Silver Dust Trading & Gallery offers a chance to buy a piece of the past.
by Donna Clayton Walter
Al Grieve stands in the middle of his Silver City shop, surrounded by nearly uncountable Hopi and Navajo treasures. In describing how he and his Navajo wife, Margaret, came to own all of the colorful items, he becomes passionate, describing the couple's 45 years owning and operating five different trading posts, and the lives of the Native Americans with whom he did business.
Al and Margaret Grieve, owners of Silver Dust Trading and Gallery.
(Photo by Donna Clayton Walter)
He picks up a colorful woven basket, a "mud head" figure in the center of it.
"Someone would come in with a basket, wanting to trade for goods," he says. "Groceries, gasoline, the necessities of life. I've got a hundred baskets in the vault. What do I need with another?" he asks, then pauses. "You buy! I could have rugs this high," he says, indicating with his hand a pile of rugs up to his shoulder. "Someone comes in with another rug?" Again he pauses, then says with intensity, "You buy!"
Grieve is full of colorful stories, of locals needing gas in the middle of the night, knocking on the couple's window, stories of others needing groceries, needing medicine for their babies. Each story ends the same way, with the Grieves making a late-night trade, taking in hand-carved Kachina dolls, blankets and baskets, dispensing the needed goods to members of the community in which they lived for so many happy years.
He tells how the couple's business functioned as a community center, with locals leaving and picking up messages to and from their kids away in college. The trading post, he says, was nothing less than a lifeline.
In November of this year, having sold their store in Shonto, Ariz., off Indian Route 221 in Navajo County, the couple traveled back to Silver City, a place they had visited many times. The plan was "to kick back for the winter," he says.
"Then I saw this space for rent," he adds, gesturing around his store in Piñon Plaza. "I thought it would be a good place to show our collection, so we decided to give it a try."
Silver Dust Trading & Gallery is decked from floor to ceiling with authentic Hopi and Navajo collectible items, high-quality silver and turquoise jewelry, hand-carved Kachinas, hand-woven baskets and blankets.
"We are the only ones around selling authentic Pendleton blankets," he says.
Asked if his goods were procured at Native American festivals or expos, Grieve shakes his head emphatically. "These all have been bought directly from the makers," he replies. "And we don't deal in imports or anything that's not authentic."
He describes his prospective customers as "people who appreciate quality. They want to decorate in this style, and they want to have the real thing."
As for his credentials in dealing in authentic Native American arts, he pulls out an old black-and-white photo of him with three other lifelong traders — "all four of us married to Navajo women," he says with apparent pride and a kind glance at his wife. The photo's caption reads, "200 years of Indian trading; $10 million in rugs," a synopsis of the four traders' successful trading-post businesses.
He pulls out more photos, showing his wife as a young woman and award-winning blanket weaver.
"This stuff is going to be the last of the line," he says. "No one knows these crafts — basket weaving, blanket making. This is a chance for people to own the real thing, to cherish it and preserve it, live with it."
Grieve says being in Silver City should bring the couple the right audience for their wares. "We're not far from Indian country. This used to be Apache land," he says. And customers, he adds, will be pleased to find these goods at far less than they would have to pay in, say, Santa Fe. "We're keeping prices in line with the market here," he says, showing an original black-and-white photo by famed photographer Edward S. Curtis being offered for sale at the same price paid for it 25 years ago. The store also carries original works by Adee B. Dodge.
Asked what items are his favorites, Grieve shakes his head. His wife, he allows, probably loves the jewelry the best, and Margaret Grieve nods and shows the numerous silver and turquoise bracelets and rings she is wearing.
As for himself, though, he says, "How can I choose between blankets and baskets? The art? The pottery? It's all so different, and precious in its own right."
Then he goes to a small curio cabinet at the back of the store and points out two carved figures, an Indian and a cowboy.
"Maybe these are the most special and personal to me," he says. "I saw these at a Harvey train station when I was about 10 years old. I went back and bought them 20 years later. I guess they are special to me because they represent the start of my being a collector."
Now, with a colorful store showcasing his decades of participating in Indian life, trading baby medicine and gasoline for fine blankets and works of art, Grieve hopes others will begin their own collections. He hopes they will adorn their homes with genuine Hopi and Navajo works of art and the finest crafts, crafts that are dying out as the handful of old Indians who can create such works are leaving the earth.
"It's a piece of history," he says. "The beautiful history of a beautiful culture and people."
Silver Dust Trading & Gallery, Al and Margaret Grieve, proprietors, 1607 Piñon Plaza, Adobe Springs Shopping Plaza, Silver City. Open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., adding Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and expanded hours weekdays closer to Christmas. 388-1159.
Donna Clayton Walter is a Silver City freelance writer.
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