SANTA FE, N. Mex. — The New Mexico sun pours through big arched windows at Shiprock Santa Fe, illuminating Navajo weavings, some of which date back to the early 19th century, others made by living artists. The gallery carries a renowned collection of textiles and jewelry, representing the deep connection to creating that exists in Diné culture.
At the helm of Shiprock Santa Fe is curator and owner Jed Foutz. He grew up in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation where his family owned trading posts for five generations, starting around 1870.
“Shiprock Santa Fe is really reflective of where I’m from,” Foutz told Hyperallergic. “The curation is very spontaneous; it’s a constant refinement. We have to be moved and feel a connection and some beauty. If you have respect and love for the items, it naturally creates something around it. Hopefully, it tells a story.”
Before Foutz started Shiprock Santa Fe in 2005, he worked with artists, helping to get their works into galleries and shops. “When I was wholesaling, my job was ‘you make it and I will find a place for it.’” His role as a facilitator is something that influences the ethos at Shiprock Santa Fe, which aims to help artists become independent rather than keeping them tied to the gallery. Some of the contemporary artists that Shiprock currently works with include ceramicist Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), jeweler Verma Nequatewa (Hopi), and jeweler Ken Williams Jr. (Arapahoe/Seneca).
“As long as we have a way to help someone to advance, then it works. A lot of my life has been helping artists find their way to market, and to kind of feel that market and develop that. If the gallery can elevate, or access, a different market, or add value to what their work is, then it makes sense. Naturally, it leads to more artist independence. Hopefully they develop a clientele and a market of their own. If they don’t need the gallery and I don’t serve a function, then why should they give up part of their profit?”
Sometimes artists seek assistance from Shiprock Santa Fe when they have particularly big ideas they want to realize. “A lot of times we work with artists on a singular project. Many artists that we’ve worked with in the past come back.”
As someone who grew up on the reservation surrounded by Indigenous people, ceremony, and tradition, Foutz has an innate understanding and deep love for the artists he represents, and the works they create. “One weaving can take six months, eight months. It’s always been a difficult part of my life to balance how much time and work and what that’s worth in our culture. It’s hard for the time to equate to the value,” he said.
“One of the things I’ve loved about the Navajo culture and the people I’ve grown up and worked with is, quite literally, they believe they exist in the work. That’s always made me approach it in a different way,” said Foutz. “It’s one thing to talk about a physical, inanimate object, but it’s a different thing if you’re talking about them and who they are inside of that work. For me, it’s always been so much more than just a ‘thing.’”
In addition to carrying works made by living artists, Shiprock Santa Fe offers a vast collection of both vintage textiles and jewelry created over hundreds of years. Foutz explained that some clients tend toward contemporary works, while others are pulled to collect older pieces. “What’s being made today, 50 years down the road, will be reflective of this moment in time; where the artist is and where the culture is. I think the same can be said for the pieces that are now 100 years old, there is something of the culture and that view of the world that’s reflected in the work of that time.”
Part of what makes Shiprock Santa Fe unique is the impeccable aesthetic. The rug room is a bounty of color and texture, where weavings hang on the walls and luscious piles are stacked on every surface. The jewelry cases hold silverwork and turquoise pieces that hold bits of the Land of Enchantment; they make me think of our cerulean skies, the ochre sandstone near Abiquiu, and the adobe architecture that make New Mexico what it is.
The gallery walls change often as the team rearranges works, creates collections of like items, or arranges everything around particularly stunning pieces that find their way to Shiprock. Foutz says there’s a lot of joy in the visual alchemy he gets to create. “Sometimes a story just happens. When it clicks, it’s magic. It all fits and you just feel it, it was meant to be,” he said.
Shiprock Santa Fe is possible because of Foutz’s lived experience. His childhood on the reservation, the years he spent in Japan before college, the relationships he has with Diné artists, living and passed, each tailored to the specific artist and their wants, vision, and needs. “My earliest memories are of this work,” he said. “There is no separation between me and this art and what we do. It’s been a natural progression. I was on the road with my dad when I was five, and I’ve never stopped.”