I’ve been wanting to get there for the past five or so years, but every year something interfered. This year, however, I finally did make it to the 2016 Native Art Market at the NYC Smithsonian located downtown in the former Custom House. And my family came with me! I have been awed by Native American arts and crafts for as long as I can remember, and this annual event showcases some of the best Native American work from around the country.
I am no expert, but from reading the monthly Native American magazine produced by the Washington Smithsonian, I did recognize some of the names at the exhibit tables. Jody Naranjo, a potter; Dorothy Grant, a clothing designer and Denise Wallace, a jewelry designer and crafter extraordinaire were among them. The artist(s) at each table were very friendly and easy to talk to about their craft. We went from table to table admiring the ingenuity, skill and artistry of each participant. But the highlight of the visit, for me, was to meet Denise Wallace who makes some of the most extraordinary jewelry I’ve ever seen.
Ms. Wallace and her husband work together. Originally from Alaska, the family now lives in Hilo, Hawaii. It can take her up to a year or more to complete a jewelry project because she creates unique figures that reflect her tribe (Chugach Alutiiq) which have intricate and sometimes moving parts and are made of natural local materials. She then will and attach a dozen or so of the figures to a belt or a necklace. The total effect is awesome. (See the photo below.) Despite being one of the outstanding representatives of native art, Ms. Wallace is unassuming and friendly and was willing to chat with me for a while. I wish I could afford her work.
We left the art market two hours later, feeling energized by the craft and skill of the artists whose work we had just seen. Our next stop was the Morgan Library, a place I’ve never visited but have wanted to for a long time.
Our goal was to see one of the extant six copies of the 95 Theses written by Martin Luther in the mid-1500’s and nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany beginning the debate that led to The Protestant Reformation.
I was raised and confirmed as a Lutheran. For personal reasons, it was never a comfortable fit for me, though I did enjoy singing the glorious music of Bach in the church choir on Sundays and holidays. My mother, a lifelong Lutheran, had always wanted to visit the birthplace of Martin Luther and other sites related to him but never got the chance to do so. Decades later, after my son spent his junior year of college at Humboldt University in Berlin becoming completely fluent in German, I felt it would be interesting to visit Germany with him, traveling to some of the small cities which are part of The Martin Luther Trail.
It would be a chance for me to find out about origins of my former religion and achieve a better understanding of how it came into being. The most amazing stop, for me, was a visit to Wartburg Castle, outside the small city of Erfurt in central Germany. It was here that a local Saxon prince gave Luther refuge after he defied the Pope by refusing to recant the 95 Theses. His life was at risk, and his rescuer had him disguised as a monk during the year he spent in the castle. During that year of confinement, he sat in the small, spare room we visited, translating the Bible into German, making the content available to all Germans and Northern Europeans for the first time in the vernacular. The sight of the humble room where he worked, contrasted with the realization of what Luther had accomplished with his translation, really moved me.
It was awe-inspiring to me that one man, alone, could stand up to the Holy Roman Empire for his beliefs and initiate the birth of a new religion. I mean no disrespect for anyone’s religion in praising his accomplishment, but I am impressed by the strength of his convictions.
In addition to the original document of the 95 Theses, the exhibit included many paintings by a good friend and admirer of Luther, Lucas Cranach the Elder. Also on display were some prints of Albrecht Durer whose illustrations appeared in Luther’s translated version of the Bible. Most of the artifacts, books, paintings and, of course, the broadsheet of the 95 Theses are on loan from various institutions in Germany, and will soon return home in time for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Some of the other treasures we were able to view at the Morgan included the original manuscript of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, a copy of the Guttenberg Bible, original scores by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and many other composers, and last, but not least, the personal library and sitting rooms of JP Morgan himself.
It was our first visit to the Morgan Library and we were duly impressed. One could easily spend an entire day or two there and only scratch the surface of this vault of treasures.
We finished the day with a visit to my son’s favorite pub in midtown, The Ginger Man, where we feasted on beef stew, sausage platters, select cheeses, tasty fresh pretzels with mustard on the side and a wonderful selection of beer. My personal holiday season is off to a good start. I appreciated once again that I was able to indulge in two of my passions… Native American art and the history of Martin Luther and the Reformation…in one very full afternoon with my family by my side. Topping it off with a tasty dinner and some excellent brews made for a memorable day. Even after living in New York most of my life, NYC continues to amaze me with its rich palette of experiences, there for the taking. There’s something for everyone to enjoy!