It doesn't take long before nearly every house boasts an old refrigerator on blocks behind it, covered in totem animals that pop out, painted warriors who loom menacingly overhead, weapons raised, or famous scenes from the tribal history. They have become a status symbol. The initial efforts behind the school pale by comparison.
One day a tourist stops to ask permission to photograph one of the boys as he places the papers inside a box resplendent with eagles on the inside door. The Rockies loom in the background, creating a very pleasant vista.
"No, necesitamos Guillermo primero," he shouts, waving the tourist off until the artist can replace him.
Soon, the boxes appear regularly in tourist photos and videos. An offer arrives via the post. A San Francisco art shop would like to feature Guillermo and his artwork in their shop. Would one of the boxes be for sale?
A tribal debate ensues. Soon the once discarded fridge heads west, enriching the tribe by some $500 plus shipping. Missions to surrounding towns turn up more abandoned refrigerators whose owners are only too willing to see carted off for free. A distinction is made between "commercial" work, and the personal property of the residents. A steady stream of orders flow in, with ever escalating price tags.
Two former tribesmen who are artists return to the reservation. An Indian woodcarver returns, carving the wooden posts in the form of totem animals, paws and teeth holding the various shelves. Many internal designs more reminiscent of knick knack shelves replace the straight shelving in Despina's school room models.
Families are reunited. An area is leveled somewhat past the last of the hovels, clearly visible from the road, and permanent panels are erected, then covered with native art work. A "Galeria Nativa" is opened, and admission is charged. Pottery, rugs, and other typical artifacts the public expects to see are offered, mostly the work of other tribes, but the art displayed in this gallery is not done for tourists. They can buy reproductions and photos, but the originals remain.
The most lucrative tourist season ever leads to a sense of well-being throughout the area. The youngsters benefit most from the pride that is generated. As word spreads throughout the art community, more Indian artists return, some forming groups who will create a scene on wealthy patron's retiring refrigerators en situ, for an exorbitant fee, and expenses.
Eventually, three groups keep busy this way throughout the southwest. An Indian lawyer returns, taking pleasure in drawing up contracts that will protect the Indian rights. The only remedy offered to those who express dissatisfaction with the art created for them is to offer the piece for sale throughout the network, for whatever price is deemed proper, an additional 10% going to the artists, which protects their integrity and vision from commercial influence.
Nobody ever gets stuck with one they really don't like for long. Guillermo remains a highly sought after favorite, but the tribe wisely insists he continue his education, only painting in free time. Scarcity doesn't hurt the sales any.
Last updated 3/9/02.