One Trader’s Legacy: Steve Getzwiller Collects the West
For decades, Steve Getzwiller built his reputation on his knowledge and working experience with Navajo weavings. Getzwiller is equally adamant that while he’s focused on dealing and commissioning the finest in Navajo textiles, he is also a collector first… and not just in weavings. You can see just how far his passion goes in One Trader’s Legacy: Steve Getzwiller Collects the West at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona, through June 3, 2018.
When museum curator Mary Ann Inga and former director Sandra Harris visited Getzwiller in his home/gallery in Sonoita, Arizona, to talk about a new exhibit, the depth and breadth of his personal collection of Western historic pieces captured their attention. To have all of this in one show was a daunting challenge, but well worth it.
“While we hoped the exhibition would be an excellent presentation of the Getzwiller Collection,” says Inga, “we were thrilled with the visual impact it has in our Cultural Crossroads Learning Center. The display is without a doubt the best use of the space since the building opening in 2011.”
While prize-winning Navajo weavings hang from the rafters, you stroll past cases holding generations of Nampeyo pottery, representing some of the best Hopi artistry along with Talashoma kachinas and the finest in Pima and Apache basketry. Here, Curtis orotones are not far from Jack Van Ryder paintings. There’s an Ace Powell painting, said by one visitor to Getzwiller’s gallery to simply be the best Powell piece he’d ever seen. It stands next to an authentic Tombstone saloon upright grand piano, which has two 1880s Tombstone guns on top, one of which was owned by Virgil Earp.
Another case holds priceless Apache artifacts, including a quiver with a canvas strap stamped “U.S.” with a connection to the Army’s campaign to capture Geronimo. This is near a case holding antique ranching pieces from Getzwiller’s family, who settled in southeastern Arizona Territory. In short, to have an overall understanding of the West, it’s an exhibit worth seeing.
“Our visitors are spending an unusual amount of time carefully inspecting each case, and actually reading the labels,” says Inga. “They are especially intrigued by the firearms, and, of course, the Navajo weavings. Being able to tell the family stories adds a significant dimension to the work.”
Getzwiller is proud of how strong this exhibit is. When asked if he realized just how much he had, with a chuckle he answers “I make a point of not counting things…”
A Robert Becenti (1949-2001) painting is in the center, and a classic-style Beatin Yass (1928-2012) is next to it to the right. Below the Becenti are two Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) orotones.
The concho belts are first, second and third phase belts from the 1880s to 1980s.
A rare and mint-condition 1860s Navajo blanket is on the top left, above a second phase chief’s blanket from the 1840s that is also in terrific condition. The blanket at bottom right was woven at Bosque Redondo in the 1860s.
Below: Quiver with “U.S.” stamped on strap, made from mountain mulberry. Passed down through a Texas family whose ancestor was the chief medical officer for Gen. Nelson Miles, who Geronimo surrendered to in 1886.
Mescalero Apache shirt from the 1880s to 1890s, likely used in the Ghost Dance ceremony.
Ace Powell (1912-1978), Women Went West, oil