Nizhoni Ranch Gallery is an exclusive artist’s row built on tradition and a passion for the Native People of the Southwest. As such, becoming a world-renowned gallery took more than a few turns over the last 45 years
It began with Steve and Gail Getzwiller who started a rather humble collection of Navajo weavings in the early 1970s. At the time, Steve’s family ranch was eight hours from Navajo Land.
Though not a short drive, they went as often as they could to experience and fall in love with the weavings, inspiring them to buy and sell what they could to build their own private collection; a passion that moved them from collecting Navajo weavings to buying and selling them as a business.
But in the beginning, it was not easy.
Gail was home raising their children and running the cattle ranch, while Steve went to the reservation to buy rugs. There were no paved roads on the Navajo Reservation, no hotels, and no cell phones.
This meant Gail was on her own, fixing everything from fences to broken water pipes, as Steve went from one place to another camping in the back of an old suburban each night in Navajo Land.
Steve would take one and sometimes two weeks to cover the Navajo Territory then the next challenge ………….
After traveling to Navajo land to purchase rugs from the local trading posts, rug sellers would have to hold checks he wrote until he came back through New Mexico, Arizona and Phoenix to sell them. He would let the traders know when his checks were safe to cash, sometimes this part of his trip would take another two weeks to accomplish
Over the years, however, Steve began to meet weavers in person and wanted to help them hone their talents. He did so by providing them with better wools than could be found at their local trading post.
By 1984, Steve and his wife wrote the book, “The Fine Art of Navajo Weaving” with the encouragement of Ray Manley. Between Ray’s photographs; Steve’s connections and knowledge; and several trips to the Navajo Reservation, they co-published what turned out to be the best-selling book on Navajo Weaving.
The economy made the 90s a bit tougher for Navajo weaving, so Steve sat down with his old friend Ray Dewey and they discussed what would help bring the Navajo weaving up a notch. After their meeting, it was apparent the weak link was the wool, so once again Steve started on a quest to find the best possible source for Churro sheep wool.
Steve eventually did find a source for Churro Sheep, and he even gave seed stock to some of the weaving families to raise the sheep. Today this venture has given him a garage full of custom spun and hand dyed Churro wool.
Around this same time, Gail launched their initial website to see if they could reach a broader retail market. In addition to this, she wanted to expose the public to world class Navajo Weavings at a higher level, so she took Steve’s book to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona and presented the possibility of having several shows there on Navajo Weaving.
History shows that her plan was successful and that many powerful weaving exhibitions followed in Wickenburg at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.
Steve and Gail are committed to helping all the remaining weavers—especially as their numbers are dwindling—with the wool and finances they need to work on special projects for the Navajo Churro Collection.
In 2000, the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery location was born, with Gail and Steve purchasing property in Sonoita, Arizona. This new venue allowed them to offer Navajo weavings to the public in new way; clients could come and see the weavings in a ranch house setting, up close and personal!
In 2016, the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery started presenting Exhibitions of Navajo Weavings on site, with people from all over the U.S. attending the openings. Elsie Bia even came to show how Navajo Weaving is done using her personal loom.
For the Navajo, the Churro Sheep are back, with weaving continuing to be an important part of their life!
For Steve and Gail, not a day goes go without sending a deposit on a rug, to a weaver for something they need that week. The NRG office is also busy talking and emailing clients each day across the globe, and visitors to the gallery increase each year.
Nizhoni Ranch Gallery is determined to continue helping the Navajo weaving tradition stay alive. It is important to keep all of the Navajo Traditions alive; the Navajo language, customs, ceremonies, art, & etc. They value and respect the Navajo in all ways, as one of the nation’s first indigenous people.