Art Fair FAIL

It sucks being a groupie.

For years now, I have admired Randy Chitto's sculptural pottery. My mother collected a few of his pieces in the early 1990s and I remember well the first time I saw them at her home. Their mouths were so cute and yet they had such great power. Warrior turtle! Singing turtle! And the best thing about them? All the little turtles sitting on the big turtle's arms and legs and backs, listening to the stories that their elders told. Immediately, I wanted one.

When I finished my graduate degree (1994), I wanted to get something special for my teacher, and it occurred to me that one of the story-telling turtles was just the thing. I'll never forget her face when she first saw it or how quickly she understood the significance of all the little ones: "There I am, with all of my students!," she exclaimed. And when my first graduate student to finish her degree with me was getting married (2006), again, I knew that I had to get her one of Chitto's turtles, this one with a little basket of corn to symbolize all the work that my student had done on the spiritual significance of plants in medieval devotion.

I finally was able to buy myself a Chitto turtle three or four years ago, the last time that my family and I were here in Santa Fe. I think I like "my" Chitto turtle the best of all (link shows a similar one, not actually mine). It is one of his koshare turtles, with the black and white stripes. It has corn husk "horns" and four little turtles similarly "dressed." The big turtle has a drum about its neck and one of the little turtles is helping to beat the drum. At the time that I bought the turtle, I had just finished co-editing a volume in my teacher's honor entitled History in the Comic Mode. Koshare are, of course, the sacred clowns of the Pueblo Kachina rites, so it seemed perfect for me to have a koshare turtle to celebrate my commitment to my teacher's hope that we, as historians, might "join in the fun" of storytelling in our contemporary, fragmented and all-too-provisional post-modern mode.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Randy Chitto would be exhibiting at SWAIA's 88th Annual Indian Market this weekend. At long last, I would get to meet the artist! When we went by his booth the first time, only his son was there. But an hour or so later, I got a call from my mother's partner: "Randy Chitto is here now! Come by if you want to meet him." Like an idiot, I grabbed my husband and son and said, "We've got to go!" When we got to the booth, it was fairly crowded with people, so I waited, breathlessly, for the moment that I would be able to talk with him. "See!," I wanted to show him, "I like your work so much that I've taken a photo of the turtle that I have to use as the wallpaper on my cell phone!"

I'm such an idiot. What was I expecting? He knows my mother; she's even been out to his studio to pick up some of the pieces that she's bought. "I'm N.'s daughter," I told him, hoping that would help establish a link. "And I talked with you on the phone a few years ago when I wanted to order one of the little turtles for my graduate student. Do you remember? The turtle kept going to the wrong place and it took us a while to find out where it had gone." "Oh, yes," he said with a cheerful smile, "I remember that. Did we get it to you in the end?" "Yes, yes," I enthused, "and my student loved it." And then he turned to say an even more enthusiastic "Hello!" to somebody else whom he clearly already knew.

And that was it. No chance to tell him about all the great symbolism my teacher and student and I had found for our lives in his work. No chance to thank him properly for all the joy that his work has brought to my life. Nothing. Okay, okay, so I wasn't buying anything today and this market is one of his most important chances to display his work. He couldn't spend much longer talking with me than he did without losing the chance to connect with someone who might actually want to purchase a turtle (or a bear). And I know from talking with him on the phone that he is actually a very friendly person, if a little bit scattered, above all grateful that he gets to spend his life doing the work that he enjoys. But I so wanted to talk with him just a little bit longer!

My mother seems to be able to do it; she loves coming to Indian Market because, as she says, "You get to talk with the artists." Not me. Chitto was the only one I actually wanted to meet and I failed. Okay, fine, now I've talked with him in person, but the point was to give him some sense of how important his work is to me and to thank him for it. As it is, I'm just one of the hundreds of people he'll probably talk to this weekend; he's probably forgotten me already. I wish I knew why that makes me feel so small.


  1. :-(

    Don't feel small. I see you!

    Perhaps the point wasn't for you to give him a sense of how important his work was. Perhaps the point was for you to discover something else altogether. Perhaps you won't realize what it was until later.

  2. I think this is an example of an inherently unequal relationship (and those never work.) You know, or think you know, so much about him from his work. You project onto him all sorts of emotions, memories, desires tied up with the objects he has made. He knows nothing of you. Maybe if objects could channel the thoughts and emotions of their temporary custodians back to their makers...but then who would want to be a maker? It would be overwhelming.

  3. Yes, I think you're both right. I always try to remind myself of this effect (the imbalance you describe, Badger) when someone tells me how much he or she has enjoyed my book: they feel like they know me so well (which, truth to tell, they probably do), but I don't know anything about them. I do try, however, to pay proper attention whenever anyone wants to talk with me about my work, but I know it would be much harder if I had as many "groupies" as Randy.

    "Maybe if objects could channel the thoughts and emotions of their temporary custodians back to their makers...but then who would want to be a maker? It would be overwhelming." This seems a pretty good description of how God must feel, what with all of his creatures channeling their thoughts and emotions back to Him all the time!


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