IACA Journal, Fall 2014 - page 16

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IACA Journal | Fall 2014
Joe Douthitt: A Force Dedicated
to Protecting American Indian Art
an interview with brian lush
IACA is 40 years old this year. As a past president of IACA, what
was it about IACA that drew you to becoming a member?
To be very honest—and you’ll find that I am—the ideals of the association were what I
always believed in and what I thought was the right thing. In the very beginning I didn’t
join IACA. The organization started in ’74 and I joined in ’78. At first I was very skep-
tical because so many of the folks who had started it had been in the business a while.
There were some shady practices that were going around in different places. I wanted to
give it time and evaluate it before I joined. I joined in 1978.
As the proprietor of Towayalane Trad-
ing what drew you to the business?
I was teaching school on the Navajo
Reservation in Window Rock School
District on Fort Defiance.
I lived up there in the late sixties with
my wife and four children for about five
years. In between classes teachers would
stand at their classroom door as kids
passed from one class to another. I would
stand there and a young Navajo boy
or girl would say, “Mister D., my mom
made this ring last night and she needs
five dollars for it.” It looked like a deal to
me so I would give them the five bucks.
Over the years I started to accumulate a
few things and at one point I wondered
what the heck I was going to do with
them. That was after I gave some to my
wife and I would wear a piece designed
for men and so on. I went to college at the
University of Arizona in Tucson and I got
to know quite a few people there through
the Bachelors and Masters programs.
When I came home to visit family on
Holidays I’d bring my purchases with
me and I would sell it to people at my
cost or give it to people. After a while
I thought that maybe I should at least
be making gas money selling the work.
After a while my business really started
to heat up. I bought more and more and
went to one of the stores here in Tucson
and showed it to them. I quoted what I
thought was a reasonable mark up over
what I had bought it for and they bought
all of it. I figured the whole notion of
selling to stores as a wholesaler was the
way to go. That was how I got started.
What have been some of the biggest chang-
es that you’ve noticed in the industry?
It seems to me that one of the big chang-
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es has been the increase in manufactured
pieces and cast jewelry. People get away
with calling that hand-crafted and I
think there is a little bit subterfuge there
in my opinion. They got that through the
legislature somehow. What you have now
are manufacturers taking things away
from the artist and that in my opinion
has been the biggest change.
To me there cannot be any Indian art
without Indians. Even though companies
that do the manufacturing do have Na-
tive people it still takes the art away from
the designer. Usually there is a designer
or someone who makes the format and
I always say what artistic ability does
it take to cut a square stone and put it
into a square hole? So there is that and
of course the fake stuff that you have
coming in. I could keep going couldn’t
I? With the shortage of good turquoise
there have certainly been a lot of changes
to the materials that go jewelry making.
All of those changes make it less unique
and more of a commodity - a manufac-
tured item and it just seems to take away
the real charm of Native jewelry to me.
You also served as an IACA President
back in 1992. As you entered office what
issues did you want to address and how
successfully were they addressed?
I had been fighting the fight for authen-
ticity since the beginning. I guess you
could say I’m a throw back. I’m a black
and white guy. I’m not a gray guy. To
me, if it’s Indian and handmade then that
is what I believed that is what members
should sell. But if it’s not Indian then I
didn’t and if it wasn’t handmade I didn’t
believe that IACA members should sell
those things.
I had been fighting with the imported
business particularly and also the fake
material business. I had inadvertently
bought a fake bracelet that I thought was
a Navajo inlay bracelet I came to find
out that the piece was done with block
turquoise. This was back in the very
early eighties and I didn’t have a clue.
I just figured the price was right and it
looked well made. I sold it to a customer
in Pennsylvania and I started seeing the
person who “made it” and saw more of
those bracelets and I finally figured out
what was going on.
I had to call the customer in Pennsyl-
vania and asked her if she had sold that
bracelet yet. She did sell it and I asked
her if she could get it back because it’s
not right. There were some materials in
it that weren’t real and that I’d be happy
send her a nice Zuni bracelet that’s worth
a lot more to replace it.
She did and I did and that got me off on
the warpath. Since then I’ve continued to
do seminars. I do one called “Fakes and
Frauds” which was a two hour seminar
at the IACA Markets. One year they quit
asking me to do it and I think the reason
for that was I was stepping on some
people’s feet. In 1998 I did an undercover
thing for Dateline. That was my biggest
deal. My biggest defeat as president was
the issue of stabilized turquoise. Until
that time we had never allowed stabilized
turquoise in the market with the excep-
tion of Santo Domingo work and Zuni
fetishes. Otherwise if it was Navajo or
anyone else it had to be natural. We had
quite a debate over it and I took the stand
for quality and for value and a stand for
natural and I lost it. Now IACA allows
stabilized turquoise but it has to be
labeled as such. After I was outvoted and
at the very next show one of the exhib-
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