American Trails, formerly a favorite Plaza shop for exploring, collecting and learning about the art, rugs, masks and bowls of Native Americans, has re-opened after a five-year gap, this time on the Main drag, next to Unicorn.
It opened March 18 and, says owner Shane Bloodworth, was inundated by old customers who loved to browse and pick up items for their collections. Dave Bobb, owner of the Plaza shop and minor owner of the new one, says, “It’s fabulous to be back. It’s a great location and we have all kinds of new things we didn’t have in the old store.”
The two love their work and can talk authoritatively about the craft folk who make it, their skill set and what period it comes from. They just got back from a 3,500-mile buying trip in the Southwest and the coast cultures of Washington and British Columbia.
Beautiful Navajo rugs, obviously not modern, go back to the 1910-30s period and are priced starting at $450 and going up to $2,100. Newer ones are expensive, with the famed Toadlena rugs, from Ship Rock, New Mexico, going for up to $5,800. Each one takes about six months to make and are, says Bloodworth, of tightest weave using complex designs that weavers (all women) have memorized in their heads and pass on through many generations.
Some of the relics are fantastically collectible and the pair, who have occasional “appraisal days” for customers, recently told owners that their large woven bowl was extremely rare and collectible. In research, says Bobb, they were able to identify the specific weaver and they got them $24,000.
While there’s profit to be made, Bloodworth says dealer-buyers must get to personally know a wide network of craft folk, most of whom don’t have phones or the internet, and demonstrate they won’t haggle with the makers and will turn over goods rapidly at a reasonable price, making sufficient money so they can come back and buy more.
“They ask if you’re doing it for profit or to help people,” Bobb says. “The biggest thing is that it’s about the people. You want to help them stay on their tribal and historic lands and not have to move off and become urbanized. We know everyone on a personal basis and we know the design motif of every family.”
One wall displays a stunning array of Northwest coast Salish masks (meant to be displayed, not worn), most being “animalista,” meaning fashioned broadly after animals but much more impressionistic. One depicts big foot. The rest are recognizable creatures, based on the artist’s clan. They are hand carved and painted — no machinery — and Bloodworth says the goods are passed along by a third party; the maker is remote and can’t be located.
American Trails has a vast array of rings, necklaces, earrings and other jewelry, with one display case — the one furthest back in the store, packed with the “old stuff,” (also called “pawn”). It’s the silver with much desired patina of age and turquoise or other stone with that aged look (the new turquoise is much brighter).
“On the first day, they flooded in and all went straight to this case,” says Bloodworth.
The pair have a large display of Oaxaca folk art, amazingly fanciful and colorful little animals and bowls filled with waxed beads and depicting animalista — wolf, bear, cougar, eagle, owl — all at affordable prices and ready to spice up a mantel.
“If you’re having a bad day,” jokes Bloodworth, “all you have to do is look at one of these.”
You may not recognize some of the genres, but they quickly turn up on Google — Mata Ortiz pottery from New Mexico, Chimney Butte (a man’s name) jewelry, Zacotec weaving, basket hats for the passage to womanhood. Modern paintings of wildlife are also featured.
The original shop ran from 1990 to 2012. It has its grand opening tonight, April 7, at 250 East Main St. during First Friday art walk.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.