Cody Sanderson's "Outside the Cube"
At the 50th Annual Heard Indian Fair & Market this past weekend, I spent about an hour following Santa Fe artist Cody Sanderson as he made his rounds through the booths. Sanderson, 43, is an artist at the top of his game, having won the Heard’s Best in Show for his jeweled marvel entitled “Out of the Cube.” Succinctly put, the piece is a cast silver working model of a Rubik’s Cube which featured six repousse faces rather than colors in homage to the famous cubes that so boggled minds and fingers in the 1980s.
Sanderson shook hands, delivered compliments and received many congratulations as he walked from booth to booth. “Shaking hands and kissing babies,” is one of his many sales techniques, which he claims rival his abilities on the workbench. If that’s really the case, maybe Sanderson should take up sales full-time, because he has consistently delivered cutting-edge objets d’art since becoming a silversmith less than ten years ago.
“Shocked,” was how he described his feelings when he heard that he received the award. “I mean, sure, it took me about six solid weeks to make this thing and there’s a lot of work in it that cannot be calculated,” he said. “But there are people in this market who have a lot more experience than I do and who take a lot more time to make their pieces. Some people are saying, ‘A toy won best in show?’ and they’re shocked and on some level I can really feel for them.
Words cannot describe the beauty of this object, which features six sides of nine matching motifs that make up the game aspect of the device. Though the object screams “Play with Me!” it was handled only by the artist while wearing gloves. Such protocols are perhaps necessary when one is handling a toy with a value of $10,000 and over a pound of pure silver in its architecture. It can also be taken apart, just like a regular Rubik’s Cube, revealing a number of individuals pieces as well as the spoke-like central axis that allows the faces of the cube to spin in any direction.
The astonishing thing about the win is that it probably wouldn’t have been possible at The Other Big Indian Market, namely, the Indian Market in Santa Fe, whose winners tend to be more from a traditional bent than Sanderson’s pieces. Though Sanderson said he finished the piece just in time for this show, it may have been a strategic move on his part to enter this piece into the Heard Show first rather than Indian Market.
“My experience has been that the Heard is a lot more open to artistic innovation than Indian Market,” said Sanderson. “They care less about the political correctness of materials and more about the artistry that goes into the work.”
A notable artist who may benefit from that attitude was displaying work alongside Sanderson’s. Laguna/Chiricahua Apache artist Pat Pruitt is a metalsmith who works exclusively in stainless steel, producing jeweled objects that have become the hot ticket for young Native artists and collectors alike. Sanderson sported a Pruitt on one of his wrists, and Pojoaque potter Melissa Talachy also was seen wearing one. In addition to his killer jewelry, Pruitt also makes stainless steel sculptures, one of which won a Best in Category award at the Heard show.
In general, the Heard show had a more intimate feel than Indian Market, which certainly owes itself to the fact that it all takes place on the grounds of the Museums and all it's closed to all but a paying public. Regardless of those differences, one thing that remained the same was just the incredibly diversity available to those of us who are fans of Native Art. It's a community that re-unites itself at shows like these and presents a "family" of sorts of different people, personalities, tribes and mediums, with everything from traditional weaving to the latest cutting-edge offerings of folks like Sanderson and Pruitt.
Such diversity makes Native Art a joy to cover, because there's always something new to uncover and learn about. Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of the show for me came from listening to a relative of artist Merced Maldonado recount the history of the Yaqui Indian tribe and their struggled with both the Mexican and U.S. government.
Shows like these are more than just markets - they're opportunities for artists and fans alike to meet each other and talk about the work and the ideas and communities that inform that work. The Heard show brought that all back home for me this past weekend - and now we wait until Indian Market in Santa Fe does it all again.
ps: "Outside the Cube" sold for its asking price to a private collector on the final day of the show.
Addendum: Cody Sanderson was quick to point out that Indian Market has always treated him well personally, but that he has seen other jewelry artists who have been stifled by the process of getting into Market. We'll be discussing this issue in upcoming articles.
I have issued an open call for information regarding the stifling of artists at Indian Market. It's posted over here.