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Encore! Encore! Encore! by Susan Sorg

Encore! Encore! Encore!

By Susan Sorg, May 2018

            When a rock star or performing artist exceeds the audience’s expectations, there’s usually an extra number, an extra song or bow given…an encore performance.  But in the museum world, what would the encore for a special exhibit be?  How about an extended stay?  That’s exactly what’s going on at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, with “One Trader’s Legacy:  Steve Getzwiller Collects the West”.

            This stunning collection of art, artifacts and historical pieces opened to the public in November 2017 and was scheduled to close June 3rd.  Approximately 20,000 museum attendees have seen it so far.  However, if you haven’t yet, you now have until October 28th to take it all in.  It’s a move unprecedented by the museum.  “It’s an extraordinary step for us, but it’s by popular demand,” says museum Executive Director Daniel Finley.  “People just seem to not get enough of it, so we’re very happy to accommodate.”

            Getzwiller, who has his own venue, Nizhoni Ranch Gallery in Sonoita, has also exhibited in other galleries and museums throughout the West over the years.  He says this extension is a first for him as well.  “This is the fifth show that I’ve done with Desert Caballeros,” he says.  “I consider it an honor.”

            Steve Getzwiller, long considered a premier expert, collector and dealer in Navajo textiles has not only helped to preserve this particular art form, but raised it to a new level as he’s expanded the horizons and materials of several master weavers.  Besides using the traditional churro wool, they’ll also now use silk or alpaca when creating special “wearable art” as he calls some of the ponchos and blankets also on display here.

 For the past 50 years, he’s been working with and gaining the trust of generations of weavers within the Navajo Nation.  Steve and his wife Gail have become extended family to some of these artisans.  But, he’s also become acquainted with and doing business with other Native American artists in pottery, basketry, jewelry and other art forms as well as quietly collecting for himself some outstanding and historical pieces.  Many of these now fill the display cases at the Wickenburg museum with several magnificent and award-winning rugs hanging from the rafters.

Getzwiller is the real deal when it comes to being an authentic cowboy and rancher.  His western roots run deep in southeastern Arizona, even stretching as far back as the founding of the Republic of Texas.  This is reflected in one of the displays at Desert Caballeros.  “The Family” case includes old branding irons used by generations of Getzwillers along with ropes and spurs which once belonged to his dad, a rodeo contender on the national level in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  Behind it all hangs a Navajo weaving depicting a cowhide with the various family brands incorporated.  This is the first time the public is getting a truly personal glimpse into the very private life of Getzwiller.

There’s also historic Navajo weavings, true one-of-a-kind pieces dating back to the mid-1800s which you won’t find anywhere else, along with antique Navajo saddles and silver headstalls.  The same is true of Hopi pottery with the works of generations of the Nampeyo family dating back to the early 1900s.  Other displays have Apache items made during the days of Geronimo.  Then there’s the display of western firearms, including the pearl-handled pistol of a Tucson lawman.

Basketry plays a major role, as well, with the very best of Hopi, Apache, Pima, and several California and Pacific Northwest tribes.  You’ll see Hopi kachinas crafted by Lowell Talashoma and paintings by Navajo and Hopi artists near paintings by western artist Jack Van Ryder.  Then there’s several magnificent orotones from the early 1900s done by Edward S. Curtis, as he captured the end of an era in Native American history.

Museum Executive Director Daniel Finley says it’s the depth of Getzwiller’s collection which really draws people in.  “First off the overall reaction is that it’s tremendous.  Steve and Gail have the best collection of the Navajo blankets and other artifacts that there is.  Steve’s the best collector in the world of these things…Just the best there is.” 

Getzwiller says he’s a collector first, so when he came across many of these special items, it was an opportunity he just could not pass up.  He’s already hard at work on an upcoming show in Santa Fe in August, before, during and after the annual world renowned Indian Market.  The pieces currently in Wickenburg, though, will remain through October 28th, with another 5,000 people anticipated to go through the museum.  That’s good news for those planning a visit to Desert Caballeros, and certainly pleasing to Executive Director Finley.

“I can tell you that people are certainly excited to see it for the first time, and are encouraging others to come.  No question about that.”