A rock in the sack

Innovation is highly prized at Twin Rocks Trading Post, so it is a real treat for us when local artists create new and exciting works.
There are, however, a number of craftspeople on and around the Navajo Reservation who pick up an idea and reproduce it until they have explored every possible variation.
After a while, we can’t help developing a “Ho Hum” attitude for this repetitive art and lose interest.
Henry Ford, however, would be proud of the many artists who have incorporated his assembly line processes into their art.
To be fair with the artists, we don’t have to look far to discover the source of the problem.
An old trading adage goes something like, “Yaadilaah (OMG), there is a rock in the wool!”
It comes from the early days of trading when traders purchased wool and mohair produced by the many sheep and goats roaming the Navajo Reservation, before the Livestock Reduction Act.
No one knows for sure how the poundage problem began, but it quickly became troublesome. In those days, the traders provided long, narrow burlap sacks for collecting wool.
When full, the bags were brought back into the trading post to be weighed. The wool seller was then paid in cash or trade.
Suspicion and deceit soon wormed their way into the transactions, causing distrust on both sides. After a while, someone noticed the scales were weighing light and tossed in a few stones to even things out.
The reasoning behind this deceptive trading practice was a real or imagined belief that the wool was being delivered wet or contained soil to goose up the poundage.
Whatever the case, everyone blamed everyone else for engaging in unfair trade and the entire undertaking became unbalanced. Thus, evolved the rock in the wool adage.
For years, we attended trade shows promoting Navajo arts and crafts in major cities around the Southwest.
We would load up a large Ford van and Wells Cargo trailer with the most exciting pieces of art we had and set out on our selling adventure.
Upon arriving at the desired location, we set up mini–Twin Rocks Trading Posts. The trips were fun and educational for everyone involved.
Through the trade shows, we attempted to provide the artists additional opportunities to become recognized, create more art, develop new outlets and make a better living.
Our personal economic prospects improved as well, until the “rock” appeared in our wool.
In an effort to expand their overall understanding of the market, we worked closely with artists to improve their creativity and explain supply and demand.
What we failed to anticipate was the Wal-Mart effect. As consumers, we are all too often focused on what we consider the single most important issue... price.
The Wal-Mart smiley face represents our desire to get the best buy possible, regardless of the disadvantages to producers.
A focus on the lowest possible price does not bode well for the artist, or the quality of their work. In spite of that, out on the road, the customers inevitably demanded a better value.
Unfortunately, we were complicit in creating the downward spiral, because we would come home and tell our artists that if they were able to produce their work for a few dollars less, we could move far more product.
Volume was needed, we told them. If we made less on each item, we explained, we would make it up in volume.
The artists often reluctantly agreed, but we found there was not the same amount of labor put into their work, corners were cut to compensate for the drop in pay.
Worst of all, passion for the art was lost. The artists knew that if they did not cooperate there was always someone else waiting to step into the void and make the item for less money.
It did not take long before the customer noticed the loss of quality, and we were faced with yet another request for even lower prices. This turned out to be a bad situation for everyone involved.
Passion is the key to quality art, and everyone involved must be treated fairly.
The artist, wholesaler, retailer and collector should all feel they have had equitable treatment.
Passion for the people and their art, and an understanding of their individual circumstances, are essential elements in the trading business.
Artists like the Lansings create sculptures that metaphorically relate the Navajo stories with beauty and sophistication. The time and effort they put into their work is easily recognized by their attention to detail.
Navajo basket weavers always amaze us with their creativity. Their efforts help maintain a unique belief system on the verge of extinction.
Silversmiths, potters, rug weavers and folk artists also continue to create works of beauty.
At Twin Rocks we are committed to maintaining the balance this business requires and eliminating the rock from our wool.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday