Traders and Trading Posts | Santa Fe Monthly - June 5, 2013

Profiles of the area's traders and an artist painting folk heroes of the American West.

Photo: Lorissa J. Longfellow

Randy Rodriguez – Rio Bravo Trading Co.

Randy Rodriquez is definitely in his element manipulating a trade of something Cowboy and Indian. And this has been his first love since he was a young boy.

He loves to tell the story how he knew that his life would be shaped by cowboys and Indians.” One day in school our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.” he remember. “The son of the carpenter said he wanted to be a carpenter. The son of the lawyer said he wanted to be a lawyer. I said that I really didn’t care as long as it had something to do with cowboys and indians."

Housed under the name of Rio Bravo Trading Company, this location of 24 years at the corner of Garfield and Guadalupe is the place for serious collectors. Rodriguez has a unique knack for finding choice pieces. Anything from an antique spur worth thousands to a 150 year old hand- tooled saddle to star-studded, antique rodeo chaps, this consummate trader carries it all ....and the best of everything. Plus he is extremely rare in the trading business in that he doesn’t operate out of the back end of a pick-up truck, but actually displays his merchandise in a retail shop.

Rodriguez is definitely the real thing as he rides his horses, lives in a remote ranch off the grid and owns a zillion cowboy hats just for his own personal use. He is capable of weaving a poetic story on every treasure he owns and sells. The stories are mesmerizing about how and where he arranged to negotiate to buy a particular artifact from an artist or craftsman. In fact, he readily admits, he’s way better at buying than selling, sometimes. Course then he claims he can’t get too attached to the vintage Navajo jewelry that he has been able to purchase directly off the reservation.

The cowboy & Indian relics here are museum quality as these pictures so eloquently illustrate. Rodriguezy’s passion is exhibited with the Navajo rugs, bushels of cowboy hats, outrageous spurs, belt buckles, paintings, handmade boots, saddles and chaps, even a set of “woolies.” If you are at all fascinated, interested or compelled to look or purchase anything cowboy or Indian... check out Rio Bravo Trading Co. 411 So. Guadalupe St. (505) 982- 0230.


Thom Ross – Due West Gallery

Growing up in Sausalito, California Thom Ross had a real interest in American history and the historic “folk heros” who are a product of that history.

Award-winning Santa Fe artist Ross came to believe that as he re- examined and questioned the historic forces that shaped the lives of his subjects, their “meaning” would fluctuate, and that the subjects of his works could be brought into a contemporary setting with a vibrancy and excitement seldom if ever, found in the traditional style of art work that so often represented “historical” figures and events.

Thom Ross, "They Went Looking for Stillwell"

Ross’s art depicts historical folk heros of the American West in a very unique context, challenging the viewer to re-analyze what he or she knows about history or what he or she thinks they know about history. His goal is to contemporize classic Western and other events and characters with a liveliness, spontaneity and fresh approach rarely exhibited in traditional Western art. He uses vivid colors, abstract shapes and a modern flair to bring back sometimes ill -remembered or misinterpreted facts about the past.

Ross's passion for his subject matter and his work is self-evident. He believes art today should get to the root of why the West means so much to people, which is where art truly comes to life. He is interpreting history, not just reproducing something. Ross believes an understanding of the West is best achieved when the artist liberates his mind to see truth and imagination together.

When we approached Ross about being one of our featured men for the June issue, we told him we wanted to feature men who were negotiators, traders, barterers and dealers. He assured us in no uncertain terms that ALL of the adjectives fit him. He assured us he had to do them all at one time or another. We were aware that he underwent a transformation on the anniversary of Custer’s Last Stand for instance, while visiting the monument in 1976.

“From this came my understanding of the duality of life, the two sided coin...” Ross says. “This is when the myth transcends the truth, and that can be dangerous. It was from this recognition that I began my pursuit, as an artist, to try to embrace and present the duality of history-myth.” He decided as an artist to portray iconic Americans and events in a new way to bring out a more complex story than the old historical myths. As a result, he has painstakingly recreated historical events with life-sized figures in historically accurate positions and locations.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn and Buffalo Hill’s 1902 visit to Ocean Beach in San Francisco necessitated negotiations with the Crow Tribe for use of their land, and the U.S. Government to get permission to install Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Recently of course, his figures can been seen near the entrance to Eldorado and down in Lamy. For variety, and to illustrate his incredible knowledge of events in 1984, Ross created “The Catch” of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series and “The Defining Moment” of Ken Griffey, Jr. in 1995.

Ross visually shares the truth about historical events and in addition he speaks it as well. "When I hear the conversation turn to history," he says, “I feel obliged to voice what it is I know.” The depth of his knowledge is impressive.

Ross's work is in private and public collections throughout the U.S. After living around the country, he has settled in Santa Fe and opened his own art gallery, Due West Gallery at 217 West San Francisco St.,  (505) 988-1001. Due West Gallery was honored with two prestigious awards in 2012: the title “Best Western Art Gallery of 2012”, and Ross was selected “Best Original Period Western Painter of 2012” by True West magazine.

Mark Winter – Toadlena Trading Post

Photo: Desert Marmot

Toadlena Trading Post, about one hour north of Gallup, NM on Hwy 491 continues to operate in the same way trading posts have since the 1870’s—dealing directly with the weaver and her family. In fact the Toadlena Trading Post exists today for the primary purpose of inspiring future generations of Navajo weaving excellence.

Blending the old world with the new, the Navajo Nation has preserved some of the old west with these Trading Posts including Toadlena, that are still in business today. Many of these trading posts are located in the original buildings from the late 1800s and have really changed only ever so slightly since then. The Gap Trading Post, Rough Rock Trading Post, Tuba City Trading Post, Hubbell Trading Post, Shonto Trading Post, Foutz Trading Post, Red Lane Trading Post Teec Nos Pos Trading Post as well as Toadlena Trading Post, selling anything from daily use commodities to artistic Navajo textiles, handmade pottery and art, are a great way to experience the Navajo culture of yesterday as well as today.

When Mark Winter and his wife Linda bought the rights to operate the historic Toadlena Trading Post from the Navajo Nation in 1997, they made a lot of changes. The old building near Newcomb was pretty run down and lacked much of the character it had during its heyday in the early 1900’s. They shored up the floors, rewired electrical work, and invited their Navajo neighbors to bring in “really cool old stuff” to give the place character. Winter added the Two Grey Hills Weaving Museum, filled with old photographs of weavers, weaver genealogies and some spectacular rugs, to honor what was once the pride of the area.

In fact the refurbishing of the Toadlena Trading Post, which serves as a grocery store, bank,. post office, and cultural center for northwest New Mexico, has been a smashing success, says Winter, with one exception. My wife wanted to have a nice health food section, but no one would buy them.

Photo: Desert Marmot

Winters has truly changed the way the community and the world views the renowned weavers of Toadlena. Rugs by the two Grey Hills weavers of the Toadlena region have long been prized among collectors for their tight weaves and very vibrant colors. Weavers have their own styles and intricate designs that shape the rigs, but few of their names and stories were ever know to collectors.

That’s where Winter, a dealer of antique Indian art from California, entered the picture. He says he was always bothered by the lack of information about the creators of the very distinctive rugs. In the late l980’s he says he collected some rugs and showed them to some of the grandmothers on the reservation to see if they could identify them. To his surprise he learned that many of the weavers were still alive. He had enough materials to open his own museum which he did shortly after buying the trading post. Now the Toadlena weavers are stars not only in their own community, but in the world.