing Rick about certain aspects of Bluff and wanted to get the facts. In addition to his photographic talents, Rick is a historian by training and maintains an encyclopedic archive of facts and figures.
Since he was born and raised in Kentucky, he knows almost everything about that state and its history. He is also accomplished when it comes to the American West and Southwest, so the guest had tapped a valuable resource.]
“This place looks pretty barren,” the patron inquired. “What do you grow around here?”
The question reminded me of our friend Win Blevans, who left Bluff for Scottsdale, Arizona, a few years ago. Win is an author of several western-themed books. Having developed a few maladies requiring specialized healthcare,
Win elected to be closer to the Mayo Clinic where treatment is more readily accessible. Although we don’t see Win as much as we once did, we still stay in touch with him.
Frances sends him cookies from time to time, because, aside from Cookie Monster, Win loves sweets more than anyone.
Win has always maintained that Bluff and its surrounding geography are dominated by male characteristics.
To Win, this means the land is stark, challenging and vertical. In his opinion, it is not verdant, productive or fertile. There is only sparce vegetation covering our red rock landscape, so Win makes a valid point.
As a result, Rick was hard pressed to provide a substantial list of agricultural products grown in the immediate area.
Rick, always quick-witted, shot back, “Well, we grow art.”
The guest was a bit confused, so Rick went on to explain that Navajo people are extremely innovative, resourceful and creative, and that we at Twin Rocks support that creativity by working closely with artists to develop innovative and interesting new art forms.
Consequently, one of our taglines has been that we are “at the intersection of tradition and innovation,” meaning we like art that incorporates traditional elements into a new framework.
When given a homeland mostly devoid of moisture, Navajo people were inspired by its natural beauty, and we, having failed to inherit the artistic gene, were inspired to provide necessary resources to nurture their inspiration.
Having spent most of my adult life at the trading post, I knew exactly what Rick meant. Of course, Twin Rocks is chock full of evidence confirming his assertion.
The customer wanted to know more, so Rick walked him through the history of local Navajo basketmakers, folk carvers and silversmiths, and how Twin Rocks has been a catalyst for inspiring new artistic movements in these areas.
In the end, the man seemed convinced Rick’s statement had merit, and left the trading post believing Rick had been on point.
The discussion between Rick and the customer reminded me of a movie I recently watched about the noted gangster Meyer Lansky. Lansky was known as the “Mob’s Accountant” and “The Thinking Man’s Gangster.” He was also awarded a Medal of Freedom by President Truman.
The film made it clear Lansky, despite his substantial character flaws, was an inspired businessman who knew volumes about American enterprise. At one point in the feature, Lansky lectures a young author about Henry Ford, saying, “People think Ford sold motor cars, but what he was really selling was freedom.”
I have often wondered what sets Twin Rocks apart, and what has allowed the trading post to thrive over the past 33 years.
I also question how we made it through the past two years of economic turmoil and exactly what we are selling that sustained us. Art sure, but, as Rick pointed out, there is something more.
Maybe it is the experience of living next to a rapidly changing culture that others wish to understand.
Maybe it is building community with the regional Native societies. Some have even suggested dumb luck. If history is any guide, we might never know.
Maybe it’s better that way.