A square deal for artists

It was an exceptionally nice day at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Outside the weather was hovering in the low 70s with a mild breeze from the west. The sun was shining, the leaves budding, and everything was shaping up beautifully.

Priscilla was on a roll and, like the economy in general, the numbers were climbing. Rick was also chipping in, but Priscilla, as always, was the champ. Sales were not overwhelming, but traffic was steady and things were coming along.

Priscilla, Frances, Rick, and I are fully vaccinated and feeling liberated. It is apparent a significant percentage of the U.S. population is of the same opinion.

At the trading post and café, we are surprised how much better we are doing and how travelers have been echoing that emotion.

The Navajo Nation has yet to open Reservation parks, so traffic through Bluff is not torrential, but the tide is rising. We are still, however, wearing masks and being cautious.

None of us wants to be the last casualty in this war.

As the pandemic progressed, with the help of Governor’s Office “Shop in Utah” grants, Twin Rocks participated in hunger relief and artist support.

Frances informs me that, with the help of our community partners, we provided 39,638 meals to hungry families.

While we have been “all in” when it comes to buying from local artists, they have been slow to return.

As we speak with others in the business, it is clear our circumstances are not unique, and artists are struggling to restart now that COVID-19 has begun to recede.

Over the past several years, it has become clear to us we must provide more help to those who make and sell local arts and crafts.

Many people and organizations are supporting a nationwide $15 per hour minimum wage. To my knowledge, however, no one is applying this standard to independent artists and craftspersons.

As Rick and I were discussing this issue last week, a middle-aged woman strolled into the store and began perusing our Navajo rug inventory. She was articulate, attractive, fitted out in expensive clothing, and driving a Tesla.

It was apparent she had the resources to purchase whatever she wanted. Despite her obvious financial security, she said, “I really like some of these weavings, but the prices seem higher than I expected.”

Rick looked at me and I looked at him. At that point, I decided it was time to explain the Twin Rocks philosophy, so I said, “At this trading post, we don’t aspire to be the cheapest.

“Instead, we strive to be fair: fair to customers, fair to artists, and fair to ourselves. We pay artists the best price possible, but not so much that we can’t turn the inventory.

“In fact, we have been known to advise sellers their prices are too low. It can be a delicate balance, and we don’t always get it right.

“We, however, think it’s high time the artists get a square deal. As you know, craftspeople, whether they are quilters, carvers, silversmiths, weavers, or basket makers, are all too often under-compensated. We fear that situation may ultimately result in the death of many traditional artistic movements.”

About that time, a second customer spoke up and said, “Yes, you’re right. I’m a quilter, and that is certainly true for me.”

Rick looked like he felt I should quit while I was ahead.

That, however, has never been one of my strengths, so I jumped right back in, saying, “Years ago, a trader I respect a lot told me he was in the habit of asking his customers, ‘How much are you willing to invest to ensure the artists make a fair living and their art thrives?’”

So, feeling emboldened, I asked the first customer that question. I think both she and Rick were taken aback. I was, however, on a roll, and the quilter clearly had me covered.

“It’s time we all do our part,” I said. “We can’t expect artists to work for substandard pay.”

Again, the quilter stepped in and said, “That’s right, people have to be fairly compensated or they will not continue to work.”

“There you have it,” I said.

As I wrapped up my speech, thinking I had surely alienated one more customer, the woman looked thoughtfully at me and said, “If you climb off that soapbox, I’m ready to invest.”

And she did. It was a good day at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

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