An Interview with Jed Foutz
The Small Shop in Santa Fe You Should Know About
Jed Foutz is from Shiprock, a small town on the Navajo reservation in Northwestern New Mexico. “I grew up at the old trading post there. My father and my family have been in that business for five generations,” said Foutz. “I’m the fifth generation. It’s in the blood.” Surrounded by the Navajo culture, Foutz learned to view the world from a different perspective. “They have such a different approach to life and time.” At the trading post, Foutz was immersed in a range of Native American art — textiles, pottery, jewelry — which had a lasting impression on him. “There is a depth of connection to what the form is,” Foutz said. “I feel power and depth in Native American art that I don’t find in everything.”
After spending two years in Japan, on a mission for the Mormon church, Foutz returned to school and majored in Japanese and Asian studies at BYU. “I was just taken with Japan,” Foutz said. “It’s been a chord that’s run through the rest of my life.” While in college, he started selling Native American jewelry to the Sundance Catalog and Ralph Lauren. After school, Foutz took over the family trading post in Shiprock, and in the following years, acquired two other posts and two galleries in New Mexico.
Now, the majority of Foutz’s time is devoted to his renowned gallery in Santa Fe, named after his family’s historic trading post. The space is a unique mix of Foutz’s interests: Native American art from the Southwest, Visvim clothing from Japan, mid-century furniture from notable designers and an offering of modern art. Though the offerings, on paper, may seem disparate, they are tied together through the respect and appreciation of artists and their crafts. “I’ve never been a big bottom-line or money-driven person,” Foutz said. “I don’t really know how it works sometimes, but I hope people can sense the value of that and the deeper meaning below everything.”
Q: How did Shiprock Santa Fe come about?
A: I went back to Shiprock, the village, and bought the trading post from my father when I was 25. I added two other trading posts in the years after — Red Valley and Shonto — so I was running three trading posts. The Navajo culture and the reservation were changing dramatically, and a trading post, traditionally, was a buffer between two cultures. That role was changing, and the need and necessity and the job I had done my whole life were quickly changing, and disappearing in many ways. I needed a new direction or a new way to make the business viable. So, I purchased part of a gallery in Albuquerque and then I took over this business in Santa Fe — Shiprock Santa Fe — 10 years ago. When I took it over I still had three trading posts, and the shop in Albuquerque and the gallery here, so it was crazy.
Q: How was the Navajo culture changing?
A: I grew up loving that culture, and it still obviously exists, but, it’s inevitable that — Navajo culture living with our culture — over time they just assimilate and become more alike. That’s what’s happened every decade. I would work with older women who were the grandmothers, basically, and they were completely different culturally than their grandchildren: the language, the approach to art. Overall it was always the goal of our government to mainstream those cultures, and kind of an inevitability.
Q: Tell me about the artists you work with for your gallery.
A: Santa Fe much is more centrally located in the Southwest, and to other tribes, so I’m not as Navajo-centered as I was earlier in my career. Now I’m surrounded by pueblos on one side, and I still obviously represent a lot of Navajo artists: sculptors, jewelers, weavers, painters; anything that speaks to us and any artist that we think fits what we do at Shiprock, we try to work with.
Q: How do the vintage and modern pieces coexist in the gallery space?
A: I’ve always found it very interesting to connect the dots, and in the historic you can see the seeds, or how the contemporary artists have gotten to where they’ve gotten, or where they’ve drawn inspiration, or how they’ve arrived at where they have arrived. Most of our clients are either all contemporary or either all historic or vintage; our clients don’t mix that way often, but I think it’s still important to show how it all connects.
Q: You also have a wide range of products — furniture from Eames and Nakashima, modern art, clothing from Visvim — how does it play into the aesthetic of the gallery?
A: I think it’s part aesthetic and part connectedness. Things have always naturally led to the next thing. It’s like Visvim: I was introduced to Hiroki in New York when I was working on a project by a mutual friend, and it was like instantly finding a long-lost brother.
For Shiprock, it’s been very organic. I really don’t have a plan of where we’re heading to, it just kind of naturally takes its course. Visvim and Hiroki were never a thought, it just grew into a natural relationship. That’s kind of what Shiprock is: things and people that move us and that we feel connected to, and somehow it all kind of comes together. Beautiful things go with beautiful things and beautiful people, so it all kind of makes sense in its own wacky way.
Q: What do customers think of the unique mix?
A: It can be such a unique thing. I love watching people when they come up to the gallery. A lot of people don’t know what to do with the mix. If anything, it reaches many people. So, the mix of what Shiprock is makes people see things in different ways and maybe look at things they would have never looked at in a different context.
Q: Tell me about your customer base.
A: It’s kind of a beautiful thing. We have a group of clients that are really strictly Native American collectors. The nice thing about Shiprock is that it transcends that in many ways. Santa Fe is such a unique place: it’s a town and a state capital of 80,000 people, but it is so cosmopolitan and so European and so diverse — the cultures that live here and the people that it attracts. We cover such a wide spectrum and I think why I love where we are and what we are so much is it’s such a mix of the world. It’s a little bit of New York fashion, it’s a little bit of California, it’s a little bit of Texas, it’s the Southwest. It’s all of that put together.
Q: What have you noticed in the public’s interest in Native American art?
A: I just think there is something so elemental in Native American art. Many of the contemporary artists who are so sought after today — like Andy Warhol — all of them found language and inspiration in Native American art in one form or another. I think there’s just so much behind the art and in the art, it’s one of those timeless things. Sure, there will be Southwest fads and things will come and go, but there is something below the surface that will make it timeless. It will always have relevance. They were just such incredible designers and talented artists that really were connected in their everyday life, there wasn’t a break between what they believe and what they make. There’s something about it that gives a lasting value and appeal.
Q: Are there as many Native American artists now as there were a few decades ago?
A: I think that will ebb and flow, as well, over time for different factors and reasons, but there’s definitely been a decrease in the number of artists. And weavers — which are one of the things I was most closely associated with — they were one of the first ones, in places, to go. Weaving is so labor intensive and time consuming that it could take a weaver a full year to produce one piece, and weavers have been reduced. It’s incredible how many fewer weavers there are than there were 10 or 20 years ago.
But I think in all the areas there is a decrease. But then again, there’s many things about our culture and time today: artists now have direct access to the market through the internet. It’s just so much easier to be an artist, direct to market these days. Really the role of the gallery isn’t near as necessary as it used to be for many artists.
Q: What is your favorite piece in the gallery now?
A: Textiles have always spoken to me. So, in my office is a traditional Navajo weaving from the 1890s that is maybe 4 x 7, but it has the craziest combination of yellow, green, rust orange, bright orange, maroon, red. You could give anyone that set of colors and say, “Make something beautiful,” and it would be impossible. This weaving is just brilliant, it’s one of my favorite textiles I’ve ever had in my life.