Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Downturn Decor on a Dime (a.k.a. The Economy May Be Dead, But Your Taste is Alive and Well)

($5 thrift store oil painting, 16" x 20", framed)

Art is everywhere...if you know where to look! So, the economy stinks. You've had to give up the weekly or daily shopping trip to the mall because the purse strings have all but worn down to mere threads. The rent or the mortgage or car payment, food, clothes for the kids have taken priority over anything that resembles fun, beauty and anything that aethestically floats your boat. Art and decor are way at the bottom of the list--seemingly never to return, at least for a couple of years.

Well, I recently moved into a new apartment--unemployed no less! And while I'm trying to be frugal and pay for the necessities without breaking the bank, why should all fun go to the wayside? In my ridiculous fanaticism to do as the Southwesterners do and create a region-friendly abode, I have scoured the city (Albuquerque, New Mexico) looking for the best deals on art, indigenous arts, as well home decor.

Since the economy is tough and tourism is down, many merchants, especially antique dealers, are offering deep discounts just to move their inventory, which is overloading display cases all over the country. Albuquerque, not only has some of the best thrift store shopping and antiquing that I have ever experienced, but the prices are well below most cities, including Santa Fe, just one hour to the north, even in a good economy!

Here are some recent deals I found while browsing antique stores,flea markets, thrift shops and going directly to the artist.

Mata Ortiz is quickly becoming one of the most sought out types of pottery by collectors. And, it's no surprise, since these artisans, who hail from a very small town in Mexico, follow in the footsteps of master potter Juan Quezada to create delicate, intricate gorgeous pieces of art in a variety of shapes and sizes. This pot is made by well-known potter Paty Rodriguez. While it would command upwards of $150 in a gallery, this antique mall find, which measures about 3" inches tall cost me a mere $32, marked down 25% (cash only!)from its original price of $42. That's almost $120 profit!

Thank goodness for the Internet! Google and other search engines has made up privy to so much information about all the goodies out there to be had--even if dealers, oftentimes, haven't done the research themselves! I love knowing something they don't, because it always yields a treasure and at bargain prices. Take, for instance, this marvelous pot by Annette and Christine Ortega of the Santa Clara tribe of Northern New Mexico. While I couldn't find much information about Christine, I did manage to find some information about Annette.

I recognized that this contemporary pot possessed typical traits characteristic of traditional Santa Clara pottery (i.e., the finely polished red clay exterior with the carved iconography on the front and rear sides of the pot). I used this knowledge to Google her name and the term "Santa Clara potter" to find that this pot, which cost me $17.50 at an antique mall, 30% of the regular price of $25 ( already well below gallery value), might actually command $55 or more on the retail market! This is very exciting and the piece would appeal to pottery collectors, in general, since it has a more contemporary feel.

This lovely pot, covered in a traditional Santa Domingo white slip, was purchased directly from Cochiti tribe artisan Guadalupe Ortiz, husband to the late famed Cochiti potter Seferina Ortiz, and father to Virgil Ortiz, whose work has been featured on the cover of Collector's Guide. I stumbled upon his home on the Cochiti reservation last month on my way up to Santa Fe. A normally quiet and private fellow, we chatted about his wife and both of their art. In addition to walking away with the experience of conversing with this master, I left with this treasure signed by Guadalupe himself for about $20. Known more for animal figurines than pots, this would likely fetch upwards of $100 in a gallery, though I would never part with it! You can never go wrong by contacting artists directly. Times are tough, and if they want to make a sale, most artists will generally work with you to make sure you go home with something you love and feel good about buying. Ebay and Etsy are also great sources for buying the best in affordable art direct from the artist.

While not everyone appreciates Native American pottery, or wants to spend $20 for any piece of pottery, many deals are to be had by hitting Goodwill, the Salvation Army or any local thrift store. This lovely, handmade pot was purchased at a homeless shelter thrift store, as part of a lot that included a nice teapot. I bought both pieces for $0.75! The piece is even signed, and while it may not command hundreds of dollars on the retail market, it will bring invaluable joy and beauty to my home. Thrift stores are a great place for the pottery fanatic to find some beautiful pieces-whether coffee cups, pots, or bowls on the cheap. What a way to satisfy the shopping bug without the guilt.

When I saw this carefully painted round cedar box at the local Goodwill, I said "What the heck. It's only $2!" And, I bought it. An artist friend seems to think it might be Pennsylvania Dutch folk art, but no matter. I like it, regardless of its value.

Antique stores definitely yield the best in art, like this wonderful 4" x 6" New Mexico-themed oil on wood painting from 1947 by "Y. Kojima," for which I paid a mere $10, and this whimsical sheep painting on an old piece of wood ($4.95), but collectors can also harvest some great artistic finds at thrift stores and flea markets as well.

I recently purchased this nice painting in a vintage gilded gesso frame for $10 at the Albuquerque Flea Market. The frame alone, though damaged a bit, would command much more than that on Ebay or in an antique store.

This colorful folk art pressing by Mexican artist Kiki Suarez was sitting on a blanket with a bunch of inexpensive posters and prints at the Albuquerque Flea Market. Numbered and signed by the artist, who is losing her eyesight, I paid $3 for the piece entitled "Los refugiados" (The refugees). The gentleman who was selling it said "I'm asking $5, but make me an offer." So, I did! I'm not certain of its value, but who cares. It's a beautiful and emotional piece that captures the uncertainty of the immigrant experience in the United States.

So, overall, I spent about $100 on all of these pieces of art. Not bad, huh? Again, it's all about taking the time to educate yourself about where the best bargains can be had and then putting in the time to scope out the locations for yourself. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your art collection! Happy collecting.

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